Antecedent Conditions for a Nor’easter

January 26th, 2015
GOES_SkinT_1400_26January2015

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

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; cold air is present over southern 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 plot 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) testifies to the moistening that is occurring off the southeast coast as this system develops.

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

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Total Precipitable Water, 0300-1400 UTC 26 January 2015 (Click to enlarge)

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, with lightning superimposed, shows the potent system approaching the coast and blossoming over the Gulf Stream. Strong sinking behind the system is indicated by the development of warm water vapor channel brightness temperatures (Yellow in the enhancement), and strong rising ahead of the system helps to generate 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 vigorous.

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GOES-13 6.7 Water Vapor Imagery with hourly lightning strikes overlain, 1800 UTC 25 January-1600 UTC 26 January 2015 (Click to animate)

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 maximum associated with the folding draws ozone down into the troposphere. GOES Sounder Total Column Ozone figures, below, at 0000 UTC and 1200 UTC show relative high values over the upper midwest at 0000 UTC and over South Carolina at 1200 UTC. These two impulses will merge as the forecast nor’easter develops over the Atlantic.

GOES_Sounder_Ozone_0000_1200_26January2015

GOES Sounder DPI Estimates of Total Column Ozone at 0000 and 1200 UTC on 26 January 2015 (Click to enlarge)

Cold night in Labrador, Canada

January 22nd, 2015
Suomi NPP VIIRS 11.45 um IR channel image, with METAR surface reports

Suomi NPP VIIRS 11.45 um IR channel image, with METAR surface reports

With a cloud-free sky and light winds under a dome of high pressure, strong radiational cooling over a deep snowpack allowed the overnight low temperature to drop to -47º F (-43.9º C) at Wabush Lake (station identifier CYWK) in far western Labrador — this was quite possibly the coldest site in North America on 22 January 2015 (the coldest overnight low temperature in Alaska that morning was -39º F or -39.4º C at Galena). AWIPS images of Suomi NPP VIIRS 11.45 µm IR channel data (above) and MODIS 11.0 µm IR channel data (below) showed minimum surface IR brightness temperatures of -47º C or -52.6º F (darker blue color enhancement) in the western Labrador.

MODIS 11.0 um IR channel image, with METAR surface reports

MODIS 11.0 um IR channel image, with METAR surface reports

A comparison of 1-km resolution Soumi NPP VIIRS 11.45 µm and 4-km resolution GOES-13 10.7 µm IR images (below) showed the advantage of higher spatial resolution for more accurately locating the coldest regions.

Suomi NPP VIIRS 11.45 um and GOES-13 10.7 um IR channel images

Suomi NPP VIIRS 11.45 um and GOES-13 10.7 um IR channel images

Lake effect snow band from Lake Huron brings heavy snow to Pennsylvania

January 7th, 2015
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 0.63 µm visible channel data with overlays of surface weather type (above; click image to play animation) showed a large lake effect cloud band that had formed over Lake Huron, moved inland across southern Ontario, and then became further lake-enhanced as it moved over Lake Erie and across northwestern Pennsylvania on 07 January 2015. The report of heavy (4-star) snow in far northwestern Pennsylvania was at Meadville — it reduced surface visibility there to 1.25 miles at times, and produced at least 6 inches of snowfall at that location. To the north of Meadville, 8.5 inches of snow were reported at Edinboro.

Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.64 µm visible image, with surface METARs, RTMA winds, and frontal boundaries

Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.64 µm visible image, with surface METARs, RTMA winds, and frontal boundaries

AWIPS images of Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.64 µm visible channel data are shown with overlays of surface METARs, RTMA winds, and frontal boundaries at 17:39 UTC (above) and 19:19 UTC (below). The RTMA surface winds showed that there was low-level convergence in the vicinity of the weakening cold frontal boundary/surface trough that was sagging southward and southwestward across the region (animation) — this convergence may have helped to maintain the cloud band as it continued to move southeastward across Lake Erie during the afternoon hours. Meadeville PA is station identifier KGKJ.

Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.64 µm visible image, with surface METARs, RTMA winds, and frontal boundaries

Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.64 µm visible image, with surface METARs, RTMA winds, and frontal boundaries

Suomi NPP VIIRS 11.45 µm IR channel images (below) showed that the coldest cloud-top IR brightness temperatures over both the Ontario and Pennsylvania portions of the band were -36º C (lighter green color enhancement) — at London, Ontario (CYXU), embedded towering cumulus (coded TCU EMBD) were reported at both 18 UTC and 19 UTC.

Suomi NPP VIIRS 11.45 µm IR channel images

Suomi NPP VIIRS 11.45 µm IR channel images

The Terra MODIS Sea Surface Temperature product around 18:11 UTC (below) showed that Lake Erie water temperatures were still as warm as the middle 30s F (blue) on either side of the blacked-out lake effect/lake enhanced cloud band — so moving an arctic air mass with 850 hPa temperatures colder than -20º C or -4º F over that water yielded a sufficient “delta-T” value to promote further enhancement/growth of the snow-producing cloud band which originated over Lake Huron.

MODIS Sea Surface Temperature product

MODIS Sea Surface Temperature product

Rare low-elevation snowfall in the eastern Mojave Desert

January 1st, 2015
Aqua MODIS 0.65 µm visible channel image and False-color Red/Green/Blue (RGB) images

Aqua MODIS 0.65 µm visible channel image and False-color Red/Green/Blue (RGB) images

A cold storm system moving through the Southwest US on 31 December 2014 produced significant snowfall in many of the higher-elevation mountain ranges of California, Baja California, Nevada, and Arizona (up to 20 inches at Mountainaire AZ), but also left lighter amounts of snowfall at some low-elevation locations of the eastern Mojave Desert where snowfall is considered to be quite rare (NWS Las Vegas Public Information Statement) | Event  Summary). This event marked the first time that snowfall had been recorded during the month of December at Needles, California.

As clouds began to clear over the region on the following day (01 January 2015), areas which still had snow on the ground could be seen using satellite imagery. On a comparison of Aqua MODIS 0.65 µm visible channel and false-color Red/Green/Blue (RGB) images at 20:33 UTC or 1:33 PM local time (above), snow cover that appeared as shades of white on the visible image also appeared as darker shades of red on the RGB image.

As the day progressed, the sun had the effect of melting the lighter amounts of snow cover, as seen on GOES-15 (GOES-West) 0.63 µm visible channel images (below; click image to play animation). However, due to the presence of the unusually cold air mass, new records for coldest 01 January daily maximum temperature were set for Phoenix (46ºF) and Tucson (41ºF).

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

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