Strong Convection over the Upper Midwest

July 13th, 2015
MODIS 11 µm infrared imagery and GOES Sounder DPI Lifted Index, 0400 UTC (Click to enlarge)

MODIS 11 µm infrared imagery and GOES Sounder DPI Lifted Index, 0400 UTC 13 July 2015 (click to enlarge)

A strong mesoscale convective system (MCS) moving southeastward through the Upper Midwest from late 12 July 2015 into early morning 13 July caused numerous severe wind reports across Minnesota and Wisconsin. This MCS was forecast to drop southeastward and continue to produce severe weather during the day on 13 July 2015 (Storm Prediction Center outlook). The toggle above shows the 0420 UTC Terra MODIS 11.0 µm image and the 0400 UTC GOES-13 Sounder DPI Lifted Index product (which is available in realtime here). As the MCS moved over southern Wisconsin, the coldest cloud-top IR brightness temperature on the 0826 UTC MODIS 11.0 µm IR image was -85º C. The strong system continued to move southeastward as very unstable air as diagnosed by the Sounder fed into it (click here for 850-mb RAOB plots). The 0746 UTC Suomi NPP VIIRS 11.45 µm IR image, below, also toggled with a GOES-13 Sounder Lifted Index product, showed a similar story: very strong convection downwind of a source of strong instability. The GOES Sounder can also diagnose Convective Available Potential Energy (CAPE), with values from 5000-6000 J/kg seen over southern Minnesota and eastern Iowa.

Suomi NPP VIIRS 11.45 µm infrared imagery and GOES Sounder DPI Lifted Index, 0746/0800 UTC (Click to enlarge)

Suomi NPP VIIRS 11.45 µm infrared imagery and GOES Sounder DPI Lifted Index, 0746/0800 UTC 13 July 2015 (click to enlarge)

The Suomi NPP VIIRS Day/Night Band, below, which is a source of visible imagery at night, depicted signatures of the active lightning that accompanied this system: numerous along-scan bright streaks over southern Wisconsin were caused by lightning illuminating the cloud as the VIIRS instruments scanned the cloud top. This toggle showed a comparison of Day/Night Band and 11.45 µm Infrared imagery.

Suomi NPP VIIRS Day/Night Band 0.70 µm visible imagery 0746 UTC (Click to enlarge)

Suomi NPP VIIRS Day/Night Band 0.70 µm visible imagery 0746 UTC 13 July 2015 (click to enlarge)

A closer view comparing the 0746 UTC VIIRS IR and Day/Night Band images, below, includes overlays of METAR reports and both 15-minute and 1-hour cloud-to-ground lightning strikes. The coldest VIIRS cloud-top IR brightness temperature was -78º C.

Suomi NPP VIIRS 11.45 µm IR and 0.7 µm Day/Night Band images, with overlays of METAR surface reports and cloud-to-ground lightning strikes (click to enlarge)

Suomi NPP VIIRS 11.45 µm IR and 0.7 µm Day/Night Band images, with overlays of METAR surface reports and cloud-to-ground lightning strikes (click to enlarge)

At 0805 UTC, the coldest CLAVR-x POES AVHRR Cloud Top Temperature value was -81º C, with maximum Cloud Top Height values of 15 km along the southwestern portion of the MCS.

POES AVHRR Cloud Top Temperature and Cloud Top Height products at 0805 UTC (click to enlarge)

POES AVHRR Cloud Top Temperature and Cloud Top Height products at 0805 UTC (click to enlarge)

This image of Radar Composites of the main line of storms was produced by Greg Carbin of SPC and was posted on Facebook on 13 July 2015.

Typhoons Chan-Hom and Nangka in the same Suomi NPP VIIRS Overpass

July 8th, 2015
Suomi NPP Day/Night Band (0.70 µm) and Infrared Window Channel (11.45 µm) images at 1616 UTC 8 July 2015 (Click to animate)

Suomi NPP Day/Night Band (0.70 µm) and Infrared Window Channel (11.45 µm) images at 1616 UTC on 8 July 2015 (click to enlarge)

The toggle above shows Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.7 µm Day/Night Band and the 11.45 µm Infrared images (courtesy of William Straka, SSEC). It is unusual because two strong tropical cyclones (Category 2 Typhoon Chan-Hom on the left, and Category 4 Typhoon Nangka on the right) are captured in one satellite overpass.

