Oil refinery fire in New Jersey

July 11th, 2007 |

AWIPS GOES-12 IR image

As much as we enjoy evangelizing satellite imagery and demonstrating all its useful applications, there are situations when satellite imagery simply is not as helpful as we would hope it might be. On 11 July 2007, a lightning strike started a fire at the Sunoco Oil Refinery near West Deptford, New Jersey (just south of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, station identifier KPHL). An AWIPS image of the GOES-12 10.7µm IR channel with cloud-to-ground lightning strike data overlaid (above) was rather unremarkable in it’s presentation of the convection that was producing the lighting just prior to the time that the fire reportedly started. While there were some cloud top brightness temperatures as cold as -62º C (dark red enhancement) located a bit farther to the north between KPHL and KPNE, there was no other IR signature (such as an “enhanced-v”) that would suggest a severe convective potential; in fact, IR brightness temperatures in the area of the southernmost cluster of oil refinery lightning strikes were as “warm” as about -48º C (light green enhancement). In addition, the storm was producing just over 100 cloud to ground lightning strikes every 15 minutes, but that number is by no means extraordinary. Finally, cloud cover in the hours following the start of the fire prevented a “hot spot” from being detected on the GOES-12 3.9µm IR channel imagery.