Fires in Alaska, Canadian smoke over the Lower 48

June 29th, 2015
Suomi NPP VIIRS 3.74 µm infrared channel images, times as indicated (click to enlarge)

Suomi NPP VIIRS 3.74 µm infrared channel images, times as indicated (click to enlarge)

Suomi NPP 0.64 µm visible channel images, times as indicated (click to enlarge)

Suomi NPP 0.64 µm visible channel images, times as indicated (click to enlarge)

The 2015 Wildfire Season is off to a quick start in Alaska (continuing an observed trend). This map (from this site) shows more than 300 active fires over Alaska at 2000 UTC on 29 June 2015. This graph (from the Alaska Climate Info Facebook page) compares early burn acreage in 2015 to that in 2004 (the year with the most acreage burned — see this graph, courtesy of Uma Bhatt, University of Alaska-Fairbanks).

Soumi NPP VIIRS 3.74 µm infrared imagery from early morning on 29 June 2015 (top) shows numerous wildfire hot spots (dark black pixels) in the region surrounding the Yukon River (the middle portion of the imagery, south of Kotzebue Sound). VIIRS visible imagery from the same time, above, shows an extensive pall of smoke over much of central Alaska.

GOES-13 Visible (0.63 µm) imagery (click to play animation)

GOES-13 Visible (0.63 µm) imagery (click to play animation)

Meanwhile, thick smoke from fires burning over northern Canada (comparison of VIIRS visible and shortwave IR images from 28 June) was drifting southward over central portions of the Lower 48 states. The smoke plume on 28 June (above) was fairly narrow; however, a much broader and thicker plume was seen moving south on 29 June (GOES visible imagery below, then MODIS/VIIRS true-color RGB imagery as displayed using the SSEC RealEarth web map server). SSEC MODIS Today true-color imagery of this smoke plume is also available here. Pilot reports placed the lower and upper bounds of the thick smoke at 5000 and 17500 feet, with flight visibilities as low as 2 miles at 5000 feet. Some of the smoke subsided to the surface in southeastern South Dakota, restricting the surface visibility at Sioux Falls to 5 miles and raising the Air Quality Index there into the Unhealthy category. In fact, the smoke was so thick over far eastern South Dakota that it had the effect of reducing surface heating and slowing the rise of afternoon temperatures, such that convective temperatures were not being reached and probabilities of precipitation had to be scaled back:

AREA FORECAST DISCUSSION
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE SIOUX FALLS SD
356 PM CDT MON JUN 29 2015

.SHORT TERM…(THIS EVENING THROUGH TUESDAY)
ISSUED AT 356 PM CDT MON JUN 29 2015

IN ADDITION…THICK PLUME OF SMOKE CONTINUES TO DRIFT SOUTHWARD IMPACTING NEARLY ALL OF THE FORECAST AREA…BUT MOST   NOTABLE ALONG AND EAST OF THE JAMES RIVER VALLEY. BECAUSE OF THIS…AFTERNOON TEMPERATURES ARE ABOUT 2 TO 4 DEGREES
COOLER THAN FORECAST AND WE ARE HAVING A HECK OF A TIME REACHING OUR CONVECTIVE TEMPERATURE. THEREFORE LOWERED THE LATE AFTERNOON AND EVENING POPS IN OUR EASTERN ZONES TO ONLY SLIGHT CHANCE POPS. BUT EVEN THOSE MAY BE TOO HIGH AND IF NOTHING DEVELOPS OVER THE NEXT COUPLE OF HOURS…THEY MAY NEED TO BE REMOVED ENTIRELY.

GOES-13 Visible (0.63 µm) imagery (click to play animation)

GOES-13 Visible (0.63 µm) imagery (click to play animation)

MODIS and VIIRS true-color imagery (click to enlarge)

MODIS and VIIRS true-color imagery (click to enlarge)

Daytime detection of smoke plumes is not difficult with visible (or true-color) imagery. At night, however, smoke detection is a challenge. The VIIRS Day/Night Band on Suomi NPP can detect smoke when Lunar Illumination is high (although detection is limited to one or sometimes two passes per night). Smoke is otherwise mostly transparent to infrared channels on the GOES Imager. Websites such as the NOAA/NESDIS IDEA and the GASP are helpful; however, the GASP product uses single-channel (visible) detection only.

