Southeast US tornado outbreak of 27 April 2011

April 27th, 2011 |
GOES-13 0.63 µm visible images (click image to play animation)

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

The tornado outbreak that affected much of the Southeast US on 27 April 2011 was one of historic proportions, in terms of the number of strong to violent tornadoes produced and the number of resulting fatalities. McIDAS images of 1-km resolution GOES-13 0.63 µm visible channel data (above; click image to play animation; also available as a QuickTime movie) showed the multiple clusters of severe thunderstorms that developed across the region during the day. The GOES-13 satellite had been placed into Rapid Scan Operations (RSO), supplying imagery as frequently as every 5-10 minutes. Zoomed-in versions of GOES-13 RSO 0.63 µm visible images covering the period of the long-track (80 mile) EF-4 Tuscaloosa (KTCL) / Birmingham (KBHM) tornado are available here, which show that the storms exhibited a number of distinct overshooting tops during the time period between 20:40 UTC and 23:25 UTC.

AWIPS images of 4-km resolution GOES-13 10.7 µm IR channel data with overlays of severe weather reports (below; click image to play animation) showed the first round of large storms with cold cloud top IR brightness temperatures (red to black to white color enhancement) that moved through the area during the pre-dawn hours (which produced mainly damaging wind reports), followed by the development later in the afternoon and early evening hours of the stronger storms that produced numerous reports of large hail and strong tornadoes ahead of an advancing cold front (SPC storm reports). Zoomed-in versions of GOES-13 RSO 10.7 µm IR images covering the period of the long-track (80 mile) EF-4 Tuscaloosa (KTCL) / Birmingham (KBHM) tornado are available here — cloud top IR brightness temperature values during the 20:40 UTC to 23:25 UTC time period were as cold as -75º C at 22:25 UTC.

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

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

With the higher 1-km spatial resolution of the POES AVHRR IR imagery (below), more detail could be seen in the cloud top IR brightness temperature structure, and much colder cloud top temperatures could be detected in the vicinity of the strongest overshooting tops (as cold as -83º C, violet color enhancement). Other similar 1-km resolution POES AVHRR IR and MODIS IR image examples (with overlays of storm reports) are available at 16:28 UTC, 18:10 UTC, 18:12 UTC, 18:35 UTC, 19:48 UTC, 19:52 UTC, 20:13 UTC, 00:01 UTC, and 03:34 UTC.

POES AVHRR 12.0 µm IR image + SPC storm reports

POES AVHRR 12.0 µm IR image + SPC storm reports

Although there was widespread cloudiness across much of the Southeast US, hourly GOES-13 Sounder Convective Available Potential Energy (CAPE) derived product images (below) were still able to provide some indication as to the instability of the air mass that was feeding northward into the region that morning.

GOES-13 Sounder CAPE derived product imagery

GOES-13 Sounder CAPE derived product imagery

Another important ingredient was the approach of a strong trough aloft, along with an associated strong mid-level jet streak as seen in a comparison of 1-km resolution MODIS 6.7 µm water vapor imagery and CRAS model 500 millibar (hPa) wind speeds (below).

MODIS 6.7 µm water vapor channel image + CRAS model 500 MB wind speeds

MODIS 6.7 µm water vapor channel image + CRAS model 500 MB wind speeds

CIMSS participation in GOES-R Proving Ground activities includes making a variety of POES AVHRR, MODIS, and additional GOES Sounder images and products available for National Weather Service offices to add to their local AWIPS workstations. The VISIT training lessons “POES and AVHRR Satellite Products in AWIPS”, “MODIS Products in AWIPS“, and “Water Vapor Imagery and Potential Vorticity Analysis” are available to help users understand these products and their applications to weather analysis and forecasting.

To prepare for the upcoming GOES-R era, new products are being developed and tested at CIMSS using the current generation of satellite data — in fact, some of these new products are now being distributed to and evaluated by a few NWS Offices. Specially-tailored products such as Convective Initiation, Overshooting Tops, and Enhanced-V will allow for the automatic detection of the various developmental stages of convection.

 

Slide the “Set Fade Level” button located under examples of these images (above) to fade between the CIMSS Convective Initiation (CI) and CIMSS Overshooting Tops (OT) products (derived from satellite observations), along with Cloud-to-Ground (CG) lightning strikes observed from ground-based sensors. Note that there is good agreement between the locations of the satellite-derived CI and OT products and the SPC storm reports for the day (below).

 

 

Strong convection in the Gulf of Mexico

March 28th, 2011 |
GOES-13 10.7 µm IR images (click image to play animation)

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

AWIPS images of GOES-13 10.7 µm IR data (above; click image to play animation) showed the development of two strong Mesoscale Convective Systems over the Gulf of Mexico on 28 March 2011. These storms prompted  the Storm Prediction Center to issue Severe Thunderstorm Watch #70 and #71 for the threat of  strong winds and large hail — however, no reports of severe weather were received from these particular storms.

