In late April,  NASA SPoRT and the Albuquerque NWS met with scientists at New Mexico Tech to coordinate the integration of the Langmuir Lab lightning mapping array data into our operations.  According to Bill Rison, Paul Krehbiel, and Ron Thomas, New Mexico Tech’s Lightning Mapping Array (LMA) is a 3-dimensional total lightning location system. The system is patterned after the LDAR (Lightning Detection and Ranging) system developed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center by Carl Lennon, Launa Maier and colleagues. The LMA measures the time of arrival of 60 MHz RF radiation from a lightning discharge at multiple stations, and locates the sources of the radiation to produce a three-dimensional map of total lightning activity.  The time-of-arrival technique for studying lightning was pioneered by Dave Proctor in South Africa.  The NASA SPoRT core project site details that operationally, total lightning data provide several advantages to forecasters.  First, total lightning data often give a 3-5 minute lead time ahead of the first cloud-to-ground lightning strike.  This improves lightning safety for the National Weather Service’s Terminal Aerodrome Forecasts (TAFs) and Airport Weather Warnings (AWWs).  This safety feature also can be used for incident support of special events. In addition, the total lightning data provides information about the spatial extent of lightning that is not available in the traditional cloud-to-ground data (http://weather.msfc.nasa.gov/sport/lma/).  This data may also be used to evaluate the degree of lightning activity within active wildfire smoke plumes.  The image below is an example of an LMA station at Briggsdale, Colorado taken by New Mexico Tech.  These stations are solar-powered and communications are operated via cell technology.

LMA stations at Briggsdale, Colorado.  Photo available from NM Tech.

Figure 1.  LMA station at Briggsdale, Colorado. Photo available from NM Tech.

After the first collaboration between NWS Albuquerque and NM Tech, forecaster Jennifer Palucki met with Harald Edens in June to install the xLMA and Live LMA software onto our office outreach laptop.  The LMA data that forecasters are evaluating at Albuquerque consists of source densities.  The imagery is available as a contour shaded product and describes the overall extent of sources from a particular thunderstorm or complex of thunderstorms.  The Live LMA software provides the actual point source information that make up the densities available in AWIPS.  The forecaster can actually see the structure of the point sources making up a flash on a 1-minute temporal resolution.  Figure 2 below shows the composite radar reflectivity valid at 0200 UTC July 23, 2014 for a complex of thunderstorms developing southward into the Albuquerque Metro Area.  The associated LMA source density product at 0202 UTC in Figure 3 illustrates the structure of the shaded point sources for the lightning flash.  The graphic shown in Figure 4 details the point sources available with the Live LMA software.  The source densities making up the flash during this 1-minute period stretched as far as 30-km from north to south and 20-km from east to west.  The altitude of the main source region was near 10-km.  The data available in AWIPS also allows the forecaster to slice and dice the data by elevation angle.  Forecasters at the Albuquerque NWS will continue evaluating the LMA products through summer 2014 to offer feedback to NASA SPoRT and NM Tech on its operational application.


Figure 2.  Mosaic Composite Reflectivity valid at 0200 UTC July 23, 2014.

Figure 2. Mosaic Composite Reflectivity valid at 0200 UTC July 23, 2014.


Figure 3.  Langmuir Lab LMA Source Density product valid at 0202 UTC July 23, 2014.

Figure 3. Langmuir Lab LMA Source Density product valid at 0202 UTC July 23, 2014.

Figure 4.  Live LMA 1-minute point sources valid at 0202 UTC July 23, 2014.

Figure 4. Live LMA 1-minute point sources valid at 0202 UTC July 23, 2014.

It is said that a picture says a thousand words…well in this case let’s just say 434 words, as are contained in this post. Anyway, I’d like to point out six features in this morning’s Nighttime Microphysics RGB.  The image below (MODIS Nighttime Microphysics RGB) showed several features of varying degrees of operational relevance.

