Strong convection in the Gulf of Mexico

March 28th, 2011 |
GOES-13 10.7 µm IR images (click image to play animation)

GOES-13 10.7 µm IR images (click image to play animation)

AWIPS images of GOES-13 10.7 µm IR data (above; click image to play animation) showed the development of two strong Mesoscale Convective Systems over the Gulf of Mexico on 28 March 2011. These storms prompted  the Storm Prediction Center to issue Severe Thunderstorm Watch #70 and #71 for the threat of  strong winds and large hail — however, no reports of severe weather were received from these particular storms.

The MODIS Sea Surface Temperature (SST) product from the previous day (below) revealed that the northern edge of the Gulf of Mexico Loop Current (warmer SST values in the upper 70s to around 80º F, red color enhancement) was located near the areas of development of these two Mesoscale Convective Systems — raising the question as to the role that this warmer water may have played in their initiation. In addition, an overlay of the High Resolution Real-Time Global Sea Surface Temperature (RTG_SST_HR) model SST failed to capture the warmer tongue of SSTs located to the east of the main core of the Loop Current.  MODIS SST values were 2-3 degrees F warmer than the model SST values in the eastern warm tongue feature — and 3-4 degrees F cooler within the main core of the Loop Current.

MODIS SST product + RGT_SST_HR model SST analysis

MODIS SST product + RGT_SST_HR model SST analysis

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MODIS SST product + MODIS 11.0 µm IR images

MODIS SST product + MODIS 11.0 µm IR images

A comparison of the MODIS SST product with MODIS 11.0 µm IR images of the first MCS (above) along with a similar comparison of the MODIS SST with a combination of MODIS 11.0 µm IR and POES AVHRR 10.8 µm IR images (below) showed the development of each MCS in the general proximity of the areas of warmer SST values associated with the Loop Current.

MODIS SST + MODIS 11.0 µm IR + POES AVHRR 10.8 µm IR images

MODIS SST + MODIS 11.0 µm IR + POES AVHRR 10.8 µm IR images

A comparison of a 4-km resolution GOES-13 10.7 µm image with the corresponding 1-km resolution POES AVHRR image (below) demonstrated the value of higher spatial resolution for locating the colder cloud top IR brightness temperatures associated with overshooting tops of intense deep convection. The coldest IR temperature on the GOES-13 image was -71º C, compared to -80º C on the POES AVHRR image.

GOES 10.7 µm IR image + POES AVHRR 10.8 µm IR image

GOES 10.7 µm IR image + POES AVHRR 10.8 µm IR image

CIMSS participation in GOES-R Proving Ground activities includes making a variety of  MODIS and POES AVHRR images and products available for National Weather Service offices to add to their local AWIPS workstations.

Convective initiation along a pre-existing convective outflow boundary

September 16th, 2010 |
GOES-13 0.63 µm visible channel images

GOES-13 0.63 µm visible channel images

McIDAS images of GOES-13 0.63 µm visible channel data on 16 September 2010 (above) showed a nice example of the role that a pre-existing convective outflow boundary can play in helping to act as a forcing mechanism for new convection — and also to help intensify existing strong convection that encounters the outflow boundary. Morning thunderstorms along the Texas/Oklahoma border region produced an outflow boundary that later moved southward and westward during the early afternoon hours. New convection was then seen to develop in Oklahoma and Texas along the old outflow boundary after about 20 UTC.

In addition, new thunderstorms that had developed in the Texas Panhandle around 19 UTC appeared to intensify once they moved eastward and encountered the aforementioned outflow boundary that was left behind from the earlier storms. According to the SPC Storm Reports, the large thunderstorms in the Texas Panhandle produced hail up to 4.00 inches in diameter, with surface wind gusts up to 75 mph.

Forecasting Isolated Convection

July 17th, 2010 |

How can satellite data be used to focus one’s attention to the relevant portion of an airmass when isolated convection is developing? That was a salient question late in the day on 16 July when a few convective cells developed over the upper midwest. Visible imagery (above) shows the development of a strong cell — that produced 1.75-inch hail southwest of Rochester in Waltham, MN.

Several satellite products from earlier in the day suggested convection could be sustained in this region. For example, the CIMSS Nearcasting product, which product uses a Lagrangian transport model of upper and lower level moisture observations from the GOES Sounder to make short-term predictions of convective instability (that is, the change in equivalent potential temperature with height), shows a ribbon of lower stability air arcing from Nebraska to southern Minnesota to central Wisconsin. Consider the forecast for 2000 UTC on 16 July made from observations at 1400 UTC, 1500 UTC, 1600 UTC and 1700 UTC. (A loop of the four forecasts valid at 2000 UTC is here). The forecast for lower level (around 800 mb) equivalent potential temperature to be 7-12 K warmer than the upper level (around 500 mb) equivalent potential temperature is very consistent from run to run.

