Strong arctic cold front: grass fires, blowing dust, and a lee-side frontal gravity wave

March 17th, 2015 |
GOES-13 3.9 µm shortwave IR channel images (click to play animation)

GOES-13 3.9 µm shortwave IR channel images (click to play animation)

After a day of record high temperatures in parts of Nebraska — the 91º F at North Platte set a new record high for the month of March, and was also the earliest temperature of 90º F or above on record at that site — a strong arctic cold front plunged southward across the state late in the day on 16 March 2015. With strong winds (gusting to 40-50 knots at some locations) in the wake of the frontal passage and dry vegetation fuels in place, GOES-13 3.9 µm shortwave IR images (above; click image to play animation) showed the “hot spot” signatures (black to yellow to red pixels) associated with a number of large grass fires that began to burn across the state.

The strong northwesterly winds behind the cold front also lofted dry soil into the boundary layer, creating blowing dust whose hazy signature was evident on GOES-13 0.63 visible channel images (below; click image to play animation). Visibility was reduced to 7 miles at some locations.

GOES-13 0.63 µm visible channel images (click to play animation)

GOES-13 0.63 µm visible channel images (click to play animation)

After sunset and into the pre-dawn hours on 17 March, a lee-side frontal gravity wave signature could be seen on GOES-13 6.5 µm water vapor channel images (below; click image to play animation). This warmer/drier (darker blue color enhancement) arc on the water vapor imagery followed the position of the surface cold front, which meant that the upward-propagating frontal gravity wave reached altitudes where the water vapor channel was sensing radiation.

GOES-13 6.5 µm water vapor channel images (click to play animation)

GOES-13 6.5 µm water vapor channel images (click to play animation)

As the frontal gravity wave was approaching the Kansas/Oklahoma border region around 05 UTC, a pilot reported light to moderate turbulence at altitude of 6000 feet (below).

GOES-13 6.5 µm water vapor channel image with pilot report of turbulence

GOES-13 6.5 µm water vapor channel image with pilot report of turbulence

A 4-panel comparison of the three Sounder water vapor channels (6.5 µm, 7.0 µm, and 7.4 µm) and the standard Imager 6.5 µm water vapor channel (below; click image to play animation) showed that the southward propagation of the frontal gravity wave signature was most evident on the Sounder 7.0 µm and Imager 6.5 µm images, although there was also a more subtle indication on the Sounder 7.4 µm images. The new generation of geostationary satellite Imager instruments (for example, the AHI on Himawari-8 and the ABI on GOES-R) feature 3 water vapor channels which are similar to those on the current GOES Sounder, but at much higher spatial and temporal resolutions

GOES-13 Sounder 6.5 µm (upper left), 7.0 µm (upper right), 7.4 µm (lower left), and Imager 6.5 µm (lower right) - click to play animation

GOES-13 Sounder 6.5 µm (upper left), 7.0 µm (upper right), 7.4 µm (lower left), and Imager 6.5 µm (lower right) – click to play animation

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GOES-13 Sounder and Imager water vapor channel weighting functions for North Platte, Nebraska

GOES-13 Sounder and Imager water vapor channel weighting functions for North Platte, Nebraska

The depth and altitude of the layer from which a particular water vapor channel is detecting radiation is shown by plotting its weighting function — for example, at North Platte, Nebraska (above), the Imager 6.5 µm plot (black) and the 7.0 µm plot (green) exhibited lower-altitude secondary peaks around the 500 hPa level — while farther to the south at Dodge City, Kansas (below) these 2 water vapor channel plots had their peaks located slightly higher in the atmosphere. Even though the bulk of the radiation was being detected from higher altitudes (due to the presence of moisture and cirrus clouds aloft over much of the southern Plains region), the sharp signal of the lower-altitude cold frontal gravity wave was strong enough to be seen in the deep layer average moisture brightness temperature depicted in the water vapor images.

GOES-13 Sounder and Imager water vapor channel weighting functions

GOES-13 Sounder and Imager water vapor channel weighting functions

Test of GOES-15 (GOES-West) Rapid Scan Operations (RSO) sectors for the Alaska Region

March 17th, 2015 |
GOES-15

GOES-15 “Sitka” RSO Sector

During a 4-hour period on 17 March 2015, NOAA/NESDIS conducted a test of two special GOES-15 (GOES-West) Rapid Scan Operations (RSO) sectors for the Alaska Region. From 16:00 to 18:00 UTC, the test was conducted for the “Sitka” sector (above) — and GOES-15 0.63 µm visible channel images over a portion of that sector (below; click image to play animation) showed the circulation of a mid-latitude cyclone that was producing gale force winds in the eastern portion of the Gulf of Alaska (IR image with surface analysis), as well as clusters of deep convection which were forming along an occluded front approaching from the south.

GOES-15 0.63 µm visible images -

GOES-15 0.63 µm visible images – “Sitka” sector (click to play animation)

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GOES-15

GOES-15 “TPARC” RSO sector

Then from 18:00 to 20:00 UTC, the RSO test was conducted for the “TPARC” sector (above) — and GOES-15 0.63 µm visible channel images (below; click image to play animation) showed the circulation of two cyclones south of the Aleutian Islands, in addition to a large “banner cloud” and a few mountain waves which had formed downwind (to the north) of the rugged terrain of the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutian Islands. GOES-15 IR brightness temperatures associated with the banner cloud were as cold as -65 C, which according to the nearby Bethel, Alaska rawinsonde data at 12 UTC corresponded to an altitude of around 27,700 feet (IR image with Bethel Skew-T and surface analysis).