The Day/Night Band (DNB) image shows little evidence of lightning (bright white streaks) with either storm; due to ample illumination from a Third Quarter Moon (at 54% of Full),  the DNB was able to provide a “visible image at night”. Both images show Nangka to be the stronger storm: the eye is more pronounced, and is more symmetric. More information on these storms is available here.

Severe thunderstorms in the Midwest

April 9th, 2015
GOES-13 0.63 µm visible images, with Cloud-Top Cooling Rate, Overshooting Tops Detection, and SPC storm reports (click to play animation)

GOES-13 0.63 µm visible images, with Cloud-Top Cooling Rate, Overshooting Tops Detection, and SPC storm reports (click to play animation)

A deepening area of low pressure (21 UTC surface analysis) was moving northeastward across the Midwest region of the US on 09 April 2015; GOES-13 0.63 µm visible images combined with the Cloud-Top Cooling Rate and Overshooting Tops Detection products (above; click image to play animation) showed a line of severe thunderstorms which quickly developed along the associated cold frontal boundary as it moved eastward across Iowa and Missouri during the afternoon hours. Cloud-Top Cooling Rates with some of the storms in Missouri were in excess of 50º C per 15 minutes (violet color enhancement) during their early stage of development (18:25 UTC image).

A comparison of Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.64 µm visible channel and 11.45 µm IR channel images at 18:51 UTC or 1:51 PM local time (below) showed that the line of thunderstorms was beginning to produce a number of cloud-to-ground lightning strikes.

Suomi NPP VIIRS 11.45 µm IR channel image and 0.64 µm visible channel image with cloud-to-ground lightning strikes

Suomi NPP VIIRS 11.45 µm IR channel image and 0.64 µm visible channel image with cloud-to-ground lightning strikes

Focusing our attention on eastern Iowa and northern Illinois — where there were widespread reports of large hail, damaging winds, and tornadoes (SPC storm reports) — the organization of large, discrete supercell thunderstorms can be seen on GOES-13 0.63 µm visible channel images (below; click image to play animation), which exhibited numerous overshooting tops.

GOES-13 0.63 µm visible channel images, with SPC storm reports (click to play animation)

GOES-13 0.63 µm visible channel images, with SPC storm reports (click to play animation)

The corresponding GOES-13 10.7 µm IR channel images (below; click image to play animation) showed that the coldest cloud-top IR brightness temperatures were -67º C (darker black enhancement).

GOES-13 10.7 µm IR images, with Overshooting Top Detection and SPC storm reports (click to play animation)

GOES-13 10.7 µm IR images, with Overshooting Top Detection and SPC storm reports (click to play animation)

The NOAA/CIMSS ProbSevere product (below; click image to play animation) gauges the likelihood of a storm first producing severe weather (of any kind) within the next 60 minutes. It combines information about the environment (Most Unstable CAPE, Environmental Shear) from the Rapid Refresh Model, information about the growing cloud (Vertical Growth Rate as a percentage of the troposphere per minute and Glaciation Rate, also as a percentage per minute), and Maximum Expected Hail Size (MESH) from the MRMS. In this event, the ProbSevere product performed well for the storm that spawned the EF-4 tornado, although due to the cloudiness of the satellite scene the ProbSevere model was unable to diagnose vertical growth rate and glaciation rate (which diminished the potential lead-time). Below is a chronological timeline of events for that storm:

2308 UTC: first ProbSevere > 50%
2310 UTC: first ProbSevere > 70%
2311 UTC: NWS Severe T-Storm Warning
2312 UTC: ProbSevere = 88%
2323 UTC: 1.00″ hail 2 SE Dixson (15 min lead-time for ProbSevere@50, 13 min for ProbSevere@70, 12 min for NWS Svr Warning)
2335 UTC: NWS Tornado Warning (ProbSevere = 94%)
2340 UTC: Tornado report 2 NE Franklin Grove

Radar reflectivity with NOAA/CIMSS ProbSevere model contours and NWS warning polygons (click to play animation)

Radar reflectivity with NOAA/CIMSS ProbSevere model contours and NWS warning polygons (click to play animation)

In spite of widespread cloudiness, the GOES-13 Sounder single-field-of-view Lifted Index (LI), Convective Available Potential Energy (CAPE), and Total Precipitable Water (TPW) derived product images (below) were able to portray that the air mass in the warm sector of the low ahead of the strong cold front was was both unstable — LI values of -4 to -8º C (yellow to red color enhancement) and CAPE values of 3000-4000 J/kg (yellow to red color enhancement) — and rich in moisture, with TPW values of 30-40 mm or 1.2 to 1.6 inches (yellow to red color enhancement).

