Middle/upper-level deformation zone over the East Pacific Ocean?

May 23rd, 2017 |

GOES-15 Water Vapor (6.5 µm) images, with pilot reports of turbulence [click to play animation]

GOES-15 Water Vapor (6.5 µm) images, with pilot reports of turbulence [click to play animation]

An interesting linear feature appeared over the East Pacific Ocean on GOES-15 (GOES-West) Water Vapor (6.5 µm) images (above) on 23 May 2017, which at first glance immediately nominated it for the “What the heck is this?” blog category. A contrail was ruled out, since it was not oriented along a common or busy flight route — so potential large-scale dynamic processes were briefly investigated. Since the linear feature was perpendicular to the busy California/Hawaii flight route, pilot reports of turbulence are plotted on the water vapor images; two reports of light turbulence at altitudes of 33,000-34,000 feet (at 0918 and 1109 UTC) appeared to be close enough to have possibly been related to the linear feature.

GOES-15 Water Vapor (6.5 µm) images, with contours of satellite wind derived upper-level divergence [click to enlarge]

GOES-15 Water Vapor (6.5 µm) images, with contours of satellite wind derived Upper-Level Divergence [click to enlarge]

Satellite atmospheric motion vector (AMV) derived products such as Upper-Level Divergence (above) calculated at 3-hour intervals (source) revealed an area of divergence focused near the area of the linear satellite image feature — around 30º N, 140º W, at the center of the images — which reached its peak intensity at 12 UTC; this suggested that the feature may have formed along the axis of the sharp deformation zone between two upper-level lows over the East Pacific Ocean (mid/upper level winds | 200 hPa Vorticity product).

GOES-15 sounder Water Vapor (6.5 µm, top; 7.0 µm, middle; 7.5 µm, bottom) images [click to enlarge]

GOES-15 sounder Water Vapor (6.5 µm, top; 7.0 µm, middle; 7.5 µm, bottom) images [click to enlarge]

Unfortunately, this region was not within the view of Himawari-8 or GOES-16 (each of which provide 2-km resolution water vapor imagery at 3 atmospheric levels). However, the GOES-15 sounder instrument has 3 similar water vapor bands (above) — albeit at a more coarse 10-km spatial resolution at satellite sub-point — which showed the linear “deformation axis cloud signature” at all 3 levels of the atmosphere. The GOES-15 sounder water vapor weighting functions for a “typical” US Standard Atmosphere are shown below.

GOES-15 sounder Water Vapor band weighting functions [click to enlarge]

GOES-15 sounder Water Vapor band weighting functions [click to enlarge]