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

The King Fire in California

September 19th, 2014
Suomi NPP VIIRS true-color images

Suomi NPP VIIRS true-color images

The King Fire began burning in central California (between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe) during the evening hours on 13 September 2014. A sequence of daily (12-19 September) Suomi NPP VIIRS true-color Red/Green/Blue (RGB) images from the SSEC RealEarth web map server site (above) showed that as the prevailing southwesterly wind pattern switched to easterly on 19 September, there was a major change in the transport of smoke from the King Fire. The final image in the series zooms out to show how much of central California had become over-run with thick smoke.

A comparison of AWIPS-II images of Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.7 µm Day/Night Band and 3.74 µm shortwave IR image at 09:18 UTC or 2:18 AM local time (below) revealed the bright glow of the large fire complex, along with the large fire “hot spot” signature (black to yellow to red color enhancement).

Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.7 µm Day/Night Band and 3.74 µm shortwave IR images

Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.7 µm Day/Night Band and 3.74 µm shortwave IR images

Suomi NPP VIIRS 3.74 µm shortwave IR images during the overnight hours (just after 2 AM local time) on 17 and 18 September (below) showed the dramatic northeastward advance of the fire hot spot signature during that 24-hour period. Smoke from the fire was reducing the surface visibility to 3-4 miles as far to the northeast as Lovelock (KLOL) and Fallon (KNFL) in Nevada.

Suomi NPP VIIRS 3.74 µm shortwave IR images

Suomi NPP VIIRS 3.74 µm shortwave IR images

Happy Camp Fire in northern California

September 3rd, 2014
GOES-15 0.63 µm visible channel images (click to play animation)

GOES-15 0.63 µm visible channel images (click to play animation)

After being started by lightning on 11 August, the Happy Camp Fire Complex (Inciweb) continued to burn in far northern California on 03 September 2014. McIDAS images of GOES-15 (GOES-West) 0.63 µm visible channel data (above; click image to play animation) initially revealed the smoke which had settled into the area valleys during the previous night, and then showed a new smoke plume which drifted southwestward off the coast, then turned to the left and moved southward along the adjacent nearshore waters.  The smoke moved over Arcata/Eureka airport (KACV), at one point reducing the surface visibility to 6 miles.

As the fie continued to burn into the following night, an AWIPS II image of Suomi NPP VIIRS 3.74 shortwave IR channel data at 10:21 UTC (3:21 AM local time) showed the cluster of fire hot spots (black to yellow to red pixels), while the corresponding VIIRS 0.7 µm Day/Night Band image showed that the bright glow of the fire complex was as large and as intense as that from many of the larger cities in the region.

Suomi NPP VIIRS 3.74 µm shortwave IR and 0.7 µm Day/Night Band images

Suomi NPP VIIRS 3.74 µm shortwave IR and 0.7 µm Day/Night Band images

Slide Fire in Arizona

May 22nd, 2014
GOES-13 0.63 µm visible channel images (click to play animation)

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

McIDAS images of GOES-13 (GOES-East) 0.63 µm visible channel data (above; click image to play animation) showed the rapid growth of the smoke plume from the Slide Fire which was burning in Arizona on 21 May 2014.

As the fire continued to burn into the night, a comparison of AWIPS images of 375-meter resolution Suomi NPP VIIRS 3.74 µm and 4-km resolution GOES-13 3.9 µm shortwave IR images (below) demonstrated the advantage of improved spatial resolution (and a more direct viewing angle) of the VIIRS data for determining both the intensity and the true location of the fire hot spots around 10 UTC or 4 am local time.

Suomi NPP VIIRS 3.74 µm and GOES-13 3.9 µm shortwave IR image comparison

Suomi NPP VIIRS 3.74 µm and GOES-13 3.9 µm shortwave IR image comparison

On the following morning, GOES-15 (GOES-West) 0.63 µm visible channel images (below; click to play animation) the smoke plume aloft and smoke which had settled into valleys could be seen during the early morning hours.

GOES-15 0.63 µm visible channel images (click to play animation)

GOES-15 0.63 µm visible channel images (click to play animation)

Suomi NPP VIIRS true-color Red/Green/Blue (RGB) images from 21 May and 22 May are visualized using the SSEC RealEarth web map server (below). On 22 May, bands of high-altitude cirrus clouds were moving over the region, making the identification of the north/northwestward-moving smoke plume a bit more difficult.

Suomi NPP VIIRS true-color RGB images (21 and 22 May)

Suomi NPP VIIRS true-color RGB images (21 and 22 May)