Visible imagery from GOES-15, below, highlights the expansive region covered by smoke over northern Canada. Note that the smoke becomes less distinct with time as the sun rises higher in the sky, because forward scattering of visible light by smoke particles is more effective than backward scattering.

GOES-15 Visible (0.62 µm) imagery, times as indicated (click to animate)

GOES-15 Visible (0.62 µm) imagery, times as indicated (click to animate)

The long-lasting remnants of Tropical Storm Bill

June 21st, 2015
Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.64 µm visible channel and 11.45 µm IR channel images (click to enlarge)

Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.64 µm visible channel and 11.45 µm IR channel images (click to enlarge)

Advisories on Tropical Storm Bill were initiated when the system organized and intensified off the coast of Texas at 03 UTC on 16 June 2015 (GOES-13 IR image animation). Bill moved inland during the afternoon hours on 16 June, as can be seen in a comparison of Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.64 µm visible channel and 11.45 µm IR channel images at 1916 UTC (above).

Late in the day on 17 June, the general appearance of downgraded Tropical Depression Bill on GOES-13 6.5 µm water vapor channel imagery (below) began to suggest that the system might be undergoing an extratropical transition (intrusion of dry air in the southern quadrant, along with a blosominig comma head signature on the northern quadrant) — but Bill maintained sufficient tropical characteristics to continue being named a tropical depression.

GOES-13 6.5 µm water vapor channel images, with surface pressure and frontal analyses (click to play animation)

GOES-13 6.5 µm water vapor channel images, with surface pressure and frontal analyses (click to play animation)

The circulation of TD Bill maintained its identity on satellite imagery as the storm remained over land for the next 3+ days, curving northeastward and moving across the Ohio River Valley region. Slow-moving TD Bill dropped over 12 inches of rain at some locations in Texas and Oklahoma, with amounts exceeding 8 inches in Missouri and 6 inches in Indiana (WPC storm total rainfall totals), before being designated a post-tropical feature at 21 UTC on 20 June (WPC advisories).

GOES-13 10.7 µm IR channel images (click to play animation)

GOES-13 10.7 µm IR channel images (click to play animation)

The history of Bill can be followed in a multi-day animation of GOES-13 10.7 µm IR channel imagery (above); in addition, the lower-tropospheric circulation of Bill can be followed using the CIMSS 850 hPa relative vorticity product (below).

GOES-13 850 hPa relative vorticity product (click to play animation)

GOES-13 850 hPa relative vorticity product (click to play animation)

As the post-tropical remnants of Bill emerged over the Atlantic Ocean early in the day on 21 June, it still appeared to be associated with an arc of deep convection as seen on a comparison of Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.64 µm visible channel and 11.45 µm IR channel images at 1742 UTC (below). A similar comparison of Terra MODIS visible and IR images at 1514 UTC can be seen here.

Soumi NPP VIIRS 0.64 µm visible channel and 11.45 µm IR channel images

Soumi NPP VIIRS 0.64 µm visible channel and 11.45 µm IR channel images

Natural gas pipeline explosion in Texas

June 15th, 2015

GOES-15 (left) and GOES-13 (right) 3.9 µm shortwave IR channel images [click to play animation]

GOES-15 (left) and GOES-13 (right) 3.9 µm shortwave IR channel images [click to play animation]

An explosion occurred along a natural gas pipeline near Lindenau, Texas just after 01 UTC on 15 June 2015 (8:00 pm local time on 14 June). The thermal signature or “hot spot” of the resulting fire was detected on both GOES-15 (GOES-West) and GOES-13 (GOES-East)  3.9 µm shortwave IR imagery (above; click image play animation). The images have overlays of surface reporting stations (yellow), Interstate highways (cyan), and primary highways (gray). The relatively small but very hot fire exhibited IR brightness temperatures as high as 341.1 K on GOES-13 and 340.0 K on GOES-15, which is close to the saturation temperature for the 3.9 µm detectors on those satellites. Since GOES-13 was in Rapid Scan Operations (RSO) mode at the time, the fire hot spot was first detected by that satellite (at 0107 UTC) — and the IR brightness temperature remained at 341.0 K for another 40 minutes after initial detection (0115 to 0155 UTC).

