Fires in Alaska, Canadian smoke over the Lower 48

June 29th, 2015
Suomi NPP VIIRS 3.74 µm infrared channel images, times as indicated (click to enlarge)

Suomi NPP VIIRS 3.74 µm infrared channel images, times as indicated (click to enlarge)

Suomi NPP 0.64 µm visible channel images, times as indicated (click to enlarge)

Suomi NPP 0.64 µm visible channel images, times as indicated (click to enlarge)

The 2015 Wildfire Season is off to a quick start in Alaska (continuing an observed trend). This map (from this site) shows more than 300 active fires over Alaska at 2000 UTC on 29 June 2015. This graph (from the Alaska Climate Info Facebook page) compares early burn acreage in 2015 to that in 2004 (the year with the most acreage burned — see this graph, courtesy of Uma Bhatt, University of Alaska-Fairbanks).

Soumi NPP VIIRS 3.74 µm infrared imagery from early morning on 29 June 2015 (top) shows numerous wildfire hot spots (dark black pixels) in the region surrounding the Yukon River (the middle portion of the imagery, south of Kotzebue Sound). VIIRS visible imagery from the same time, above, shows an extensive pall of smoke over much of central Alaska.

GOES-13 Visible (0.63 µm) imagery (click to play animation)

GOES-13 Visible (0.63 µm) imagery (click to play animation)

Meanwhile, thick smoke from fires burning over northern Canada (comparison of VIIRS visible and shortwave IR images from 28 June) was drifting southward over central portions of the Lower 48 states. The smoke plume on 28 June (above) was fairly narrow; however, a much broader and thicker plume was seen moving south on 29 June (GOES visible imagery below, then MODIS/VIIRS true-color RGB imagery as displayed using the SSEC RealEarth web map server). SSEC MODIS Today true-color imagery of this smoke plume is also available here. Pilot reports placed the lower and upper bounds of the thick smoke at 5000 and 17500 feet, with flight visibilities as low as 2 miles at 5000 feet. Some of the smoke subsided to the surface in southeastern South Dakota, restricting the surface visibility at Sioux Falls to 5 miles and raising the Air Quality Index there into the Unhealthy category. In fact, the smoke was so thick over far eastern South Dakota that it had the effect of reducing surface heating and slowing the rise of afternoon temperatures, such that convective temperatures were not being reached and probabilities of precipitation had to be scaled back:

AREA FORECAST DISCUSSION
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE SIOUX FALLS SD
356 PM CDT MON JUN 29 2015

.SHORT TERM…(THIS EVENING THROUGH TUESDAY)
ISSUED AT 356 PM CDT MON JUN 29 2015

IN ADDITION…THICK PLUME OF SMOKE CONTINUES TO DRIFT SOUTHWARD IMPACTING NEARLY ALL OF THE FORECAST AREA…BUT MOST   NOTABLE ALONG AND EAST OF THE JAMES RIVER VALLEY. BECAUSE OF THIS…AFTERNOON TEMPERATURES ARE ABOUT 2 TO 4 DEGREES
COOLER THAN FORECAST AND WE ARE HAVING A HECK OF A TIME REACHING OUR CONVECTIVE TEMPERATURE. THEREFORE LOWERED THE LATE AFTERNOON AND EVENING POPS IN OUR EASTERN ZONES TO ONLY SLIGHT CHANCE POPS. BUT EVEN THOSE MAY BE TOO HIGH AND IF NOTHING DEVELOPS OVER THE NEXT COUPLE OF HOURS…THEY MAY NEED TO BE REMOVED ENTIRELY.

GOES-13 Visible (0.63 µm) imagery (click to play animation)

GOES-13 Visible (0.63 µm) imagery (click to play animation)

MODIS and VIIRS true-color imagery (click to enlarge)

MODIS and VIIRS true-color imagery (click to enlarge)

Daytime detection of smoke plumes is not difficult with visible (or true-color) imagery. At night, however, smoke detection is a challenge. The VIIRS Day/Night Band on Suomi NPP can detect smoke when Lunar Illumination is high (although detection is limited to one or sometimes two passes per night). Smoke is otherwise mostly transparent to infrared channels on the GOES Imager. Websites such as the NOAA/NESDIS IDEA and the GASP are helpful; however, the GASP product uses single-channel (visible) detection only.

