Great Lakes surface geographical outlines evident on water vapor imagery

February 23rd, 2015
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)

A cold and dry arctic air mass (morning minimum temperatures) was in place over the Great Lakes region on 23 February 2015. This arctic air mass was sufficiently cold and dry throughout the atmospheric column to allow the outlines of portions of the surface geography of the Great Lakes to be seen on GOES-13 (GOES-East) 6.5 µm water vapor channel images (above; click image to play animation).

In addition to the commonly-used 4-km resolution 6.5 µm water vapor channel on the GOES Imager instrument, there are also three 10-km resolution water vapor channels on the GOES Sounder instrument (centered at 6.5 µm, 7.0 µm, and 7.4 µm). A 4-panel comparison of these water vapor channel images (below; click image to play animation) provides the visual indication that each water vapor channel is sensing radiation from different layers at different altitudes — for example, the surface geographical outlines of the Great Lakes are best seen with the Sounder 7.4 µm (bottom left panels) and the Imager 6.5 µm (bottom right panels) water vapor channels.

GOES-13 Sounder 6.5 µm, 7.0 µm, 7.4 µm, and Imager 6.5 µm water vapor channel images (click to play animation)

GOES-13 Sounder 6.5 µm, 7.0 µm, 7.4 µm, and Imager 6.5 µm water vapor channel images (click to play animation)

An inspection of GOES Sounder and Imager water vapor channel weighting function plots (below) helps to diagnose the altitude and depth of the layers being sensed by each of the individual water vapor channels at a variety of locations. For example, the air mass over Green Bay, Wisconsin was cold and very dry (with a Total Precipitable Water value of 0.87 mm or 0.03 inch), which shifted the altitude of the various water vapor channel weighting functions to very low altitudes; this allowed surface radiation from the contrasting land/water boundaries to “bleed up” through what little water vapor was present in the atmosphere, and be sensed by the GOES-13 water vapor detectors. In contrast, the air mass farther to the south over Lincoln, Illinois was a bit more more moist, especially in the middle/upper troposphere (with a Total Precipitable Water value of 4.20 mm or 0.17 inch) — this shifted the altitude of the water vapor channel weighting functions to much higher altitudes (to heights that were closer to those calculated using a temperature/moisture profile based on the US Standard Atmosphere).

GOES-13 Sounder and Imager water vapor channel weighting function plots for Green Bay WI, Lincoln IL, and the US Standard Atmosphere

GOES-13 Sounder and Imager water vapor channel weighting function plots for Green Bay WI, Lincoln IL, and the US Standard Atmosphere

In addition to the temperature and/or moisture profile of the atmospheric column, the other factor which controls the altitude and depth of the layer(s) being detected by a specific water vapor channel is the satellite viewing angle (or “zenith angle”); a larger satellite viewing angle will shift the altitude of the weighting function to higher levels in the atmosphere. Recall that the water vapor channel is essentially an Infrared (IR) channel — it generally senses the mean temperature of a layer of moisture or clouds located within the middle to upper troposphere. In this case, the sharp thermal contrast between the cold land surfaces surrounding the warmer Great Lakes was able to be seen, due to the lack of sufficient water vapor at higher levels of the atmosphere to attenuate or block the surface thermal signature.

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.

On a separate — but equally interesting — topic: successive intrusions of arctic air over the region allowed a rapid growth of ice in the waters of Lake Michigan. A 15-meter resolution Landsat-8 0.59 µm panochromatic visible image viewed using the SSEC RealEarth web map server (below) showed a very detailed picture of ice floes along the western portion of the lake, as well as a patch of land-fast ice in the far southern end of the lake.

Landsat-8 0.59 µm panochromatic visible image (click to enlarge)

Landsat-8 0.59 µm panochromatic visible image (click to enlarge)

The motion of the band of ice floes along the western  edge of Lake Michigan was evident in 1-km resolution GOES-13 0.63 µm visible channel images (below; click image to play animation) — along the east coast of Wisconsin, southwesterly winds gusting to around 20 knots were acting to move the ice floes away from the western shoreline of Lake Michigan.

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

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

New England Nor’easter

January 27th, 2015

GOES-13 was placed into Rapid Scan Operations mode during the evolution of the strong Nor’easter that affected much of New England (HPC storm summary), and the 10.7 µm IR imagery, above (available for download here as an MP4 and here as an animated gif) shows the development of the system over the 2-day period of 26-27 January. Of particular note in the animation is the southeast to northwest motion of cold cloud tops over central and eastern Long Island around 0500 and 0600 UTC on 27 January. Those cold clouds tops never quite made it to western Long Island or to New Jersey, where snow totals were less. The GOES-13 visible image animation for these 2 days is shown below (available for download here as an MP4 and here as an animated gif).

GOES-13 0.65 µm Visible Imagery, 26-27 January 2015 (click to play animation)

GOES-13 0.65 µm Visible Imagery, 26-27 January 2015 (click to play animation)

ASCAT microwave data continues to show the surface circulation. The METOP-A overpass at 1513 UTC, below, shows a center about 100 miles southeast of Nantucket, where gusts past hurricane force have been occurring. A large area of winds exceeding 50 knots (in red) is present over the northern Gulf of Maine.

METOP-A ASCAT winds, 1513 UTC on 27 January 2015 along with surface METAR reports (click to enlarge)

METOP-A ASCAT winds, 1513 UTC on 27 January 2015 along with surface METAR reports (click to enlarge)

A comparison of 1-km resolution MODIS 0.64 µm visible channel, 11.0 µm IR channel, and 6.7 µm water vapor channel images from 17:49 UTC is shown below. One observation of interest is a ship report just southeast of the storm center: 50-knot winds from the south-southwest, with blowing spray reducing surface visibility to 2-3 miles.

MODIS 0.64 µm visible, 11.0 µm IR, and 6.7 µm water vapor images (with surface/ship/buoy reports and surface analysis)

MODIS 0.64 µm visible, 11.0 µm IR, and 6.7 µm water vapor images (with surface/ship/buoy reports and surface analysis)

===== 28 January Update =====

Aqua MODIS true-color image

Aqua MODIS true-color image

As the Nor’easter departed and the clouds began to clear over the northeastern US on 28 January, the Aqua MODIS true-color Red/Green/Blue (RGB) image shown above revealed the areas with significant snow on the ground. Note the thin areas of snow cover along the spine of the Appalachian Mountains, extending as far southward as Tennessee and North Carolina. Closer views of New York City and Washington DC are also available.

===== 29 January Update =====

Terra and Aqua MODIS true-color images

Terra and Aqua MODIS true-color images

The clouds had cleared from the Boston region on 29 January; a comparison of the Terra and Aqua MODIS true-color images (above) showed the changes in the offshore sediment patterns in the ~90 minutes between the overpasses of the 2 satellites. The strong winds of the storm caused upwelling of colder waters along the coast and nearshore areas, with the Suomi NPP VIIRS Sea Surface Temperature product (below) showing SST values as cold as the 30-33º F range (darker purple color enhancement).

Suomi NPP VIIRS Sea Surface Temperature product

Suomi NPP VIIRS Sea Surface Temperature product

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)

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