Fire activity in Canada

June 30th, 2008

GOES-11 visible + shortwave IR images (Animated GIF)

Wildfire activity began to increase across the northern portions of Saskatchewan and Manitoba in Canada on 30 June 2008. GOES-11 visible and 3.9 µm “shortwave IR” images (above) showed a number of thick smoke plumes (lighter gray features on the visible images) drifting southeastward from a large cluster of active fire “hot spots” (darker black pixels on the IR images). GOES-11 was placed into Rapid Scan Operations (RSO) during the afternoon hours, so images near the end of the animation were available at 5-7 minute intervals.

The largest fire was located between Pelican Narrows and Sandy Bay in Saskatchewan, as seen in an AVHRR false color image (below, viewed using Google Earth). A close-up view reveals that the fire had actually jumped the only road that was in that area (the seasonal road which connects Sandy Bay and Pelican Narrows). The GOES-11 shortwave IR brightness temperatures associated with this particular fire were as high as 341º K (68º C, 158º F), which is the saturation temperature of the 3.9 µm detectors on the GOES-11 satellite. Note that some small pyrocumulus clouds could be seen developing over this large and very hot fire on the GOES-11 visible imagery (above) as well as on the AVHRR false color image (below).
AVHRR false color image (Google Earth)

A closer view of the largest fire using AWIPS images of the 1-km resolution MODIS 3.7 µm and the 4-km resolution GOES-12 3.9 µm IR channels (below) shows the advantage of higher spatial resolution for displaying the shape and coverage of not only the largest fire cluster (located near the center of the image), but also the smaller fires in outlying areas. Many of the pixels were so hot that the IR brightness temperatures exceeded the 54.5º C upper threshold for AWIPS display, and showed up as black pixels (registered as “NO DATA“) on the imagery. The smoke from this fire was restricting surface visibility to 1 mile at Flin Flon (CYFO) and 3 miles at The Pas (CYQD) in Manitoba, even though those 2 sites were not in the direct path of the thickest portion of the smoke plume.

MODIS + GOES-11 shortwave IR images (Animated GIF)

Some clues as to the locations of the hottest portion of the fire — which happened to be located within the eastern half of the active fire area, where the black “NO DATA” pixels were seen on the MODIS shortwave IR image — could be found by examining other MODIS images and products: note the darker black pixels on the 11.0 µm “IR Window” channel, the brighter white pixels on the 2.1 µm near-IR “Snow/Ice” channel, and the darker red pixels on the Land Surface Temperature (LST) product (below). AWIPS cursor sampling indicated that the hottest pixel on the IR Window image was 52º C (126º F), while the hottest pixel on the LST image was significantly warmer at 145º F (63º C).

MODIS IR + snow/ice + LST images (Animated GIF)

Eastern Pacific: Tropical Storms Boris and Cristina

June 30th, 2008

AMSU image (Tropical Storm Boris)

While the Atlantic Ocean tropical cyclone season has been relatively quiet thus far, the Eastern Pacific Ocean was showing some signs of activity in late June 2008. Products from the CIMSS Tropical Cyclones site such as AMSU brightness temperature (above) and Satellite Consensus (SATCON) tropical cyclone intensity estimates (below) were useful to forecasters at the National Hurricane Center, as noted in their Tropical Storm Boris discussion from 29 June 2008:

TROPICAL STORM BORIS DISCUSSION NUMBER 13
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL

800 PM PDT SUN JUN 29 2008

THE RAGGED EYE VISIBLE EARLIER HAS BEEN OBSCURED BY NEW CONVECTION NEAR THE CENTER…ALTHOUGH EXCELLENT BANDING ALOFT IS APPARENT IN AN AMSU PASS AT 0045 UTC. THE ADVISORY INTENSITY OF 60 KT IS A BLEND OF SUBJECTIVE DVORAK ESTIMATES OF 55 KT FROM TAFB AND SAB…A CIMSS ADT OF 65 KT…AND A CIMSS AMSU ESTIMATE OF 66 KT.


CIMSS Satellite Consensus (Tropical Storm Boris)

Not far to the west of Boris, Tropical Storm Cristina was also present over the Eastern Pacific Ocean. ASCAT satellite wind vectors were helpful in verifying the intensity of Cristina, as seen in on GOES-11 visible and IR imagery with ASCAT data superimposed (below).

GOES-11 visible image + ASCAT winds

GOES-11 IR images + ASCAT winds (Animated GIF)

A 30 June 2008 National Hurricane Center discussion for Tropical Storm Cristina also noted

TROPICAL STORM CRISTINA DISCUSSION NUMBER 11
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL

200 AM PDT MON JUN 30 2008

THE CLOUD PATTERN ASSOCIATED WITH CRISTINA HAS BECOME LESS ORGANIZED OVER THE PAST SEVERAL HOURS. THERE IS A RATHER SHARP EDGE TO THE HIGH CLOUD MASS OVER THE EASTERN SIDE OF THE SYSTEM…INDICATIVE OF EASTERLY VERTICAL SHEAR. THIS SHEAR IS AT LEAST PARTIALLY DUE TO THE UPPER-LEVEL OUTFLOW FROM TROPICAL STORM BORIS LOCATED NOT FAR TO CRISTINA’S EAST.

This sharp eastern cloud edge was quite evident on GOES-11 IR imagery (below), which also displays the CIMSS wind shear product.