Visible imagery from GOES-15, below, highlights the expansive region covered by smoke over northern Canada. Note that the smoke becomes less distinct with time as the sun rises higher in the sky, because forward scattering of visible light by smoke particles is more effective than backward scattering.

GOES-15 Visible (0.62 µm) imagery, times as indicated (click to animate)

GOES-15 Visible (0.62 µm) imagery, times as indicated (click to animate)

Singapore Airlines Flight SQ836: a loss of engine power due to “ice crystal icing”?

May 23rd, 2015
Singapore Airlines Flight SQ836 path, altitude, and airspeed (from flightradar24)

Singapore Airlines Flight SQ836 path, altitude, and airspeed (from flightradar24)

Singapore Airlines Flight SQ836 was en route to Shanghai from Singapore on 23 May 2015 when it lost power from both engines at an altitude of 39,000 feet over the South China Sea, not far south-southeast of Hong Kong (Aviation Herald). The aircraft lost about 13,000 feet in altitude (above) before the engines were successfully re-started. The violet portion of the flight path denotes the period when no ADS-B data were received, from 1246 to 1311 UTC.

Himawari-8 11.2 um IR channel images (click to play animation)

Himawari-8 11.2 um IR channel images (click to play animation)

Himawari-8 AHI 11.2 um IR channel images (above; click image to play animation; also available as an MP4 movie file) and 6.2 um water vapor channel images (below; click image to play animation; also available as an MP4 movie file) showed a broken line of vigorous deep convection to the north of where the engine power loss first occurred (approximately within the yellow circle; VHHH is the airport identifier for Hong Kong). On the IR imagery, the coldest cloud-top brightness temperatures were in the -80 to -90 C range (shades of violet), and anvil debris could be seen drifting south-southwestward.  This convective cloud debris may have contributed to a phenomenon known as ice crystal icing, which affected the engines of the aircraft.

Himawari-8 6.2 um water vapor channel images (click to play animation)

Himawari-8 6.2 um water vapor channel images (click to play animation)

 

Dust storm in southern Nevada and California

April 14th, 2015
GOES-13 0.63 µm visible channel images (click o play animation)

GOES-13 0.63 µm visible channel images (click o play animation)

GOES-13 (GOES-East) 0.63 µm visible channel images (click image to play animation; also available as an MP4 movie file) showed the hazy signature of a cloud of thick blowing dust moving southward across southern Nevada and parts of southern California, along and behind a strong cold frontal boundary on 14 April 2015.

Areas where the dust cloud was more dense could be identified using the Terra and Aqua MODIS 11-12 µm IR brightness temperature difference (BTD) product (below). The 12 µm IR channel is no longer available on the imager instrument of the current series of GOES satellites — however, the ABI instrument on the upcoming GOES-R satellite will have a 12 µm IR channel, allowing the creation of such BTD products to aid in the identification and tracking of similar dust features.

Terra and Aqua MODIS 11-12 µm IR brightness temperature difference

Terra and Aqua MODIS 11-12 µm IR brightness temperature difference

At 1833 UTC, a pilot reported that the top of the dust cloud was at 11,500 feet near its leading edge (below). Farther to the south, strong winds interacting with the terrain were causing pockets of moderate to severe turbulence.

Terra MODIS 11-12 µm IR brightness temperature difference, with pilot reports

Terra MODIS 11-12 µm IR brightness temperature difference, with pilot reports

The blowing dust cloud was also evident on true-color Red/Green/Blue (RGB) images from MODIS and VIIRS, as visualized using the SSEC RealEarth web map server (below).

