Fort McMurray, Alberta wildfire

May 3rd, 2016

GOES-15 0.63 um Visible (top) and 3.9 um Shortwave Infrared (bottom) images [click to play animation]

GOES-15 0.63 µm Visible (top) and 3.9 µm Shortwave Infrared (bottom) images [click to play animation]

GOES-15 (GOES-West) Visible (0.63 µm) and Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images (above) showed the hot spot (dark black to yellow to red pixels) and the development of pulses of pyrocumulonimbus (pyroCb) clouds associated with a large wildfire located just to the west of Fort McMurray, Alberta (station identifier CYMM) on 03 May 2016. The fire — which started on 01 May (Wikipedia) — caused a mandatory evacuation of the nearly 90,00 residents of the city (the largest fire-related evacuation in Alberta history). Note that the hourly surface plots indicated a temperature of 90º F (32.2º C) at 22-23 UTC — in fact, a new daily record high temperature of 32.6º C was set for Fort McMurray (time series plot of surface data).

The corresponding GOES-15 Visible (0.63 µm) and Infrared Window (10.7 µm) images (below) revealed cloud-top infrared brightness temperature values as cold as -58º C (darker red color enhancement) at 0030 and 0100 UTC on 04 May.

GOES-15 0.63 um Visible (top) and 10.7 um Infrared Window (bottom) images [click to play animation]

GOES-15 0.63 µm Visible (top) and 10.7 µm Infrared Window (bottom) images [click to play animation]

Suomi NPP VIIRS False-color RGB, Visible (0.64 um), Shortwave Infrared (3.74 um), and Infrared Window (11.45 um) images at 1834 UTC [click to enlarge]

Suomi NPP VIIRS False-color RGB, Visible (0.64 µm), Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm), and Infrared Window (11.45 µm) images at 1834 UTC [click to enlarge]

A comparison of Suomi NPP VIIRS false-color “Snow vs cloud discrimination” Red/Green/Blue (RGB), Visible (0.64 µm), Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm), and Infrared Window (11.45 µm) images at 1834 UTC (above) showed that while a large fire hot spot was apparent on the Shortwave Infrared image, there was no clear indication of any pyrocumulus cloud development at that time. However, a similar image comparison at 2018 UTC (below) revealed that a well-defined pyroCb cloud had formed (with a cloud-top infrared brightness temperature as cold as -60º C, dark red color enhancement) which was drifting just to the north of the Fort McMurray airport (whose cyan surface report is plotted near the center of the images). A 2104 UTC NOAA-19 AVHRR image provided by René Servranckx showed a minimum IR brightness temperature of -59.6º C.

Suomi NPP VIIRS false-color RGB, Visible (0.64 um), Shortwave Infrared (3.74 um), and Infrared Window (11.45 um) images at 2018 UTC [click to enlarge]

Suomi NPP VIIRS false-color RGB, Visible (0.64 µm), Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm), and Infrared Window (11.45 µm) images at 2018 UTC [click to enlarge]

A closer look using Suomi NPP VIIRS true-color RGB and Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) images from the SSEC RealEarth site (below) showed the initial pyroCb cloud as it had drifted just east of Fort McMurray, with the early stages of a second pyroCb cloud just south of the city.

Suomi NPP VIIRS true-color RGB and Shortwave Infrared (3.74 um) images [click to enlarge]


Suomi NPP VIIRS true-color RGB and Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) images [click to enlarge]

A nighttime comparison of Suomi NPP VIIRS Day/Night Band (0.7 µm) and Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) images at 1015 UTC or 3:15 am local time (below; courtesy of William Straka, SSEC) showed the bright glow of the large Fort McMurray wildfire, as well as the lights associated with the nearby oil shale mining activity.

Suomi NPP VIIRS Day/Night Band (0.7 um) and Shortwave Infrared (3.74 um) images at 1014 UTC [click to enlarge]

Suomi NPP VIIRS Day/Night Band (0.7 µm) and Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) images at 1014 UTC [click to enlarge]

A sequence of Suomi NPP VIIRS Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) images covering the 02 April – 04 April period (below) showed the diurnal changes as well as the overall growth of the fire hot spot (darker black pixels).