MODIS Nighttime Microphysics RGB with annotations valid 0755 UTC 16 July 2014

MODIS Nighttime Microphysics RGB with annotations valid 0755 UTC 16 July 2014


A myriad of cloud features can be observed, including fog in the valleys of central Appalachia, deep convective clouds along the Florida coast, patches of thin and thick cirrus over north-central Alabama, and low stratus clouds in Missouri…to name just a few.  Sure, this isn’t an exhaustive list of the potential cloud features to observe, but showcases the ability to contrast effectively between different cloud types.  Of perhaps significant interest is the ability to see the contrasting airmasses displayed across the Southeast region.  Notice the  pinkish colors north and west of the yellow curved line that stretches from central Louisiana to southern Virginia.  This represents a lower relative contribution of blue color, or lesser longwave radiation at the 10.8 µm wavelength, which is indicative of cooler temperatures.  To the south and east of this line, much more blue is apparent, which is thus indicative of warmer temperatures.   Surface observations valid at about the same time have been overlaid with the RGB image to provide temperature data context.  Air and dew point temperatures are around 10 degrees F cooler behind the line/front, but notice that the northerly wind shift is still on the south/east side of the line at such locations as Montgomery, AL and Columbus, GA.  At those locations, dew point temperatures were still 70 and 71 F, respectively, with air temperatures at 72 F.  So, the gradient in temperatures still lingered behind the surface front and is well depicted in the RGB imagery.  This type of information can be valuable to forecasters, as temperature, moisture, and wind characteristics are often complex in the vicinity of surface fronts.  Thus, while wind shifts may be observed initially, as in this case, the imagery shows the location of the temperature gradient much better.

The importance of this type of imagery is that it offers a much more effective assessment of meteorological phenomena than existing GOES imagery.  The only problem currently is the limitation of available imagery to forecasters, since these are from polar-orbiting platforms (Terra, Aqua, Suomi NPP), and thus provide just a few snapshots per night over a given location.  Nevertheless, the imagery form the VIIRS and MODIS instruments offer added value to existing GOES imagery and serve as valuable teaching and preparatory aids for future GOES-R and JPSS missions.

I wanted to point out a couple of operational advantages of total lightning data offered by current LMA networks scattered across parts of the CONUS, but also the advantages forthcoming with the GLM in the future GOES-R era.  While viewing the data today in conjunction with radar and NLDN data, two great examples were noticed.  First, let’s consider the situation where a cell becomes electrically active (intracloud lightning), but never produces a cloud-to-ground strike.  The first image below shows KHTX 0.5 reflectivity overlaid with LMA Flash Extent Density.

Image 1.  KHTX 0.5 reflectivity (dBZ) overlaid with North Alabama LMA Flash Extent Density valid 1735/1736 UTC 25 June 2014

Image 1. KHTX 0.5 reflectivity (dBZ) overlaid with North Alabama LMA Flash Extent Density (pinkish-white shaded area) valid 1735/1736 UTC 25 June 2014


Notice the small area of lightning detected by the North Alabama LMA in the central part of the image.  This cell never actually produced a ground strike.  So, using NLDN data alone, a forecaster would not have known that this cell was electrically active, and capable of producing lightning/thunder.  True, CG lightning was never observed by the NLDN network, but this is rather rare.

Next, let’s look at a situation where intra-cloud lightning preceded a CG strike as a cell was approaching an airport location.  Image 2 below, shows a cell that has just become electrically active as it was approaching the Tuscumbia/Muscle Shoals area around 1750 UTC.


Image 2.  KHTX 0.5 reflectivity (dBZ) overlaid with North Alabama LMA Flash Extent Density (pinkish-white shaded area) valid 1749/1750 UTC 25 June 2014

Notice in the image above that the first lightning detection by the LMA was during the 1749-1750 two-minute interval.  Now, we’ll take a look at an image just a little later, which shows the first incident of cloud to ground lightning as detected by the NLDN.

Image 1. KHTX 0.5 reflectivity (dBZ) overlaid with North Alabama LMA Flash Extent Density (pinkish-white shaded area) valid 1735/1736 UTC 25 June 2014

Image 3. KHTX 0.5 reflectivity (dBZ) overlaid with North Alabama LMA Flash Extent Density (pinkish-white shaded area), including CG strike (small cyan line) as indicated by NLDN  valid 1757/1758 UTC 25 June 2014

The image above (Image 3) shows the first CG strike, indicated by the small cyan line, which was about 7-8 minutes after the first intra-cloud flash.  Notice also that this cell was approaching the Muscle Shoals ASOS to the east, for which the HUN office has airport weather warning responsibilities.  These responsibilities include the issuance of warnings for CG lightning with 5 SM of the airport. So, not only do the total lightning data alert to the presence of lightning when a cell never even produces a CG strike, but intra-cloud flashes will often precede CG strikes.  In fact, research has shown this to be by about 5 to 10 minutes.  Forecasters here at the HUN WFO have been privileged to use these data in operations for over 10 years now.  These and future GLM data will be a boon to operations, allowing for earlier lead times in some warning and forecast situations.