GOES-13 Sounder Lifted Index derived product images (click to play animation)

GOES-13 Sounder Lifted Index derived product images (click to play animation)

GOES-13 Sounder Lifted CAPE derived product images (click to play animation)

GOES-13 Sounder CAPE derived product images (click to play animation)

GOES-13 Sounder Total Precipatable Water (TPW) derived product images (click to play animation)

GOES-13 Sounder Total Precipatable Water (TPW) derived product images (click to play animation)

On the following day (10 April), it was cloud-free as the Landsat-8 satellite passed over northern Illinois at 16:41 UTC or 11:41 AM local time — and the 30.2 mile long southwest-to-northeast oriented tornado damage path that produced EF-4 damage and was responsible for 2 fatalities and 22 injuries (NWS Chicago event summary) was evident on 15-meter resolution Band 8 0.59 µm panchromatic visible images viewed using the SSEC RealEarth web map server (below). An aerial survey of part of the tornado damage path can be seen here.

Landsat-8 0.59 µm panchromatic visible image of southwestern portion of tornado damage track (click to enlarge)

Landsat-8 0.59 µm panchromatic visible image of southwestern portion of tornado damage track (click to enlarge)

Landsat-8 0.59 µm panchromatic visible image of northeastern portion of tornado damage path (click to enlarge)

Landsat-8 0.59 µm panchromatic visible image of northeastern portion of tornado damage path (click to enlarge)

A Landsat-8 false-color image (using Bands 6/5/4 as Red/Green/Blue) is shown below. The 2 tornado-related fatalities occurred in Fairdale.

Landsat-8 false-color image (using Bands 6/5/4 as R/G/B)

Landsat-8 false-color image (using Bands 6/5/4 as R/G/B)

On a side note, in the cold (northwestern) sector of the low it was cold enough for the precipitation type to be snow — and up to 4 inches of snow fell in western Iowa. GOES-13 0.63 µm visible channel images (below; click image to play animation) showed the swath of snow cover as it rapidly melted during the daytime hours on 10 April.

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

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

In fact, the swath of snow cover across eastern Nebraska and western/northern Iowa was also evident on a Suomi NPP VIIRS Day/Night Band (DNB) image at 08:49 UTC or 3:39 AM local time (below), highlighting the “visible image at night” capability of the DNB (given ample illumination from the Moon).

Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.7 µm Day/Night Band image

Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.7 µm Day/Night Band image

Antecedent Conditions for a Nor’easter

January 26th, 2015
GOES-13 Sounder Skin Temperature derived product image

GOES-13 Sounder Skin Temperature derived product image

Forecasts have been consistent in the past days for a storm of historic proportions over parts of southern New England. What conditions that are present now argue for the development of a strong winter storm? The image above is the GOES Sounder Land Surface Temperature (or “Skin Temperature”) product; cold air is present over southeastern Canada, with surface temperatures near -30 C, associated with a surface high pressure system. The high pressure will act to reinforce the cold air at the surface, preventing or delaying any changeover to liquid or mixed precipitation (a MODIS Land Surface Temperature product at 1500 UTC on 26 January similarly shows cold air banked over southern Canada).

GOES_SkinT_1400_26January2015

GOES Sounder estimate of Skin Temperature, 1400 UTC 26 January 2015 (Click to enlarge)

Winds over southern New England early on the 26th continued out of the north and northwest, maintaining cold air at the surface. The ASCAT (from METOP-A) imagery above shows brisk northwesterly winds south of southern New England just before 0100 UTC, with southwesterlies east of Georgia and South Carolina just before 0300 UTC. Those southwesterlies are helping moisten the atmosphere, and heavy snows require abundant moisture. MIMIC Total Precipitation (below; click image to play animation) testifies to the moistening that is occurring off the southeast coast as this system develops; the storm appeared to tap moisture from both the Gulf of Mexico and a pre-existing atmospheric river over the Atlantic Ocean.

