Can you use NUCAPS soundings to determine the rain/snow line?

January 9th, 2020 |

NUCAPS Horizontal Temperature field, 925 hPa, at 1704 UTC on 9 January 2020, toggled with NUCAPS sounding observation points from the same orbit (Click to enlarge)

NOAA-Unique Combined Atmospheric Processing System vertical profiles of moisture and temperature are derived from retrievals that consider both infrared sounder data (from the Cross-track Infrared Sounder, CrIS) and microwave sounder data (from the Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder, ATMS). In AWIPS, the profiles are from NOAA-20 but they are also produced with data from Suomi-NPP. NUCAPS profiles from NOAA-20 and Suomi-NPP are available here (the site also includes NUCAPS profiles from MetOp satellites; those NUCAPS profiles use IASI infrared and MHS microwave data).

Polar2Grid software can be used to create horizontal fields of thermodynamic information from the vertical profiles (as discussed here). For the National Weather Service forecast offices, an extra step is taken that interpolates (in the vertical) the NUCAPS data from the pressure levels in the Radiative Transfer Model that is used in the retrievals to standard pressure levels. The toggle above compares the vertical profile points at 1648 UTC on 9 January 2020 to the  925-hPa temperature field. Note that derived field does extend outwards from the outermost NUCAPS profile: the sphere of influence for an individual NUCAPS point can be adjusted.  Note that the bounds of the temperature field have been adjusted from AWIPS defaults, and the color table has been modified so that 0º C occurs between the green and cyan values.  (A more intuitive color table for rain-snow discernment would include more color gradations in the -5º C to +5º C range).  Where the low-level thermal gradient occurs should help a forecaster determine where rain is more likely and where snow is more likely.

Dewpoint Depression at 925 hPa, 1704 UTC on 9 January 2020 (Click to enlarge)

Moisture fields are available as well at thermal fields.  Thus, the effects of evaporation might be considered.  The image above shows the dewpoint depression at 925 hPa.  Lapse rates derived from NUCAPS are also available (the one below shows the temperature change from 850 to 500 hPa). If strong vertical motion is forecast, the lapse rate and/or the dewpoint depressions fields can help you anticipate how much cooling might occur.

850-500 mb Lapse Rate, 1704 UTC on 9 January 2020 (Click to enlarge)

Note that horizontal fields as presented in NUCAPS include data from all NUCAPS profiles, thereby including points that may be ‘green’ (the infrared and microwave retrievals both converge to solutions), ‘yellow’ (the infrared retrieval failed, but the microwave retrieval converged) and ‘red’ (neither retrieval converged). It’s incumbent on the analyst to consider the impact of those profiles where convergence to a solution did not occur when using these fields.

(Thanks to Christopher Stumpf, WFO MKX, for assistance in getting these images)

Cold air over the Upper Midwest

December 10th, 2019 |

GOES-16

GOES-16 “Clean” Infrared Window (10.35 µm) images, with select minimum temperatures as of 12 UTC [click to play animation | MP4]

GOES-16 (GOES-East) “Clean” Infrared Window (10.35 µm) images (above) showed pockets of cold surface brightness temperatures — darker blue represented the -30 to -35ºC (-22 to -31ºF) range — over parts of North Dakota during the 4 hours leading up to sunrise on 10 December 2019. As of 12 UTC, the coldest locations in the US (including Alaska) were Rugby and Watford City, North Dakota with -22ºF; however, Grand Forks International Airport later dropped to -25ºF at 1245 UTC.

With the cold and dry arctic air mass in place across the Upper Midwest, GOES-16 Low-level (7.3 µm) and Mid-level (6.9 µm) Water Vapor imagery (below) was able to sense the thermal contrast between cold, snow-covered land surfaces and the still-unfrozen reservoirs along the Missouri River in North Dakota and South Dakota.

 GOES-16 Low-level (7.3 µm) and Mid-level (6.9 µm) images, with rawinsonde sites indicated in yellow [click to play animation | MP4]

GOES-16 Low-level (7.3 µm) and Mid-level (6.9 µm) images, with rawinsonde sites indicated in yellow [click to play animation | MP4]

GOES-16 Water Vapor weighting functions calculated using 12 UTC rawinsonde data from Aberdeen, SD (below) showed the downward shift of the peak pressures for all 3 spectral bands — with some contributions of radiation originating from the surface indicated for both the 7.3 µm and 6.9 µm bands.

GOES-16 Water Vapor weighting functions calculated using 12 UTC rawinsonde data from Aberdeen, SD [click to enlarge]

GOES-16 Water Vapor weighting functions calculated using 12 UTC rawinsonde data from Aberdeen, SD [click to enlarge]

According to the climatology of Precipitable Water for Aberdeen SD (below), the 12 UTC value of 0.06 inch tied the record minimum value for that date/time. The 12 UTC sounding at Bismarck ND failed at a pressure level near 400 hPa — but the PW value of 0.05 inch calculated from that data would be slightly less than the record minimum value of 0.06 inch for that date/time.

Climatology of Precipitable Water for Aberdeen, SD [click to enlarge]

Climatology of Precipitable Water for Aberdeen, SD [click to enlarge]

On a NOAA-20 VIIRS Visible (0.64 µm) image with plots of available NUCAPS sounding locations (below), soundings northeast of Bismarck KBIS and southeast of Aberdeen KABR are denoted by 1 and 2, respectively.