MODIS and VIIRS true-color RGB images

MODIS and VIIRS true-color RGB images

Strong arctic cold front: grass fires, blowing dust, and a lee-side frontal gravity wave

March 17th, 2015
GOES-13 3.9 µm shortwave IR channel images (click to play animation)

GOES-13 3.9 µm shortwave IR channel images (click to play animation)

After a day of record high temperatures in parts of Nebraska — the 91º F at North Platte set a new record high for the month of March, and was also the earliest temperature of 90º F or above on record at that site — a strong arctic cold front plunged southward across the state late in the day on 16 March 2015. With strong winds (gusting to 40-50 knots at some locations) in the wake of the frontal passage and dry vegetation fuels in place, GOES-13 3.9 µm shortwave IR images (above; click image to play animation) showed the “hot spot” signatures (black to yellow to red pixels) associated with a number of large grass fires that began to burn across the state.

The strong northwesterly winds behind the cold front also lofted dry soil into the boundary layer, creating blowing dust whose hazy signature was evident on GOES-13 0.63 visible channel images (below; click image to play animation). Visibility was reduced to 7 miles at some locations.

GOES-13 0.63 µm visible channel images (click to play animation)

GOES-13 0.63 µm visible channel images (click to play animation)

After sunset and into the pre-dawn hours on 17 March, a lee-side frontal gravity wave signature could be seen on GOES-13 6.5 µm water vapor channel images (below; click image to play animation). This warmer/drier (darker blue color enhancement) arc on the water vapor imagery followed the position of the surface cold front, which meant that the upward-propagating frontal gravity wave reached altitudes where the water vapor channel was sensing radiation.

GOES-13 6.5 µm water vapor channel images (click to play animation)

GOES-13 6.5 µm water vapor channel images (click to play animation)

As the frontal gravity wave was approaching the Kansas/Oklahoma border region around 05 UTC, a pilot reported light to moderate turbulence at altitude of 6000 feet (below).

GOES-13 6.5 µm water vapor channel image with pilot report of turbulence

GOES-13 6.5 µm water vapor channel image with pilot report of turbulence

A 4-panel comparison of the three Sounder water vapor channels (6.5 µm, 7.0 µm, and 7.4 µm) and the standard Imager 6.5 µm water vapor channel (below; click image to play animation) showed that the southward propagation of the frontal gravity wave signature was most evident on the Sounder 7.0 µm and Imager 6.5 µm images, although there was also a more subtle indication on the Sounder 7.4 µm images. The new generation of geostationary satellite Imager instruments (for example, the AHI on Himawari-8 and the ABI on GOES-R) feature 3 water vapor channels which are similar to those on the current GOES Sounder, but at much higher spatial and temporal resolutions

GOES-13 Sounder 6.5 µm (upper left), 7.0 µm (upper right), 7.4 µm (lower left), and Imager 6.5 µm (lower right) - click to play animation

GOES-13 Sounder 6.5 µm (upper left), 7.0 µm (upper right), 7.4 µm (lower left), and Imager 6.5 µm (lower right) – click to play animation

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GOES-13 Sounder and Imager water vapor channel weighting functions for North Platte, Nebraska

GOES-13 Sounder and Imager water vapor channel weighting functions for North Platte, Nebraska

The depth and altitude of the layer from which a particular water vapor channel is detecting radiation is shown by plotting its weighting function — for example, at North Platte, Nebraska (above), the Imager 6.5 µm plot (black) and the 7.0 µm plot (green) exhibited lower-altitude secondary peaks around the 500 hPa level — while farther to the south at Dodge City, Kansas (below) these 2 water vapor channel plots had their peaks located slightly higher in the atmosphere. Even though the bulk of the radiation was being detected from higher altitudes (due to the presence of moisture and cirrus clouds aloft over much of the southern Plains region), the sharp signal of the lower-altitude cold frontal gravity wave was strong enough to be seen in the deep layer average moisture brightness temperature depicted in the water vapor images.

GOES-13 Sounder and Imager water vapor channel weighting functions

GOES-13 Sounder and Imager water vapor channel weighting functions