Oil well fire in Utah

January 6th, 2017 |

GOES-15 Visible (0.63 µm) images, with hourly surface reports [click to play animation]

GOES-15 Visible (0.63 µm) images, with hourly surface reports [click to play animation]

GOES-15 (GOES-West) Visible (0.63 µm) images (above) showed a small, short-lived black cloud that formed south/southwest of Vernal (station identifier KVEL) in northeastern Utah on 06 January 2017. This feature was the result of a fire at an oil well site (media report | well location) that apparently started around 11:30 am local time (1830 UTC); the black cloud from the burning oil tanks — which was first apparent on the 1930 UTC visible image — stood out well against the snow-covered ground. The initial northwestward transport of the smoke plume was consistent with lower-tropospheric winds in Grand Junction, Colorado rawinsonde data at 07 January/00 UTC, which showed southeasterly winds as high as 784 hPa (2185 meters or 7169 feet above ground level). The sounding profile also showed that this height was the top of a well-defined temperature inversion, which acted as a cap to prevent the smoke from reaching higher altitudes (photo).

GOES-13 (GOES-East) Visible (0.63 µm) images (below) also displayed the dark smoke plume. The viewing angles from the 2 satellites were similar (~53 degrees from GOES-15 vs ~57 degrees from GOES-13), but the time sampling was slightly better from GOES-15 (due to the extra “SUB-CONUS” scan images at :11 and :41 minutes nearly every hour). Image frequency will be even better with the GOES-R series of satellites (beginning with GOES-16), with routine scans every 5 minutes; the visible image spatial resolution will also be improved (to 0.5 km, vs 1.0 km with the current GOES).

GOES-13 Visible (0.63 µm) images, with hourly surface reports [click to play animation]

GOES-13 Visible (0.63 µm) images, with hourly surface reports [click to play animation]

MODIS Visible (0.645 µm), Shortwave Infrared (3.7 µm) and Infrared Window (11.0 µm) images from a 2036 UTC overpass of the Aqua satellite (below) showed the black smoke cloud in the Visible, but there was no evidence of a fire “hot spot” in the Shortwave Infrared (the media report indicated that the fire was extinguished about 2 hours after it started, which would have been around or just before the time of the MODIS images). On the Infrared Window image, the smoke plume actually did exhibit a slightly colder (darker blue color enhancement) signature, which is unusual since conventional fire and wildfire smoke is normally transparent to thermal radiation.

Aqua MODIS Visible (0.645 µm) and Shortwave Infrared (3.7 µm) images at 2036 UTC [click to enlarge]

Aqua MODIS Visible (0.645 µm) and Shortwave Infrared (3.7 µm) images at 2036 UTC [click to enlarge]

A view of the 250-meter resolution Aqua MODIS true-color Red/Green/Blue (RGB) image from the MODIS Today site is shown below.

Aqua MODIS true-color image at 2036 UTC [click to enlarge]

Aqua MODIS true-color image at 2036 UTC [click to enlarge]