I didn’t have a chance to make this post last week when the imagery were more time-relevant.  Nevertheless, I wanted to point out another example of the usefulness of MODIS and VIIRS imagery over current GOES imagery and show the usefulness of exciting products and imagery to come!  First, let’s take a look at the color-enhanced GOES-IR image below from the morning (0715 UTC) of June 20th.

Color-enhanced GOES-IR (11um) image valid 0715 UTC 20 June 2014

Image 1.  Color-enhanced GOES-IR (11 µm) image valid 0715 UTC 20 June 2014


I’ve placed the yellow circles in the image for a reason, which you’ll see below.  Further down, I’m going to show areas of fog displayed in the MODIS and VIIRS imagery, and granted, this is not the standard GOES channel difference (11-3.9 µm) typically used for making fog assessments.   However, this post is meant to show current (MODIS / VIIRS) and future capabilities (GOES-R / JPSS) that will make fog detection and cloud differentiation much more easy for the operational forecaster.  So, in the image above, fog is nearly unidentifiable as it was in the 11-3.9 µm channel difference image that morning (not shown).  Mainly high cirrus clouds can be observed scattered across the region.  Now, let’s take a look at the MODIS “fog” product, or channel difference (11-3.9 um) product valid at about the same time (Image 2).

Color-enhanced MODIS 11-3.9 u m product valid 0718 UTC 20 June 2014

Image 2.  Color-enhanced MODIS 11-3.9 µm image valid 0718 UTC 20 June 2014

Notice that in the same areas we can now begin to see low clouds (indicated by yellow colors) scattered around the valleys of the southern Appalachian region.  While the GOES-East imager is capable of detecting larger scale fog often in the valleys in the eastern circle, fog in the valleys in the western circle present challenges for the current GOES-East instrument, and is often not shown very well (even in the standard 11-3.9 µm channel difference).    Next, let’s take a look at a VIIRS Nighttime Microphysics RGB valid at about the same time.

VIIRS Nighttime Microphysics RGB valid 0723 UTC 20 June 2014

Image 3.  VIIRS Nighttime Microphysics RGB valid 0723 UTC 20 June 2014

In the RGB imagery it is much easier to detect the extent of the fog, making the operational forecast process much more effective.  Notice also that it is possible to see the fog through the higher clouds around the TN/GA/NC border region.  Not only does the resolution of the VIIRS and MODIS instruments allow for superior fog detection, but the RGBs in particular offer tremendous operational advantages.  As a user of RGBs for about 2 years now, I am convinced that this type of imagery has a relevant and needed place in future operational forecasting.  Of course, it will take time for forecasters to become accustomed and adjust to the new imagery, but it will happen.


Shortly after arriving for my evening shift today, I was called by a representative from an organization hosting an outdoor event in downtown Huntsville.  She was inquiring about the chances for shower or thunderstorm development into the early evening hours during the outdoor event (movie in the park night).  As I have grown quite accustomed to loading the GOES-R CI and total lightning products to be used for situational awareness, especially during the convective season, I referred to those to help with my assessment…in addition to radar data of course.  The image below shows GOES Visible channel imagery overlaid with GOES-R CI, total lightning data, and NLDN (the latter of which may be hard to see).  The location of Huntsville is labeled, and cloud motion is analyzed in the image.  Notice that the GOES-R CI product indicates generally low probabilities of convection in the area of clouds to the northwest (and upstream) of Huntsville.  The blue colors indicated CI probabilities of around 10-40%.

GOES Vis imagery overlaid with GOES-R CI, Total Lightning, and 15-min NLDN, approx. 2015 UTC June 13, 2014

GOES Vis imagery overlaid with GOES-R CI, Total Lightning, and 15-min NLDN, approx. 2015 UTC June 13, 2014

The next image shows lightning data overlaying the GOES Vis imagery…

GOES Vis imagery overlaid with KHTX 0.5 reflectivity (dZB) ~2015 UTC June 13, 2014

GOES Vis imagery overlaid with KHTX 0.5 reflectivity (dZB) ~2015 UTC June 13, 2014


Notice that only a few showers were located to the NW of Huntsville, but the GOES-R CI suggested further development was not likely and the total lightning (available from the North Alabama LMA) suggested these were only showers and thus not electrically active (I had looked over the previous ~20-30 mins).   Notice that lightning activity was relegated mainly to the South and East of the area.  This was a situation in which the GOES-R CI and total lightning data both served to provide a more complete assessment of the situation, allowing for a better forecast for one of our customers.

