A sequence of daily Suomi NPP VIIRS Red/Green/Blue (RGB) true-color image composites from the SSEC RealEarth web map server site (above) showed the northeastward transport of African dust across the Mediterranean Sea during the 31 January – 02 February 2015 period. On 02 February, orange snow was observed in Saratov, Russia (news story), a city about 580 miles or 936 km northeast of Stavropol (which is located in the far upper right corner of the VIIRS images).
Due to a tight pressure gradient between a high over the Yukon and a low over the Gulf of Alaska (surface analysis), strong offshore winds (with gusts as high as 78 mph) were lofting glacial silt from the northern portion of the Alaska Panhandle region and carrying it westward over the Gulf of Alaska on 01 February 2015. Hints of the narrow light grey plumes could be seen streaming southwestward then westward on GOES-15 (GOES-West) 0.63 µm visible channel images (above; click to play animation).
A closer look using a comparison of Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.7 µm Day/Night Band (DNB) and 0.64 µm visible channel images (below) showed that the areal extent of the airborne aerosols was much more evident on the DNB image (in part due to it’s more broad spectral response). However, other more intricate patterns were seen on the DNB image in the general vicinity of Middleton Island (station identifier PAMD) that did not appear to match the character of the airborne glacial silt features being blown westward from the Alaska Panhandle region.
A Suomi NPP VIIRS true-color Red/Green/Blue (RGB) image from the SSEC RealEarth web map server (below) offers a clue to help explain the meandering features that stretched from the coast east of Prince William Sound toward the Middleton Island area: strands of phytoplankton, fed by nutrients in the river waters draining from the interior into the Gulf of Alaska. Sun glint along the edge of the VIIRS scan may have helped to highlight these features in the DNB image above. In fact, these water features were less obvious — and the airborne glacial silt more obvious — in a subsequent VIIRS DNB vs Visible image at 23:20 UTC.
GOES-13 6.5 µm water vapor channel images (above; click to play animation) showed dry air (brighter yellow to orange color enhancement) moving across the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast regions of the eastern US in the wake of a strong cold frontal passage on the morning of 30 January 2015. There were also numerous pilot reports of turbulence, at both low altitudes (plotted in red) and high altitudes (plotted in cyan).
The most obvious feature seen on the GOES-13 water vapor images was the “rippled” signature of mountain waves, which extended far to the lee (southeast) of the Appalachian Mountains (the topographical obstacle to the strong northwesterly boundary layer flow that was causing the waves to initially form). A comparison of 4-km resolution GOES-13 6.5 µm water vapor and 1-km resolution Aqua MODIS 6.7 µm water vapor images (below) demonstrated the benefit of higher spatial resolution for diagnosing the areal coverage of such small-scale mountain waves. Of special note is the pilot report of “severe to extreme” turbulence at 4000 feet over South Carolina.
A comparison of the MODIS 6.7 µm water vapor channel image with the corresponding MODIS 0.65 µm visible channel image (below) showed that the severe to extreme reports in North and South Carolina were examples of Clear Air Turbulence (CAT), since no clouds were apparent in those areas at the time.
Regarding the numerous high-altitude pilot reports of moderate to severe turbulence, the NAM80 model depicted a 120-knot jet streak over South Carolina at 12:00 UTC, with another 120-knot jet streak approaching from the middle Mississippi Valley region (below). Note that there was strong wind speed shear to the north of the jet stream axis, which is where the bulk of the pilot reports of turbulence were located. Quite often there is an obvious moist-to dry gradient water vapor signature along or just poleward of a strong jet streak axis — but such a signature was not seen with this particular event.
In response to some of these pilot reports, at 16 UTC a SIGMET (SIGnificant METeorological advisory) was issued for occasional severe turbulence due to jet stream wind shear (below).
4-panel images showing the three GOES-13 Sounder water vapor channels (6.5 µm, 7.0 µm, and 7.4 µm) along with the conventional GOES-13 Imager 6.5 µm water vapor channel (below; click to play animation) showed how each channel helped to identify where the pockets of middle-tropospheric dry air were located.
The GOES-13 water vapor channel weighting functions plotted using data from the 12 UTC rawinsonde reports from Roanoke/Blacksburg, Virginia and Greensboro, North Carolina are shown below. Due to the very dry middle to upper troposphere, the water vapor channels were able to sense features farther down into the atmosphere than is usually the case — this is illustrated by the relatively low altitude of the water vapor weighting function peaks.
Compare the 2 examples above with the altitude peaks of the various GOES-13 Sounder and Imager water vapor channels under “normal” conditions, plotted using the US Standard Atmosphere as the sounding profile (below).
ASCAT microwave data continues to show the surface circulation. The METOP-A overpass at 1513 UTC, below, shows a center about 100 miles southeast of Nantucket, where gusts past hurricane force have been occurring. A large area of winds exceeding 50 knots (in red) is present over the northern Gulf of Maine.
A comparison of 1-km resolution MODIS 0.64 µm visible channel, 11.0 µm IR channel, and 6.7 µm water vapor channel images from 17:49 UTC is shown below. One observation of interest is a ship report just southeast of the storm center: 50-knot winds from the south-southwest, with blowing spray reducing surface visibility to 2-3 miles.
===== 28 January Update =====
As the Nor’easter departed and the clouds began to clear over the northeastern US on 28 January, the Aqua MODIS true-color Red/Green/Blue (RGB) image shown above revealed the areas with significant snow on the ground. Note the thin areas of snow cover along the spine of the Appalachian Mountains, extending as far southward as Tennessee and North Carolina. Closer views of New York City and Washington DC are also available.
===== 29 January Update =====
The clouds had cleared from the Boston region on 29 January; a comparison of the Terra and Aqua MODIS true-color images (above) showed the changes in the offshore sediment patterns in the ~90 minutes between the overpasses of the 2 satellites. The strong winds of the storm caused upwelling of colder waters along the coast and nearshore areas, with the Suomi NPP VIIRS Sea Surface Temperature product (below) showing SST values as cold as the 30-33º F range (darker purple color enhancement).