GOES-11 IR images + wind shear (Animated GIF)

One factor influencing the lack of organized tropical storm activity in the Atlantic so far this season may have been the persistent Saharan Air Layer and airborne African dust that was frequently observed over the tropical Atlantic basin during the month of June 2008 — note the presence of significantly lower MIMIC Total Precipitable Water (TPW) values during the 27-30 June 2008 period (below) within the 10-20º N latitude band over the Atlantic Ocean, compared to the much higher TPW values over tropical East Pacific where Tropical Storms Boris and Cristina were seen. One impact of such a high amount of African dust may be the cooler than normal Sea Surface Temperatures across the tropical Atlantic, which would be a negative factor for tropical cyclone formation.

MIMIC Total Precipitable Water (Animated GIF)

MIMIC Total Precipitable Water (Animated GIF)

Clockwise-rotating vortex over the tropical Atlantic

June 27th, 2008

GOES-12 visible + shortwave IR images (Animated GIF)

Tony Cristaldi at the National Weather Service forecast office at Melbourne, Florida pointed out an interesting feature to us: a clockwise-rotating vortex over the Atlantic Ocean, located just north of the Equator off the northeast coast of Brazil. An animation of GOES-12 visible and 3.9 µm shortwave IR images (above; QuickTime animation) shows the feature as it moved westward on 26 June and 27 June 2008 (producing brief pulses of convection on both days). So, the Question of the Day is: if this was a Mesoscale Convective Vortex (MCV) that was spawned by convection over the tropical Atlantic Ocean, and it was found in the Northern Hemisphere, then wouldn’t such a feature be expected to exhibit a counterclockwise (or “cyclonic” in the Northern Hemisphere) rotation?

The answer to that question (provided via email from the bright minds of Brian Etherton at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Brad Barrett at the University of Oklahoma): since this mesoscale circulation possessed a small radius of curvature (implying a large Centrifugal Force) and was located near the Equator (implying a small Coriolis Force), then the flow (as governed by the Gradient Wind Balance equation) would be cyclostrophic (a balance between only the Pressure Gradient Force and the Centrifugal Force) — so the direction of flow into such a circulation could be either cyclonic (counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere) or, as in this particular case, anticyclonic (clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere).

In an attempt to identify the source of this curious vortex, we examined GOES-12 visible and shortwave IR imagery at 3-hour intervals during the 23-27 June period (below; QuickTime animation). The imagery seems to suggest that the source of the vortex may have been an area of convection over the tropical Atlantic Ocean, which developed just south of the Equator (centered around 1.5º S / 28.0º W) on 24 June. This convection produced a well-defined outflow boundary, which could be seen propagating northwestward on the 11:45 and 14:45 UTC visible images on 24 June. The vortex first becomes apparent on the 17:45 UTC visible image on 24 June, located some distance behind (south of) the aforementioned outflow boundary. From that point, the vortex is then difficult to follow due to other cloudiness in the region, until it is again obvious on the 11:45 UTC visible image on 26 June (located near 0.5º N / 33.5º W). After 26 June, the feature is more easily tracked using the 30-minute interval images shown above.

GOES-12 visible + shortwave IR images (Animated GIF)

Dust + smoke + ice: it must be late June!

June 25th, 2008

GOES-12 visible images (Animated GIF)

Today’s CIMSS Satellite Blog entry will take a step back and focus on the larger scale. We’ll begin with an animation of GOES-12 visible images from 25 June 2008 (above). Several items of interest are apparent in addition to the normal diurnal development of thunderstorms across parts of North and Central America: (1) the very large area of haziness that occupies the lower right quarter of the images is due to airborne dust from Africa; (2) thick smoke from wildfires is evident over much of northern California and Nevada; (3) a good deal of Hudson Bay in Canada is still frozen. Such is the diversity of meteorological phenomena that can be seen on satellite imagery in late June!

METEOSAT-9 Saharan Air Layer tracking product (Animated GIF)

(1) To confirm that the haziness seen on the visible imagery above is due to African dust, we examine the Meteosat-9 Saharan Air Layer (SAL) tracking product (above). The westward progression of a large Saharan dust outbreak (orange to red color enhancement) can be clearly seen during the 21-25 June period. The areal coverage of the airborne dust over the Atlantic Ocean could also be seen on a composite of AVHRR false-color imagery from 23 June (below, displayed using Google Earth).

AVHRR false color image

(2) To explore the impacts of the thick smoke over northern California, it is interesting to view an AWIPS image comparison of the MODIS Land Surface Temperature (LST) product and the MODIS visible channel (below). Note that the LST values seemed to be about 20º F cooler under the areas of thickest smoke (in the 100-110º F range, orange to light red colors) compared to areas farther to the north and to the south of the smoke (where LST values were in the 120-130º F range, darker red colors). The actual air temperatures were not affected by such a drastic amount, although air temperatures in the Sacramento Valley were in the mid-upper 80s F under the thickest smoke (compared to low to mid 90s F farther to the south in the San Joaquin Valley. At Red Bluff in northern California (KRBL) the maximum temperature on 25 June was 87º F (the surface visibility was 2.5 miles or less the entire day due to smoke), several degrees below the daytime maximum temperatures of 98º F, 95º F, and 96º F on the previous 3 days (KRBL 96-hour meteorogram).

MODIS LST + visible image (Animated GIF)

(3) Finally, to confirm that ice still remained in much of Hudson Bay, we next turn to MODIS true color and false color images from the SSEC MODIS Direct Broadcast site (below). The majority of the bright features seen over Hudson Bay on the true color image are indeed ice, which appears as a darker red color on the false color image (in contrast to supercooled water droplet clouds, which appear as varying shades of white).

MODIS true color + false color images (Animated GIF)