Low-Earth Orbit satellite views of Ian as it formed, and comparisons to Geostationary imagery

September 26th, 2022 |

Polar-orbiting satellites have microwave detectors that give important information about the low-level structure of an evolving tropical cyclone. If high clouds are omnipresent, it can be difficult for an analyst to diagnose storm strength with accuracy. Microwave energy penetrates clouds, however, and low-earth orbit (LEO) observations of microwave frequencies can reveal much about a storm’s structure.


24 September: South of Haiti


Consider the imagery below, showing the cluster of thunderstorms associated with then-Tropical Storm Ian south of Haiti. Based on just the still infrared image (admittedly, this would be easier with an animating image!), where would you place the center? Microwave data — 36.5 GHz and 89 GHz data from GCOM-W1 (from the AOML Direct Broadcast site here) suggest a center in between the top large regions of cold cloud tops in the infrared imagery (the 0900 UTC discussion has a center near 14.7oN, 73.5oW). MIMIC Tropical Cyclone imagery (from this link) for Ian on 24 September (here) can help a user determine where the center is as well.

GOES-16 ABI Band 13 Infrared (10.3 µm) imagery, and GCOM-W1 AMSR-2 Microwave imagery (36.5 and 89.0 GHz), 0620 UTC on 24 September 2022 (Click to enlarge)

25 September: Southwest of Jamaica


One day later, imagery from ABI and GCOM-W1 show a better-defined tropical system at 0700 UTC (Here’s the NHC discussion from 0900 UTC, at which time the center was at 14.9oN, 78.8oW). Even from the still ABI image, one could infer a center based on the spiral bands. Microwave information (36.5 and 89.0 GHz) certainly will increase confidence. Indeed, the low-level microwave signal (i.e., from 36.5 GHz) suggests a center very near the 0900 UTC location. The MIMIC TC animation from 0000 UTC 25 September – 0000 UTC 26 September (link) is showing a stronger signal for a center as well.

GOES-16 ABI Band 13 Infrared (10.3 µm) imagery, and GCOM-W1 AMSR-2 Microwave imagery (36.5 and 89.0 GHz), 0700 UTC on 25 September 2022 (Click to enlarge)

26 September: south of Western Cuba


NOAA-20 ATMS imagery (88 GHz) over Ian, 0606 and 0746 UTC on 26 September 2022 (Click to enlarge)

The LEO coverage on 26 September is a great example of why multiple LEO satellites are vital. The early-morning coverage from NOAA-20 is shown above; the gap between the two satellite passes is in an unfortunate spot for monitoring this tropical cyclone! However, Suomi NPP orbits overlap NOAA-20, and on this day Suomi NPP overflew the center of the storm, as shown below. The cadence was NOAA-20 to the east, 45 minutes later Suomi-NPP over the center, 45 minutes later NOAA-20 to the west. Here is an animation of the three passes. Polar monitoring capabilities will receive a big boost when JPSS-2 (slated to become NOAA-21) is launched (tentatively scheduled for 1 November 2022).

Suomi-NPP ATMS Microwave Imagery, 88.0 GHz, 0656 UTC on 26 September 2022 (Click to enlarge)

Ian at 0700 UTC on 26 September, below, is on the cusp of being upgraded to a hurricane (0600 UTC intermediate advisory), and an animation of the Band 13 imagery (a still image is shown below for comparison to the ATMS imagery) shows the center of rotation even though an eye is not present in the infrared (although one in the microwave).

GOES-16 ABI Band 13 Infrared (10.3 µm) imagery, and Suomi-NPP ATMS Microwave imagery (88.0 GHz), ca. 0700 UTC on 26 September 2022 (Click to enlarge)

ATMS and AMSR2 imagery as shown above are created from passive microwave sensors; that is, the sensors are detecting the microwave imagery emitted by the ocean, land, clouds and atmosphere. Other LEO satellites emit energy (“ping”) in the microwave and listen for a return signal. This leads to both scatterometry (not shown, as from the Advanced Scatterometer — ASCAT — instrument on Metop-B and Metop-C — available here) and Synthetic Aperture Radar imagery (available here for tropical cyclones), and shown below. The image below shows infrared and GLM imagery for then-newly upgraded Hurricane Ian (link). Although a distinct eye is still not present in the infrared imagery, SAR wind data defines an obvious region of reduced winds. Maximum SAR winds in this image are just above 70 knots.

GOES-East ABI Band 13 Infrared imagery (10.3 µm), GLM 1-minute aggregate Total Optical Energy (TOE) and RSAT-2 SAR Winds over Ian, 1110 UTC on 26 September 2022 (Click to enlarge)

VIIRS and ATMS imagery of Hurricane Ian on 27 September is here. For the latest information on Hurricane Ian, please refer to the National Hurricane Center. People in southern (and especially southwestern) Florida should be paying very close attention to this storm.

Center-fixing a storm with SAR and SSMIS data

September 23rd, 2022 |
Sentinel SAR Wind Speeds, 0757 UTC on 23 September 2022 (Click to enlarge)

Sentinel overflew Tropical Storm Gaston, northwest of the Azores Islands, shortly before 0800 UTC on 23 September 2022, as shown above. The Beaufort Scale enhancement suggest peak winds derived from SAR observations to be very close to 50 knots in curved bands to the east/southeast of the center, inferred to be just off the edge of observation swath, which is at 40.76o N Latitude, 29.3o W Longitude. GOES-16 satellite imagery spanning this time around sunrise shows an exposed low-level circulation center with stronger convection building along the northern perimeter of the storm (mp4 animation shown here, created with CSPP Geosphere — direct link is here). Because GOES-16 can view the low-level circulation, the parallax shift of the center in the animation is small (smaller than the parallax shift in the SAR/GOES-16 imagery shown here Fiona) even though Gaston is near the satellite limb.