Suomi NPP VIIRS Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) images [click to enlarge]

Suomi NPP VIIRS Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) images [click to enlarge]

===== 05 May Update =====

The GOES-14 satellite was operating in Super Rapid Scan Operations for GOES-R (SRSOR) mode, providing images at 1-minute intervals — and the scan sector was positioned to monitor the Fort McMurray wildfire on 05 May. GOES-14 Visible (0.63 µm) and Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images (below; also available as a large 133 Mbyte animated GIF) showed the growth of the smoke plume and fire hot spot signature (black to yellow to red pixels).

GOES-14 0.63 µm Visible (top) and 3.9 µm Shortwave Infrared (bottom) images [click to play MP4 animation]

GOES-14 0.63 µm Visible (top) and 3.9 µm Shortwave Infrared (bottom) images [click to play MP4 animation]


A 30-meter resolution Landsat-8 false-color Red/Green/Blue (RGB) image (below) showed the size of part of the fire burn scar (darker brown) as well as the active fires (bright pink) along the perimeter of the burn scar.

Landsat-8 false-color image [click to enlarge]

Landsat-8 false-color image [click to enlarge]

===== 06 May Update =====

The Fort McMurray fire continued to produce a great deal of smoke on 06 May, and the coverage and intensity of fire hot spots increased during the afternoon hours as seen on 1-minute GOES-14 Visible (0.63 µm) and Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images (below; also available as a large 180 Mbyte animated GIF).

GOES-14 0.63 µm (top) and 3.9 µm Shortwave Infrared (bottom) images [click to play MP4 animation]

GOES-14 0.63 µm (top) and 3.9 µm Shortwave Infrared (bottom) images [click to play MP4 animation]

===== 13 May Update =====

Suomi NPP VIIRS Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) and Day/Night Band (0.7 µm) images [click to enlarge]

Suomi NPP VIIRS Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) and Day/Night Band (0.7 µm) images [click to enlarge]

A comparison of Suomi NPP VIIRS Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) and Day/Night Band (0.7 µm) images at 0906 UTC or 3:06 am local time (above) showed the fire hot spots (dark gray to yellow to red pixels) and their nighttime glow.

A time series of VIIRS Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) images covering the 04-13 May period (below) revealed the rapid early growth of the fire, and the continued slow spread of the fire periphery toward the Alberta/Saskatchewan border. On 13 May the total size of the area burned by the Fort McMurray fire was estimated to be 241,000 hectares or 595,524 acres.

Time series of Suomi NPP VIIRS Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) images, covering the 04-13 May period [click to enlarge]

Time series of Suomi NPP VIIRS Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) images, covering the 04-13 May period [click to enlarge]

===== 16 May Update =====

GOES-15 0.63 µm Visible (left) and 3.9 µm shortwave Infrared (right images [click to play animation]

GOES-15 0.63 µm Visible (left) and 3.9 µm shortwave Infrared (right images [click to play animation]

Strong southerly winds ahead of an approaching trough axis (surface analyses) created favorable conditions for rapid fire growth on 16 May — GOES-15 Visible (0.63 µm) and Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) images (above) showed the development of pyrocumulus clouds (first on the far western flank of the fire around 1930 UTC, then later in the eastern portion of the fire area). This new flare-up of fire activity prompted additional evacuations of some oil sands work camps and facilities north of Fort McMurray.

A comparison of Suomi NPP VIIRS Visible (0.64 µm), Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) and Infrared Window (11.45 µm) images at 1932 UTC (below) showed that a small pyroCb had developed, which exhibited a cloud-top IR brightness temperature of -41.48 C.

Suomi NPP VIIRS Visible (0.64 µm), Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm), and Infrared Window (11.45 µm) images [click to enlarge]

Suomi NPP VIIRS Visible (0.64 µm), Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm), and Infrared Window (11.45 µm) images [click to enlarge]

A toggle between the corresponding VIIRS true-color RGB image and Shortwave Infrared images is shown below.

Suomi NPP VIIRS true-color RGB and Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) images [click to enlarge]

Suomi NPP VIIRS true-color RGB and Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) images [click to enlarge]

A time series plot of surface weather conditions for Fort McMurray (below) shows that during prolonged periods of light winds, the surface visibility dropped below 1 mile at times. The air quality at Fort McMurray was rated as “extreme“, and deemed unsafe for residents to return to the city.