GOES-15 0.63 µm visible channel images -

GOES-15 0.63 µm visible channel images – “TPARC” sector (click to play animation)

Regarding the Alaska Peninsula banner cloud seen on the GOES-15 visible images, a sequence of Terra/Aqua MODIS 11.0 µm and Suomi NPP VIIRS 11.45 µm IR images (below; click image to play animation) showed the evolution of this feature several hours before and after the RSO test. There were a few pilot reports of moderate turbulence, at altitudes as high as 36,000 feet – and some of these pilot reports specifically mentioned “MNT WAVE” in their remarks.

Suomi NPP VIIRS 11.45 µm IR image (click to play animation of VIIRS and MODIS IR images)

Suomi NPP VIIRS 11.45 µm IR image (click to play animation of VIIRS and MODIS IR images)

The CLAVR-x POES AVHRR Cloud Top Height product (below; click image to play animation) indicated that the banner cloud reached heights of 9 km (darker green color enhancement).

POES AVHRR Cloud Top Height product (click to play animation)

POES AVHRR Cloud Top Height product (click to play animation)

Category 5 Cyclone Pam in the South Pacific

March 12th, 2015 |
MTSAT-2 10.8 µm IR images (click to play animation)

MTSAT-2 10.8 µm IR images (click to play animation)

Cyclone Pam in the South Pacific Ocean was rated at Category 5 intensity by the Joint Typhoon Warning Center at 18 UTC on 12 March 2015. MTSAT-2 10.8 µm IR channel images (above; click image to play animation; also available as an MP4 movie file) showed the well-defined eye as the storm moved southwestward across the Vanuatu archipelago during the 12-13 March time period.

The corresponding MTSAT-2 0.7 µm visible channel images (below; click image to play animation) revealed a complex structure of gravity waves and transverse banding surrounding the eye.

MTSAT-2 0.7 µm visible channel images (click to play animation)

MTSAT-2 0.7 µm visible channel images (click to play animation)

A comparison of the 12 March 21:32 UTC MTSAT-2 visible image and the 21:44 UTC Metop ASCAT surface scatterometer winds from the CIMSS Tropical Cyclones site is shown below.

MTSAT-2 visible image and Metop ASCAT surface scatterometer winds

MTSAT-2 visible image and Metop ASCAT surface scatterometer winds

Just prior to the time when Pam was beginning to enter a period of rapid intensification (ADT intensity estimate plot), a nighttime comparison of Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.7 µm Day/Night Band and 11.45 µm Infrared images at 13:37 UTC on 11 March is shown below.

Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.7 µm Day/Night Band and 11.45 µm Infrared images

Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.7 µm Day/Night Band and 11.45 µm Infrared images

Satellite detection of ice-glazed snow cover

March 5th, 2015 |
Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.64 µm visible and 1.61 µm near-IR

Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.64 µm visible and 1.61 µm near-IR “snow/ice channel” images (04 March)

Comparisons of Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.64 µm visible channel and 1.61 µm near-IR “snow/ice channel” images on 04 March 2015 (above) and 05 March 2015 (below) revealed a large area of ice-glazed snow cover in the Upper Midwest. On 03 March, a northeastward surge of moisture ahead of an approaching strong arctic cold front produced areas of light snow, freezing rain, freezing drizzle, and fog across parts of southeastern Minnesota, eastern Iowa, southern and central Wisconsin, and northern Illinois — and farther to the south from northeastern Missouri into central Illinois it was warm enough for rain as the precipitation type. This precipitation fell onto a pre-existing snow cover (NOHRSC 03 March snow depth), making the skin of the snow cover icy and/or wet (depending on the air temperature); with the passage of the strong arctic cold front,  this icy and/or wet snow surface quickly froze, creating a large area of ice-glazed snow cover.

At the 1.61 µm wavelength, since ice is a stronger absorber of radiation than snow, the ice-glazed snow areas appeared darker black compared to the surrounding snow cover; areas with a dense concentration of trees (cities; river valleys) tended to diminish this darker black signal.

Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.64 µm visible and 1.61 µm

Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.64 µm visible and 1.61 µm “snow/ice channel” images (05 March)

A toggle between the 04 March and 05 March 1.61 µm snow/ice channel images (below) showed more of the darker ice-glazed snow cover area as the clouds began to clear the region on 05 March (NOHRSC snow depth: 04 March | 05 March).

Suomi NPP VIIRS 1.61 µm near-IR

Suomi NPP VIIRS 1.61 µm near-IR “snow/ice channel” images (04/05 March)

A photo of the ice-glazed snow cover in Middleton, Wisconsin (a western suburb of Madison) on 05 March is shown below.

Photo of ice-glazed snow cover in Middleton, Wisconsin (05 March)

Photo of ice-glazed snow cover in Middleton, Wisconsin (05 March)