DMSP-17 carries the SSMIS (Special Sensor Microwave Imager/Sensor) and overflew Gaston just after 0900 UTC, as shown below in an image from the SSEC Tropical Website. The estimated wind speed from this image is 52 knots, close to the SAR values shown above. The 0900 UTC update from the National Hurricane Center showed a center at 40.5oN, 29.6oW and maximum sustained windspeeds at 50 knots.

85 GHz observations from SSMIS-17, 0911 UTC on 23 September 2022 (Click to enlarge)

Fiona intensifies to a Category 4 hurricane

September 21st, 2022 |

GOES-16 “Red” Visible (0.64 µm) and “Clean” Infrared Window (10.35 µm) images [click to play animated GIF | MP4]

1-minute Mesoscale Domain Sector GOES-16 (GOES-East) “Red” Visible (0.64 µm) and “Clean” Infrared Window (10.35 µm) images (above) showed Fiona as it intensified to a Category 4 Hurricane just east of The Bahamas at 0900 UTC on 21 September 2022. The coldest cloud-top 10.35 µm infrared brightness temperatures were around -81ºC.

GOES-16 Infrared images with and without a overlay of GLM Flash Extent Density (below) did reveal isolated brief periods of lightning in the eyewall region of Fiona — but most of the lightning activity was associated with convection well east of the eye.

GOES-16 “Clean” Infrared Window (10.35 µm) images, with and without a overlay of GLM Flash Extent Density [click to play animated GIF | MP4]

The corresponding 1-minute GOES-16 Cloud Top Temperature and Cloud Top Height derived products are shown below — the coldest Cloud Top Temperature values were around -84ºC, while maximum Cloud Top Height values were around 58,000 feet.

GOES-16 Cloud Top Temperature and Cloud Top Height derived products [click to play animated GIF | MP4]

In a time-matched comparison of Infrared Window images from Suomi-NPP and GOES-16 at 0700 UTC (below), the coldest cloud-top infrared brightness temperatures were -86ºC and -81ºC, respectively. A slight northwestward parallax displacement was evident with the GOES-16 image.

Infrared Window images from Suomi-NPP (11.45 µm) and GOES-16 (10.35 µm) [click to enlarge]

===== 23 September Update =====

GOES-16 “Clean” Infrared Window (10.35 µm) images [click to play animated GIF | MP4]

As Fiona passed just to the northwest of Bermuda during the nighttime hours on 22-23 September, it was briefly downgraded to a Category 3 storm at 0600 UTC (before being again upgraded to Category 4 at 1200 UTC on the following morning) — but a wind gust to 81 knots (93 mph) was recorded at Bermuda Naval Air Station (station identifier TXKF) shortly before 10 UTC while that airport was temporarily closed to air traffic (Bermuda discussion). 1-minute GOES-16 Infrared images (above) showed Fiona during the 0000-1000 UTC period on 23 September.

A DMSP-17 SSMIS Microwave (85 GHz) image at 1053 UTC from the CIMSS Tropical Cyclones site (below) exhibited the eye and eyewall structure about an hour after the peak wind gust at Bermuda.

DMSP-17 SSMIS Microwave (85 GHz) image at 1053 UTC [click to enlarge]

Fiona becomes a Hurricane near Puerto Rico

September 18th, 2022 |

GOES-16 “Red” Visible (0.64 µm) and “Clean” Infrared Window (10.35 µm) images [click to play animated GIF | MP4]

1-minute Mesoscale Domain Sector GOES-16 (GOES-East) “Red” Visible (0.64 µm) and “Clean” Infrared Window (10.35 µm) images (above) showed Fiona as it intensified to a Category 1 Hurricane just south of Puerto Rico during the morning hours on 18 September 2022. The coldest cloud-top 10.35 µm infrared brightness temperatures were around -88ºC.

The corresponding 1-minute GOES-16 Cloud Top Temperature and Cloud Top Height derived products are shown below — the coldest Cloud Top Temperature values were around -91ºC, while maximum Cloud Top Height values were around 61,000 feet.

GOES-16 Cloud Top Temperature and Cloud Top Height derived products [click to play animated GIF | MP4]

The highest wind gust at Buoy 42085 — located just south of Ponce (station identifier TJPS) — was 72 knots (83 mph) at 16 UTC (below).

Plots of wind speed(blue), gusts (red) and pressure (green) at Buoy 42085 [click to view]

Although Fiona was moving across relatively warm water, GOES-16 Infrared Window (11.2 µm) images with contours of deep-layer wind shear from the CIMSS Tropical Cyclones site (below) indicated that the storm was moving through an environment of moderate shear.

GOES-16 Infrared Window (11.2 µm) images, with contours of deep-layer wind shear valid at 1700 UTC [click to enlarge]

Hurricane Fiona later made landfall in far southwestern Puerto Rico around 1920 UTC — a DMSP-18 image at 2013 UTC (below) showed the eye as it was beginning to move into the Mona Passage.

DMSP-18 SSMIS Microwave (85 GHz) image at 2013 UTC [click to enlarge]

A prolonged period of strong winds and heavy rainfall from Fiona led to widespread power outages and flash flooding across much of Puerto Rico.