NOAA-20 VIIRS Visible (0.64 µm) image, with plots of available NUCAPS sounding locations [click to enlarge]

NOAA-20 VIIRS Visible (0.64 µm) image, with plots of available NUCAPS sounding locations [click to enlarge]

Plots of the NOAA-20 NUCAPS sounding profiles northeast of Bismarck KBIS and southeast of Aberdeen KABR around 19 UTC are shown below. Precipitable Water values calculated for these two soundings remained quite low, at 0.03 inch and 0.04 inch.

NOAA-20 NUCAPS sounding profile northeast of Bismarck (Point 1) [click to enlarge]

NOAA-20 NUCAPS sounding profile northeast of Bismarck KBIS (Point 1) [click to enlarge]

NOAA-20 NUCAPS sounding profile southeast of Aberdeen KABR (Point 2) [click to enlarge]

NOAA-20 NUCAPS sounding profile southeast of Aberdeen KABR (Point 2) [click to enlarge]

GOES-16

GOES-16 “Red” Visible (0.64 µm) and Near-Infrared “Snow/Ice” (1.61 µm) images [click to play animation | MP4]

Examples of “river effect” cloud plumes — produced by cold air flowing across deep, relatively warm water in some of the Missouri River reservoirs — were evident in GOES-16 “Red” Visible (0.64 µm) and Near-Infrared “Snow/Ice” (1.61 µm) images over North Dakota (above) and South Dakota (below).

GOES-16 "Red" Visible (0.64 µm) and Near-Infrared "Snow/Ice" (1.61 µm) images [click to play animation | MP4]

GOES-16 “Red” Visible (0.64 µm) and Near-Infrared “Snow/Ice” (1.61 µm) images [click to play animation | MP4]

Gridded NUCAPS in AWIPS, part II

November 12th, 2019 |

NUCAPS horizontal plots of 850-hPa temperature, 1643-1705 UTC on 12 November 2019, and the NUCAPS Sounding Availability plots (Click to enlarge)

As noted in this post from October, horizontal fields of thermodynamic variables that have been derived from NUCAPS vertical profiles are now available in AWIPS. The fields give a swath of observations derived from infrared and microwave sounders in regions of the troposphere where observations by Radiosondes happen only occasionally. In this case, NUCAPS observed the strong cold front moving southward into the north Atlantic. Temperatures over eastern Canada at 850 hPa were in the teens below 0 Celsius, and in the teens (Celsius) out over the Atlantic.

850-hPa Temperatures derived from NUCAPS Soundings, 1653 UTC on 12 November 2019 (Click to enlarge)

Lower-tropospheric temperatures are an important variable to know when early-season cold airmasses are cold enough that the temperature difference between 850 hPa and surface water bodies — such as rivers and lakes — is sufficient to support Lake (or River) Effect clouds and precipitation. River-effect flurries hit mid-town Memphis on the 12th of November, and the 0.86 “Veggie” image (0.86 µm, this wavelength was chosen because land/water contrasts are large in it) image, below, shows a band extending from the Mississippi River in northwest Tennessee southward into central Memphis. NUCAPS data at 850 on this day showed 850-mb temperatures around -10 C at 0900 UTC.

GOES-16 0.86 “Veggie” Band (0.86 µm) imagery, 1346 UTC on 12 November 2019 (Click to enlarge). Shelby County in Tennessee is outlined, and the arrow points to a River-Effect snow band that dropped flurries over mid-town Memphis.

Potential Vorticity anomaly approaching Baja California and Southern California

November 5th, 2019 |

GOES-17 Upper-level Water Vapor (6.2 µm), Mid-level Water Vapor (6.9 µm) and Air Mass RGB images, with and without contours of PV1.5 pressure [click to play animation |MP4]

GOES-17 Upper-level Water Vapor (6.2 µm), Mid-level Water Vapor (6.9 µm) and Air Mass RGB images, with and without contours of PV1.5 pressure [click to play animation |MP4]

GOES-17 (GOES-West) Upper-level Water Vapor (6.2 µm), Mid-level Water Vapor (6.9 µm) and Air Mass RGB images (above) displayed the signature of dry, ozone-rich air associated with a Potential Vorticity (PV) anomaly approaching Baja California and Southern California on 05 November 2019. The “dynamic tropopause” — taken to be the pressure of the PV1.5 surface — descended to the 500 hPa level within this PV anomaly.

A GOES-17 Water Vapor image with plots of available NOAA-20 NUCAPS soundings (below) is labeled with sounding points within the core of the PV anomaly (Point 1) and within the core of the driest air (Point 2).

GOES-17 Upper-level Water Vapor (6.2 µm) images, with plots of available NOAA-20 NUCAPS soundings [click to enlarge]

GOES-17 Upper-level Water Vapor (6.2 µm) images, with plots of available NOAA-20 NUCAPS soundings [click to enlarge]

The NUCAPS sounding profiles for Point 1 and Point 2 are shown below. The middle/upper troposphere was quite dry at both locations.

NUCAPS sounding profile for Point 1 [click to enlarge]

NUCAPS sounding profile for Point 1 [click to enlarge]

NUCAPS sounding profile for Point 2 [click to enlarge]

NUCAPS sounding profile for Point 2 [click to enlarge]