An animation of 3-hourly water vapor channel image composites from AWIPS during the entire month of January 2007 (48 MB QuickTime animation; 1280×1024 screen resolution required) shows the diverse variety of storms that affected the Northern Hemisphere during that particular month. Significant weather events included a tornado outbreak in the Gulf Coast region of the US on 04 January, a winter storm that produced heavy snow and ice accumulations across portions of the central and eastern US during 12-17 January, and a powerful storm that brought strong winds to parts of Europe on 17-18 January.
AWIPS images of radar reflectivity and GOES-12 visible and InfraRed (IR) imagery (above) showed a well-defined mesoscale convective eddy that was moving southward across Lake Michigan during the day on 30 January 2007. For a few hours, the core of this mesoscale vortex even exhibited an eye-like structure on the radar (Java animation) and visible channel satellite imagery (Java animation). To the south of this lake vortex, the clouds covering the southern half of Lake Michigan exhibited fairly cold brightness temperatures (-20º to -30º C, cyan to blue enhancement) on the 10.7µm IR imagery (Java animation), yet at the same time appeared significantly warmer (+10º to +20º C, darker gray enhancement) on the 3.9µm IR channel imagery (Java animation). This suggests that much of the cloud cover over southern Lake Michigan was composed of supercooled water droplets, rather than ice crystals (water droplets are efficient reflectors of solar radiation, making water-based clouds appear “warmer” than ice-based clouds on the shortwave IR imagery, due to that channel’s sensitivity to solar reflectance). The MODIS Cloud Phase product (below, upper left panel) supported this idea, indicating predominantly “water phase” cloud (blue enhancement) across much of the southern half of Lake Mighigan. It is interesting to note that the precipitation type at Muskegon, Michigan (station identifier KMKG) fluctuated between “snow” and “snow with freezing fog” as the clouds over southern Lake Mighigan were moving inland (there was some hint of “Mixed” or “Uncertain” cloud phase features moving over that station, which could have seeded the supercooled cloud deck below with enough ice to produce mostly snow at times) — however, the changing precipitation types could be due more to inherent ASOS uncertainties. As this lake eddy moved inland across southwestern lower Michigan later in the day, up to 15 inches of snow was reported at Allegan.
On a side note, during the morning hours over Madison, Wisconsin (station identifier KMSN) it appeared to be snowing very lightly, even though the skies overhead were practically cloud-free — actually, there were ice crystals growing within the boundary layer, rather than snowflakes falling from a cloud. The BUFKIT model sounding analysis (below) indicated a fairly moist “snow growth region” (yellow line) within the lowest 1.5 km of the atmosphere, along with some negative omega in that layer indicating upward vertical motions.
GOES-12 visible channel imagery (above; Java animation) revealed numerous aircraft dissipation trails (otherwise known as “distrails” or “hole punch clouds”) during the day over eastern Texas, northern Louisiana, southern Arkansas, and Mississippi on 29 January 2007. Corresponding GOES-12 10.7µm InfraRed (IR) imagery showed that cloud top temperatures over that region were generally between -20º and -35º C; as aircraft (likely air traffic to/from Dallas-Fort Worth airport KDFW) penetrated that supercooled cloud layer aloft, they caused the cloud droplets to glaciate and begin to fall out of the cloud (causing the “holes” and “streaks” that were evident on the visible imagery). A higher resolution view of these cloud features is available from the Terra MODIS (sourced from the NASA Rapidfire site) and Aqua MODIS overpasses. The 12 UTC rawinsonde data from Fort Worth, Texas (below) indicated that the likely elevation of the supercooled coud deck was probably around 25,000 feet or so. Photos of these cloud features can be seen on the MediaLine weather forum, Weather Underground WunderBlog, WKRG (Mobile AL), NASA Earth Observatory , and StormCenter Envirocast sites.
Around an inch of snow accumulated across parts of southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina during the overnight hours on 28-29 January 2007. This patch of snow cover was evident the following morning on GOES-12 visible channel imagery (above). A Java animation of visible images shows that the northern portion of the snow cover (in Virginia) began to melt rather quickly during the late morning hours. The darker region within the area of snow cover is the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge; snow was not able to accumulate over most of that marshy surface, so it does not appear as white as the surrounding snow-covered land (MODIS true color image). In addition, we can see that the snow cover extended as far to the southeast as coastal sections of the Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds in North Carolina.
By examining AWIPS imagery of some of the MODIS channels, we can confirm that this particular image feature is indeed snow on the ground: snow is a very strong absorber at the 2.1 µm wavelength, and therefore shows up as a dark feature on the Snow/Ice (Band 7) image (below, upper right panel). Note that the MODIS IR brightness temperatures (below, bottom left panel) are several degrees colder in the region of snow cover (-5º to -8º C, darker blue enhancement) than over the surrounding bare ground (0º to -3º C, cyan enhancement).