By the way…my forecast to her?  Well, based on the evidence from the observational imagery/data…I said very small chances for any shower activity, so let the show go on!  No showers ended up impacting the downtown area.

Total lightning is often useful for situational awareness heading into the heart of the Southeast convective season.  Typically, by late May, nearly all echoes on radar are producing lightning, and data from the North Alabama Lightning Mapping Array (NALMA) help to assess which of the cells require further attention.

This year was a little different.

On several days during the last week of May, a subtle warm layer and large dry layer aloft helped to cap the atmosphere, or at least limit vertical growth, across northern Alabama and southern middle Tennessee.  We observed scattered “thunderstorm” development with 50 dBZ echoes at 0.5 degree elevation–but higher radar tilts yielded very limited vertical structure with these cells (very low reflectivity beyond about 2.4 degrees).  While reviewing data from the NALMA, we realized that total lightning was giving us a clue–few, if any of these cells had any total lightning at all, as you’d expect with such shallow convection.  The stronger cells with greater vertical depth (warranting further interrogation) were the only ones producing any total lightning whatsoever.

So, in this situation, total lightning data still provided situational awareness–but in a slightly different way.  Instead of looking for the storms with the greatest flash rates or source densities (or changes thereof), we were looking for storms with ANY flashes or sources.  However, since then, we’ve been aboard the Mesoscale Convective System train, and we’ve returned to our traditional uses of NALMA data.)

KHTX Radar and North Alabama Lightning Mapping Array (NALMA) Data, valid 2140 UTC 28 May

KHTX Radar and North Alabama Lightning Mapping Array (NALMA) Flash Extent Density Data, valid 2140 UTC 28 May. The image indicates just a handful of cells producing any cloud-to-ground lightning or total lightning, despite appearances of 0.5-degree radar reflectivity.

Author: Emily Berndt

This week NASA SPoRT began producing and disseminating real-time Cross-track Infrared and Microwave Sounding Suite (CrIMSS) ozone products to the Ocean Prediction Center, Weather Prediction Center, and Satellite Analysis Branch. CrIMSS retrievals are a combination of retrievals from the Cross-track Infrared Sounder (CrIS) and Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder (ATMS) instruments aboard the NOAA/NASA Suomi NPP satellite which is our Nation’s next generation polar-orbiting operational environmental satellite system. Since CrIS is an infrared sounder its ability to detect atmospheric variables through cloudy regions is limited, therefore the retrievals are combined with ATMS retrievals to view atmospheric variables in partly cloudy regions. Despite the use of microwave retrievals, retrievals are still degraded or blocked by thick clouds, similar to AIRS. Recall AIRS infrared retrievals are also combined with microwave retrievals from the Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit (AMSU) to overcome this limitation of the infrared sounder.

Expanding the ozone products to included CrIMSS retrievals will provide National Center forecasters with additional retrievals to evaluate for identifying stratospheric air related to forecasting rapid cyclogenesis and high-wind events.

While the CrIMSS algortihm differs from AIRS, the creation of ozone products using CrIMSS is the first step to expanding SPoRT’s ozone products to the next generation instrumentation aboard the Suomi NPP satellite. There are slight variations in the retrievals, but decent agreement in ozone concentration is observed between AIRS and CrIMSS retrievals. Retrievals processed via The NOAA Unique CrIS/ATMS processing System (NUCAPS) are planned for release this summer. NUCAPS is a version of the AIRS Science Team Algorithm. Once SPoRT has access to the NUCAPS retrievals the CrIS ozone product will be updated. The advantage of the NUCAPS retrievals will be the the ability to directly compare the AIRS and CrIS/ATMS ozone retrievals across satellite platforms/instruments and provide forecasters with greater spatial and temporal coverage.

The four images below are an example of consecutive AIRS and CrIMSS ozone retrievals now available to forecasters in N-AWIPS format.

1400 UTC 14 May 2014 AIRS Total Column Ozone

1400 UTC 14 May 2014 AIRS Total Column Ozone

1500 UTC 14 May 2014 CrIMSS Total Column Ozone

1500 UTC 14 May 2014 CrIMSS Total Column Ozone

1600 UTC 14 May 2014 AIRS Total Column Ozone

1600 UTC 14 May 2014 AIRS Total Column Ozone

1700 UTC 14 May 2014 CrIMSS Total Column Ozone

1700 UTC 14 May 2014 CrIMSS Total Column Ozone


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