Day 7 of the Thomas Fire in Southern California

December 10th, 2017 |

GOES-15 Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images, with hourly surface reports plotted in yellow [click to play MP4 animation]

GOES-15 Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images, with hourly surface reports plotted in yellow [click to play MP4 animation]

The Thomas fire began burning in Southern California around 6:30 PM local time on 04 December (blog post) — and on 10 December 2017, GOES-15 (GOES-West) Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images (above) revealed that the fire showed little signs of diminishing during the nighttime hours, and in fact began to exhibit a trend of intensification around 05 UTC or 9 PM local time. However, toward the end of the day on 10 December, bands of  thick cirrus clouds moving over the fire region acted to dramatically attenuate the satellite-detected thermal signature of the fire complex. Although the Santa Ana winds were not as intense as they had been during the previous week, some strong wind gusts were still observed.

A sequence of 4 Shortwave Infrared images from Terra MODIS and Suomi NPP VIIRS (below) showed the westward and northwestward expansion of the fire during the 0637 to 2032 UTC period. The Thomas fire has now burned 230,000 acres, making it the fifth largest wildfire on record in California.

Terra MODIS and Suomi NPP VIIRS Shortwave Infrared images, with corresponding surface reports plotted in cyan [click to enlarge]

Terra MODIS and Suomi NPP VIIRS Shortwave Infrared images, with corresponding surface reports plotted in cyan [click to enlarge]

In a toggle between Terra MODIS true-color and false-color Red-Green-Blue (RGB) images at 1846 UTC (below; source) the true-color image revealed a broad plume of thick smoke being transported westward and northwestward from the fire source region, while the false-color image showed the areal coverage of the burn scar (which appeared as reddish-brown hues beneath the clouds) as well as locations of the larger and more intense active fires (brighter pink to white) that were burning along the northern to western perimeter of the burn scar.

Terra MODIS true-color and false-color images [click to enlarge]

Terra MODIS true-color and false-color images [click to enlarge]

A comparison of Suomi NPP VIIRS Visible (0.64 µm), Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) and Infrared Window (11.45 µm) images at 2032 UTC or 12:32 PM  local time (below) showed a well-defined thermal signature before the thicker cirrus clouds moved overhead from the south. A small cloud cluster (located just northwest of the fire thermal signature) exhibited a minimum infrared brightness temperature of -43ºC — if this cloud feature was indeed generated by the fire complex, it meets the -40ºC criteria of a pyrocumulonimbus cloud.

Suomi NPP VIIRS Visible (0.64 µm), Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) and Infrared Window (11.45 µm) images, with surface reports plotted in cyan [click to enlarge]

Suomi NPP VIIRS Visible (0.64 µm), Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) and Infrared Window (11.45 µm) images, with surface reports plotted in cyan [click to enlarge]

The fire was producing very thick smoke, in addition to deep pyrocumulus clouds (top photo taken around 1945 UTC or 11:45 AM local time):

Shown below is a photo taken at 2045 UTC or 12:45 PM local time, from a commercial jet flying into Santa Barbara (courtesy of Henry Dubroff/www.pacbiztimes.com).

Photo of Thomas Fire pyrocumulus [click to enlarge]

Photo of Thomas Fire pyrocumulus [click to enlarge]

===== 11 December Update =====
 

Suomi NPP VIIRS Day/Night Band (0.7 µm), Near-Infrared (1.61 and 2.25 µm), Shortwave Infrared (3.75 and 4.05 µm) and Infrared Window (11.45 µm) images [click to enlarge]

Suomi NPP VIIRS Day/Night Band (0.7 µm), Near-Infrared (1.61 and 2.25 µm), Shortwave Infrared (3.75 and 4.05 µm) and Infrared Window (11.45 µm) images [click to enlarge]

A toggle between Suomi NPP VIIRS Day/Night Band (0.7 µm), Near-Infrared (1.61 and 2.25 µm), Shortwave Infrared (3.75 and 4.05 µm) and Infrared Window (11.45 µm) images at 1035 UTC or 2:35 AM local time (above; courtesy of William Straka, CIMSS) demonstrated how different spectral bands can be used to detect nighttime fire signatures. The maximum infrared brightness temperature on the 4.05 µm image was 389 K (115.9ºC or 240.5ºF). Note that the recently-launched JPSS-1/NOAA-20 satellite also carries a VIIRS instrument.

GOES-15 Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images (below) showed that once the thicker bands of cirrus clouds moved northwestward away from the region, a more well-defined thermal signature became apparent.

GOES-15 Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images, with hourly surface reports plotted in yellow [click to play animation]

GOES-15 Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images, with hourly surface reports plotted in yellow [click to play animation]

A 7-day sequence Nighttime and Daytime composites of Suomi NPP VIIRS Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) images (source: RealEarth) is shown below — it illustrates the spread of the Thomas Fire from 05 December to 11 December. Hot infrared pixels are black, with saturated pixels appearing bright white.

7-day sequence Nighttime and Daytime composites of Suomi NPP VIIRS Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) images [click to play animation]

7-day sequence Nighttime and Daytime composites of Suomi NPP VIIRS Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) images [click to play animation]