Time series of weather conditions at Fort McMurray on 16 May [click to enlarge]

Time series of weather conditions at Fort McMurray on 16 May [click to enlarge]

===== 17 May Update =====

GOES-15 0.63 µm Visible (left) and 3.9 µm Shortwave Infrared (right) images [click to play animation]

GOES-15 0.63 µm Visible (left) and 3.9 µm Shortwave Infrared (right) images [click to play animation]

A shift to westerly winds followed the passage of a surface trough axis on 17 May (surface analyses), which slowed the northward progress of the fire. GOES-15 Visible (0.63 µm) and Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images (above; also available as an MP4 animation) continued to show a great deal of thick smoke over the region, with hot spots from active fires.

However, during the afternoon hours multiple pyroCb clouds were seen to develop along the eastern flank of the fire. A comparison of Suomi NPP VIIRS Visible (0.64 µm), Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) and Infrared Window (11.45 µm) images at 2054 UTC (below) revealed the pyroCb clouds, which exhibited cloud-top IR Window brightness temperatures as cold as -57º C (darker orange color enhancement).

Suomi NPP VIIRS Visible (0.64 µm), Shortwave Infrared (3.74 m) and Infrared Window (11.45 ) images [click to enlarge]

Suomi NPP VIIRS Visible (0.64 µm), Shortwave Infrared (3.74 m) and Infrared Window (11.45 ) images [click to enlarge]

A comparison of GOES-15 Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) and Infrared Window (10.7 µm) images (below; also available as an MP4 animation) showed the development of the pyroCb clouds around 2000 UTC, whose anvil debris moved rapidly southeastward; these pyroCb clouds exhibited a darker gray appearance on the shortwave IR images, along with cloud-top IR Window brightness temperatures as cold as -52º C (light orange color enhancement). Lightning strikes were detected during the early stages of pyroCb growth.

GOES-15 3.9 µm Shortwave Infrared (left) and 10.7 µm Infrared Window (right) images [click to play animation]

GOES-15 3.9 µm Shortwave Infrared (left) and 10.7 µm Infrared Window (right) images [click to play animation]

===== 18 May Update =====

Suomi NPP VIIRS Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) images covering the 04-18 May 2016 period [click to enlarge]

Suomi NPP VIIRS Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) images covering the 04-18 May 2016 period [click to enlarge]

Daily Suomi NPP VIIRS Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) images covering the period 04 May to 18 May 2016 are shown above. The rapid growth of the perimeter of fire hot spots (yellow to red color enhancement) is quite evident during the first few days; patches of thick cloud cover tended to mask the fire hot spots during the middle of the period, but then another increase in hot spot growth is seen beginning on 16 May.

GOES-14 SRSO-R: Convection over Wyoming/Montana, and the Storm Hill Fire in South Dakota

April 24th, 2016

GOES-14 Visible (0.63 µm) images, with surface plots [click to play MP4 animation]

GOES-14 Visible (0.63 µm) images, with surface plots [click to play MP4 animation]

GOES-14 was in SRSO-R mode on 23 April24 April 2016, providing 1-minute Visible (0.63 µm) images (above; also available as a large 115 Mbyte animated GIF) which showed the development of convection over far northern Utah/Colorado, much of Wyoming, southern Montana, and far western South Dakota during the daytime hours of 23 April. Some of this convection produced moderate to heavy rainfall (and some accumulating snowfall) across Wyoming and southern Montana.

Hat tip to Jim Strain, who sent out the Tweet:

Taking a closer look at the Black Hills of South Dakota with GOES-14 Visible (0.63 µm) and Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images (below; also available as a large 151 Mbyte animated GIF), one can see intermittent smoke plumes from the Storm Hill Fire (located near the center of the red circle) on the Visible images during the late afternoon and early evening hours, with the continuation of a fire “hot spot” signature (dark black to yellow color enhancement) on the Shortwave Infrared images into the nighttime hours. The maximum shortwave IR brightness temperature was 324 K at 0424 UTC (10:24 pm local time); the fire hot spot became obscured by dense cloud cover after about 0600 UTC. Highways are plotted in dashed magenta lines on the images.