The MODIS Sea Surface Temperature (SST) product from the previous day (below) revealed that the northern edge of the Gulf of Mexico Loop Current (warmer SST values in the upper 70s to around 80º F, red color enhancement) was located near the areas of development of these two Mesoscale Convective Systems — raising the question as to the role that this warmer water may have played in their initiation. In addition, an overlay of the High Resolution Real-Time Global Sea Surface Temperature (RTG_SST_HR) model SST failed to capture the warmer tongue of SSTs located to the east of the main core of the Loop Current.  MODIS SST values were 2-3 degrees F warmer than the model SST values in the eastern warm tongue feature — and 3-4 degrees F cooler within the main core of the Loop Current.

MODIS SST product + RGT_SST_HR model SST analysis

MODIS SST product + RGT_SST_HR model SST analysis

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MODIS SST product + MODIS 11.0 µm IR images

MODIS SST product + MODIS 11.0 µm IR images

A comparison of the MODIS SST product with MODIS 11.0 µm IR images of the first MCS (above) along with a similar comparison of the MODIS SST with a combination of MODIS 11.0 µm IR and POES AVHRR 10.8 µm IR images (below) showed the development of each MCS in the general proximity of the areas of warmer SST values associated with the Loop Current.

MODIS SST + MODIS 11.0 µm IR + POES AVHRR 10.8 µm IR images

MODIS SST + MODIS 11.0 µm IR + POES AVHRR 10.8 µm IR images

A comparison of a 4-km resolution GOES-13 10.7 µm image with the corresponding 1-km resolution POES AVHRR image (below) demonstrated the value of higher spatial resolution for locating the colder cloud top IR brightness temperatures associated with overshooting tops of intense deep convection. The coldest IR temperature on the GOES-13 image was -71º C, compared to -80º C on the POES AVHRR image.

GOES 10.7 µm IR image + POES AVHRR 10.8 µm IR image

GOES 10.7 µm IR image + POES AVHRR 10.8 µm IR image

CIMSS participation in GOES-R Proving Ground activities includes making a variety of  MODIS and POES AVHRR images and products available for National Weather Service offices to add to their local AWIPS workstations.

Convective initiation along a pre-existing convective outflow boundary

September 16th, 2010 |
GOES-13 0.63 µm visible channel images

GOES-13 0.63 µm visible channel images

McIDAS images of GOES-13 0.63 µm visible channel data on 16 September 2010 (above) showed a nice example of the role that a pre-existing convective outflow boundary can play in helping to act as a forcing mechanism for new convection — and also to help intensify existing strong convection that encounters the outflow boundary. Morning thunderstorms along the Texas/Oklahoma border region produced an outflow boundary that later moved southward and westward during the early afternoon hours. New convection was then seen to develop in Oklahoma and Texas along the old outflow boundary after about 20 UTC.

In addition, new thunderstorms that had developed in the Texas Panhandle around 19 UTC appeared to intensify once they moved eastward and encountered the aforementioned outflow boundary that was left behind from the earlier storms. According to the SPC Storm Reports, the large thunderstorms in the Texas Panhandle produced hail up to 4.00 inches in diameter, with surface wind gusts up to 75 mph.

Forecasting Isolated Convection

July 17th, 2010 |

How can satellite data be used to focus one’s attention to the relevant portion of an airmass when isolated convection is developing? That was a salient question late in the day on 16 July when a few convective cells developed over the upper midwest. Visible imagery (above) shows the development of a strong cell — that produced 1.75-inch hail southwest of Rochester in Waltham, MN.

Several satellite products from earlier in the day suggested convection could be sustained in this region. For example, the CIMSS Nearcasting product, which product uses a Lagrangian transport model of upper and lower level moisture observations from the GOES Sounder to make short-term predictions of convective instability (that is, the change in equivalent potential temperature with height), shows a ribbon of lower stability air arcing from Nebraska to southern Minnesota to central Wisconsin. Consider the forecast for 2000 UTC on 16 July made from observations at 1400 UTC, 1500 UTC, 1600 UTC and 1700 UTC. (A loop of the four forecasts valid at 2000 UTC is here). The forecast for lower level (around 800 mb) equivalent potential temperature to be 7-12 K warmer than the upper level (around 500 mb) equivalent potential temperature is very consistent from run to run.

Sounder Derived Product Imagery also shows destabilization ongoing in the region highlighted by the Nearcasting technique. The Lifted Index (above) derived from the Sounder Retrievals shows a ribbon of progressively more unstable air over the course of the day.

Once the region of interest is identified, UW Convective Initiation can be used to identify the specific cumulus cell that will grow. For example, consider the visible image at 2000 UTC, 2015 UTC, 2032 UTC and 2045 UTC . A convective cell develops over southern Minnesota out of a line of towering cumulus. By 2045 UTC, lightning is being produced. The UW Convective Initiation product, which uses both cloud-top cooling and cloud phase changes (both derived from GOES-13 imagery) to infer strong convective growth that leads to clouds with supercooled water and then ice, shows convective initiation likely over south-central Minnesota at 2032 UTC, and ongoing at 2045 UTC. A more complete visible loop that includes lightning plots is here. The complete visible loop with convective initiation values overlain is below. Strong convective cells from Nebraska to Wisconsin are recognized by the UWCI algorithm. Note that convective initiation only detects the start of convection; once the convective tower has glaciated, initiation is deemed to have ended and it is no longer detected. For this reason, UWCI may not show optimal results in regions of ice clouds. However, as the loop below shows, it commonly detects growing convective clouds before the convection produces lightning, and long before severe weather occurs.