A subtle signature of the fire’s smoke plume (lighter gray enhancement) could be seen moving northwestward and then northward away from the fire hot spot. On the 0125 UTC GOES-13 shortwave IR image (below), and overlay of the CRAS model winds showed them turning from southeastward at the surface (in agreement with regional METAR surface reports) to southerly at an altitude of 3 km, suggesting that the smoke plume may have reached that height.

GOES-13 3.9 µm shortwave IR image (with METAR surface reports and CRAS surface. 1km, 2km, and 3km winds)

GOES-13 3.9 µm shortwave IR image (with METAR surface reports and CRAS surface. 1km, 2km, and 3km winds)

Severe Thunderstorms over Northern Illinois

June 10th, 2015

GOES-14 Visible (0.6263 µm, top) and GOES-13 Visible (0.63 µm, bottom) imagery centered over Illinois, 10 June 2015 [Click to animate]

GOES-14 Visible (0.6263 µm, top) and GOES-13 Visible (0.63 µm, bottom) imagery centered over Illinois, 10 June 2015 [Click to animate]

GOES-14, in SRSO-R mode, captured the quick development of severe thunderstorms over northern Illinois late in the afternoon on 10 June 2015. Many of these storms produced large hail — especially in Will County and in Grundy County, where the second largest hailstone on record for the state of Illinois was measured (NWS Chicago summary). This event is also discussed on the GOES-R Hazardous Weather Testbed (HWT) Blog: before initiation, during convective initiation, lightning jumps and ProbSevere (first post, second post), and Overshooting top detection. The animation above compares GOES-14 SRSO-R imagery (top) with GOES-13 in Routine Scanning mode (until 2045 UTC) and in Rapid Scan Operations (RSO) mode after 2115 UTC on 10 June 2015 (a smaller version of this large animated gif is also available as an mp4).

The GOES-14 SRSO-R imagery depicts the convection evolving in a fluid atmosphere. Even the relatively fast GOES-13 RSO time-step cannot capture the full evolution and decay of overshooting tops.  On the 1-minute GOES-14 images, note the development of prominent cloud-top plumes which spread out southeastward away from the more robust overshooting top regions, and also cloud-top gravity waves which form along the southeastern flank of some of the larger thunderstorm anvils. Another advantage of SRSO-R compared to the routine scanning strategy using visible imagery is discussed here.

A wider-scale view of the evolution of the atmosphere on 10 June over the Upper Midwest is available here as a YouTube video, here as an mp4, and here as an animated gif image (warning: 300+ Megabyte file). A closer-scale view of the developing convection with GOES-14 visible images is available as an mp4 movie file, or on YouTube; an animation of GOES-14 10.7 µm IR images is available as an mp4 file.

POES AVHRR 12.0 µm IR channel image, with SPC storm reports of large hail and damaging winds

POES AVHRR 12.0 µm IR channel image, with SPC storm reports of large hail and damaging winds

The line of severe thunderstorms developed just ahead of a cold frontal boundary (animation) that was sagging southward and stalling across northern Illinois during the day on 10 June. About an hour before the 4.75-inch diameter hail was reported in Minooka IL (located about 12 miles southwest of Joliet, KJOT), a 1-km resolution POES AVHRR 12.0 µm IR image at 2316 UTC (above) showed that particular cluster of thunderstorms just southwest of the Chicago area around the time of initial hail report (1.25 inch diameter at 2318 UTC); less than a half hour later there was a report of 2.00 inch hail at 2345 UTC. Farther to the southwest, the larger thunderstorm complex was also producing hail and damaging winds, near and to the southwest of the region of coldest cloud-top IR brightness temperatures (-77º C) exhibited by the overshooting tops.

GOES-13 sounder Lifted Index derived product images [click to play animation]

GOES-13 sounder Lifted Index derived product images [click to play animation]

Hourly derived product images (DPI) of GOES-13 sounder Lifted Index (above) and Total Precipitable Water (below) revealed that a broad axis of instability and moisture existed across northern Illinois ahead of the approaching cold frontal boundary. Lifted Index values reached the -8º to -10º C range (red colors); Total Precipitable Water values were generally in the 40 to 50 mm or 1.6 to 2.0 inch range (red colors), with some locations as high as 53 mm or 2.1 inches (violet colors). The presence of this instability and moisture helped to create an environment favorable for the rapid growth of strong to severe convection.

GOES-13 sounder Total Precipitable Water derived product images [click to play animation]

GOES-13 sounder Total Precipitable Water derived product images [click to play animation]