GOES-14 0.63 µm Visible (left) and 3.9 µm Shortwave Infrared (right) images [click to play MP4 animation]

GOES-14 0.63 µm Visible (left) and 3.9 µm Shortwave Infrared (right) images [click to play MP4 animation]

GOES-14 is in Super Rapid Scan Mode

April 18th, 2016

GOES-14 0.62 µm Visible Imagery, 18 April 2016 [click to play animation]

GOES-14 0.62 µm Visible Imagery, 18 April 2016 [click to play animation]

GOES-14 has entered super  rapid scan operations that will continue through 15 May 2016 (Link), in part to support the Hazardous Weather Testbed (HWT) at the Storm Prediction Center (GOES-R HWT Blog) and the VORTEX Southeast experiment. GOES-14 is viewing the central Plains today and tomorrow in anticipation of thunderstorm development. (SPC Day 1 Convective Outlook for 18 April; Day 2 Convective Outlook for 19 April). The visible animation above shows a strong thunderstorm early in the morning on 18 April 2016 near Kerrville TX.

Note that the Twitter Feed @SRSORbot is now active. The bot tweets out 1-hour animations (with 5-minute time steps) every 20 minutes using the latest GOES-14 SRSO-R visible (day) or infrared (night) imagery.

A longer version of the GOES-14 Visible image animation (with overlays of surface weather symbols) is shown below (also available as a large 203 Mbyte animated GIF).

GOES-14 Visible (0.63 µm) images, with plots of surface weather symbols [click to play MP4 animation]

GOES-14 Visible (0.63 µm) images, with plots of surface weather symbols [click to play MP4 animation]

A comparison of GOES-15, GOES-14 and GOES-13 Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images, below, demonstrates the advantage of 1-minute super rapid scan over the routine 15-minute routine scan interval for characterizing the intensity and trends of a short-lived grassfire in far western Oklahoma. Even though a fire hot spot (yellow color enhancement) appeared on the “2000 UTC” GOES-15 and GOES-13 images, the actual scan time of the fire for those 2 satellites was 2004 and 2003 UTC, respectively; a fire hot spot of 317.2 K was first detected on the 2101 UTC GOES-14 image. The magnitude of the fire hot spot then quickly increased to 332.8 K (red color enhancement) on the 2005 UTC GOES-14 image; the short-term fluctuations in the intensity of the fire hot spot were only adequately captured by the 1-minute super rapid scan interval of the GOES-14 images.

GOES-15 (left), GOES-14 (center) and GOES-13 (right Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images [click to play animation]

GOES-15 (left), GOES-14 (center) and GOES-13 (right Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images [click to play animation]

Large grass fire in Oklahoma and Kansas

March 23rd, 2016

GOES-13 Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images, with surface reports [click to play animation]

GOES-13 Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images, with surface reports [click to play animation]

A grass fire (now referred to as the “Anderson Creek fire”) was first reported in western Woods County, Oklahoma around 2245 UTC or 5:45 PM local time on 22 March 2016. “Hot spot” signatures (yellow to red to black pixels) on GOES-13 Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images (above) showed that the fire proceeded to make a very fast run to the north during the overnight hours, crossing over the Kansas border into Comanche and Barber Counties. The fire eventually jumped Highway 160  — which runs west-to-east across the northern portion of those 2 counties (highways are plotted in violet) — forcing it to be closed for several hours. As of the afternoon of 23 March, the fire was reported to have burned at least 72,000 acres; on that evening, the mayor of Medicine Lodge, Kansas (station identifier KP28) called for a voluntary evacuation as the fire began to approach the edge of the town. Note that GOES-13 (GOES-East) had been placed into Rapid Scan Operations (RSO) mode specifically to monitor the extremely critical fire risk, and was providing images as frequently as every 5-7 minutes.

A nighttime comparison of Suomi NPP VIIRS Day/Night Band (0.7 µm) and Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) images at 0823 UTC or 3:23 AM local time (below) showed the hot spots and the bright glow of the large and very hot fire.