Sounder Derived Product Imagery also shows destabilization ongoing in the region highlighted by the Nearcasting technique. The Lifted Index (above) derived from the Sounder Retrievals shows a ribbon of progressively more unstable air over the course of the day.

Once the region of interest is identified, UW Convective Initiation can be used to identify the specific cumulus cell that will grow. For example, consider the visible image at 2000 UTC, 2015 UTC, 2032 UTC and 2045 UTC . A convective cell develops over southern Minnesota out of a line of towering cumulus. By 2045 UTC, lightning is being produced. The UW Convective Initiation product, which uses both cloud-top cooling and cloud phase changes (both derived from GOES-13 imagery) to infer strong convective growth that leads to clouds with supercooled water and then ice, shows convective initiation likely over south-central Minnesota at 2032 UTC, and ongoing at 2045 UTC. A more complete visible loop that includes lightning plots is here. The complete visible loop with convective initiation values overlain is below. Strong convective cells from Nebraska to Wisconsin are recognized by the UWCI algorithm. Note that convective initiation only detects the start of convection; once the convective tower has glaciated, initiation is deemed to have ended and it is no longer detected. For this reason, UWCI may not show optimal results in regions of ice clouds. However, as the loop below shows, it commonly detects growing convective clouds before the convection produces lightning, and long before severe weather occurs.

Isolated Convection over Nebraska

July 16th, 2010 |

The loop above shows the window channel (11 micron) imagery from the night of 15 July over Nebraska. (Also plotted: METARS, lightning, and the UWCI product) An isolated convective storm — identified accurately by the UWCI algorithm — developed over central Nebraska near local midnight. There were no severe reports associated with this system, but it did produce considerable lightning as it moved through eastern Nebraska. What can the satellite data reveal about the environment over Nebraska?

The convection that exists at the start of the loop formed near the dryline in western Nebraska. The 2315 UTC image shows a warmer surface (darker enhancement) over the Nebraska panhandle than points east. METARS shows temperatures there in the 90s, with low dewpoints, versus mid-80s and dewpoints in the 60s to the east. The dry air cools more rapidly, so that the panhandle shows a cooler surface (lighter enhancement) by 0315 UTC. Satellite data suggests that the dryline is not moving east, and forcing associated with it does not cause the convection over central Nebraska.

The CIMSS Nearcast product uses a Lagrangian model to describe the evolution of equivalent potential temperature at two levels in the atmosphere. Retrievals from the GOES Sounder are used to produce the moisture fields that are input into this model. Forecasts for 0600 UTC of the change of equivalent potential temperature from about 800 mb to about 500 mb, near the time of convective onset (Here is the IR Imagery from that time), are shown below as a loop of 5 forecasts — initial times from 00 UTC to 04 UTC — each valid at 0600 UTC. Note how the region of interest is well-highlighted, and is narrowing with time. The low-level equivalent potential temperature is 15-20 K warmer than the mid-level value.

GOES Sounder Lifted Index shows a tongue of lower values of Lifted Index through central Nebraska at 0500 UTC. The axis of minimum stability as denoted by the Lifted Index matches the prediction from the Nearcast product very nicely. Given this potential instability, is there anything that suggests a trigger mechanism? The surface METARS, plotted over the IR imagery shown at the top of this post, do not suggest any propagating boundary.

The GOES Imager Water Vapor loop, shown above, does not suggest a clear forcing mechanism for the observed convection. GOES Sounder water vapor, however, is available at three levels, rather than the one level of the GOES Imager. (The ABI on GOES-R will also include 3 water vapor channels that sample different parts of the atmosphere). Although the images at ~0500 UTC from 6.5 microns shows little in the way of forcing (the water vapor channel on the imager is also centered near 6.5 microns), the 7.0 microns and the 7.4-micron image both show a stronger gradient in water vapor near where the convection developed. This suggests that the forcing mechanism for the convection was closer to the surface than could be detected using the 6.5-micron channel on either the imager or the sounder. Weighting functions for the sounder channels (produced at this website computed at North Platte, NE at 00 UTC on 15 July (upstream of the region of convection), and at Valley, NE at 12 UTC on 15 July (downstream of the region of convection) show that the peak response for the 7.0 and especially the 7.4 micron channels is lower in the atmosphere than the peak response for the 6.5 micron channel. (Data from these weighting functions can guide you to search the correct horizontal level in the atmosphere to find the forcing that is causing convection) Thus, while a loop of the sounder 6.5-micron water vapor data shows little to suggest why the convection develops where it does (as expected, given that the sounder 6.5-micron data should show similar features (albeit at coarser sounder resolution) compared to the imager 6.5-micron data shown above), the loop of 7.0-micron sounder water vapor data is a bit more suggestive of a forcing mechanism, and the loop 7.4-micron sounder water vapor, shown below, most definitely shows a boundary that is associated with the convection that develops over central Nebraska. Detection of water vapor distributions at different levels can be key to understanding why convection forms where it does.