[Added: The 1540 UTC ASCAT winds show the surface circulation east of Hatteras and the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay! Winds south of New England have shifted to northeasterly. The location of the circulation well off the coast suggests cold air can be maintained over land.]

MIMIC total Precipitable Water (click to play animation)

MIMIC total Precipitable Water (click to play animation)

Given that moisture and cold air are present, what features argue for the development of a strong storm? The GOES-13 water vapor images (below; click image to play animation; also available as an MP4 movie file) with cloud-to-ground lightning strikes superimposed show the potent system developing off the US East Coast and blossoming over the Gulf Stream as a secondary warm conveyor belt forms (a water vapor image with lightning animation from 25-26 January is available here). Strong sinking motion behind the system is indicated by the development of warm water vapor channel brightness temperatures (yellow color enhancement), and strong rising motion ahead of the system helps to generate widespread, strong convection. Convection also occurred over the Deep South late on 25 January in response to solar heating. The system depicted in the Water Vapor imagery is obviously quite vigorous.

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)]

Suomi NPP VIIRS 11.45 µm IR channel and 0.64 µm visible channel images (below) showed that there was a great deal of convective banding within the secondary warm conveyor belt.

Suomi NPP VIIRS 11.45 µm IR channel and 0.64 µm channel images, with lightning, surface fronts and METAR reports

Suomi NPP VIIRS 11.45 µm IR channel and 0.64 µm channel images, with lightning, surface fronts and METAR reports

Total Column Ozone is frequently used as a proxy of tropopause folding; tropopause folds accompany very strong storm development and the vertical circulation associated with the potential vorticity anomaly (maximum) associated with the folding draws stratospheric ozone down into the troposphere. GOES Sounder Total Column Ozone derived product images (below; click to play animation; also available as an MP4 movie file) show that the dynamic tropopause — taken to be the pressure of the PV1.5 surface, red contours — descends below the 400-450 hPa level along the southern gradient of the higher ozone values (green to red color enhancement) as the potential vorticity anomaly pivots eastward along the Gulf Coast states and then northeastward toward the intensifying storm. The presence of clouds prevented ozone retrievals over many areas, but some ozone values over 400 Dobson Units (red color enhancement) could be seen, which is characteristic of stratospheric air.

GOES Sounder Total Column Ozone derived product images (click to play animation)

GOES Sounder Total Column Ozone derived product images (click to play animation)

As the storm approached New England, a MODIS 11.0 µmIR channel image (below) revealed the presence of widespread embedded convective elements within the broad cloud shied, with some cloud-top IR brightness temperatures as cold as -65ºC (darker red color enhancement). These pockets of convection could enhance snowfall rates once they moved inland.

MODIS 11.0 µm IR channel image, with lighting strikes, METAR surface reports, and fixed buoy reports

MODIS 11.0 µm IR channel image, with lighting strikes, METAR surface reports, and fixed buoy reports

An overlay of the RTMA surface winds (below) helped to locate the position of the surface low east of the Delmarva Peninsula. That position agrees well with ASCAT winds from 0158 UTC on 27 January.

MODIS 11.0 µm IR channel image, with RTMA surface winds

MODIS 11.0 µm IR channel image, with RTMA surface winds

A comparison of Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.7 µm Day/Night Band (DNB) and 11.45 µm IR channel images at 06:39 UTC or 1:39 AM Eastern time is shown below. With illumination from the Moon in the Waxing Gibbous phase (at about 60% of Full), the DNB provided a “visible image at night” which showed the expansive offshore “comma cloud” of the storm, along with the locations of bright cloud illumination from dense lightning activity (note the bright lightning signature east of Cape Cod, which corresponded well with a cluster of positive cloud-to-ground lightning strokes). Numerous pockets of convective development were seen well off the coast of North and South Carolina, due to strong cold air advection over the warm waters of the Gulf Stream.

Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.7 µm Day/Night Band and 11.45 µm IR channel images (with cloud-to-ground lightning strikes)

Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.7 µm Day/Night Band and 11.45 µm IR channel images (with cloud-to-ground lightning strikes)