Suomi NPP VIIRS Day/Night Band (0.7 µm) and Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) images {click to enlarge]

Suomi NPP VIIRS Day/Night Band (0.7 µm) and Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) images {click to enlarge]

A sequence of Shortwave Infrared images from POES AVHRR, Terra/Aqua MODIS, and Suomi NPP VIIRS (below) provided higher-resolution snapshots of the rapid northward progression of the fire during the overnight hours (aided by strong southerly winds), followed by an east/northeastward expansion during the subsequent daylight hours (driven by a switch to strong southwesterly winds after the passage of a dryline).

POES AVHRR (3.7 µm), Terra/Aqua MODIS (3.7 µm), and Suomi NPP VIIRS (3.74 µm) Shortwave Infrared images [click to enlarge]

POES AVHRR (3.7 µm), Terra/Aqua MODIS (3.7 µm), and Suomi NPP VIIRS (3.74 µm) Shortwave Infrared images [click to enlarge]

GOES-13 Visible (0.63 µm) images (below) revealed a large increase in smoke produced by the fire during the day on 23 March. This smoke was drawn cyclonically northeastward then northward around the circulation of a storm system that was deepening over western Kansas. Afternoon wind gusts were as high as 61 mph in Newton, Kansas. Downstream of the fire source region, smoke reduced the surface visibility to 4 miles at Hutchinson, Kansas (station identifier KHUT) at 21 UTC or 4 PM local time, and Wichita (station identifier KICT) reported a visibility of 1.75 miles at 00 UTC or 7 PM local time; ash falling from the smoke aloft caused the surface air quality in Wichita to briefly deteriorate to unhealthy levels.

GOES-13 Visible (0.63 µm) images, with surface reports [click to play animation]

GOES-13 Visible (0.63 µm) images, with surface reports [click to play animation]

In the early afternoon at 1748 UTC or 12:48 PM local time, a pilot report near the northern flank of the fire (below) indicated that the tops of the smoke towers were already rising to altitudes of 8000 to 11000 feet above ground level.

GOES-13 Visible (0.63 µm) image, with surface reports and a pilot report of smoke altitude [click to enlarge]

GOES-13 Visible (0.63 µm) image, with surface reports and a pilot report of smoke altitude [click to enlarge]

It is of interest to note that a similar (albeit smaller) grass fire spread rapidly northward from Oklahoma into Kansas, one county to the west and about one month earlier: the Buffalo fire. That event had the benefit of Super Rapid Scan Operations of GOES-14, which provided imagery at 1-minute intervals. The ABI instrument on the GOES-R satellite will be capable of providing 1-minute images over 2 pre-defined mesoscale sectors.

===== 24 March Update =====

Anderson Creek Fire perimeter map [click to enlarge]

Anderson Creek Fire perimeter map [click to enlarge]

A map of the Anderson Creek Fire perimeter (above) was issued by the Oklahoma Forestry Services at 1642 UTC or 11:42 AM local time. At that time, an estimated 397,420 acres (621 square miles) had been burned — which makes it the largest wildfire on record for the state of Kansas.

A comparison of Suomi NPP VIIRS true-color and false-color Red/Green/Blue (RGB) images from the SSEC RealEarth site (below) showed the extent of the burn scar, with smoke plumes drifting south-southeastward from 2 small areas of fires that were still actively burning at 2106 UTC or 4:06 PM local time. As discussed above, it can be seen that the fire crossed (and forced the closure of) US Highway 160 between Coldwater and Medicine lodge, and came very close to the town of Medicine Lodge.

Suomi NPP VIIRS true-color and false-color images [click to enlarge]

Suomi NPP VIIRS true-color and false-color images [click to enlarge]

===== 25 March Update =====

Suomi NPP VIIRS Day/Night Band (0.7 µm) image [click to enlarge]

Suomi NPP VIIRS Day/Night Band (0.7 µm) image [click to enlarge]

With ample illumination from the Moon (in the Waning Gibbous phase, at 98% of Full), the contrast between the dark Anderson Creek fire burn scar and the lighter surrounding grassland was very apparent on a Suomi NPP VIIRS Day/Night Band (0.7 µm) image at 0742 UTC or 2:42 AM local time. This example demonstrates the “visible image at night” capability of the VIIRS Day/Night Band.