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Large wildfires during the heart of the southwest monsoon season are a fairly rare occurrence most years. Lightning sparked fires are typical in late June and early July before mainly dry thunderstorms transition to a wetter variety. These fires can be managed by land agencies while awaiting higher humidities to develop over the area.  July 2015 was a very wet month for much of New Mexico (10th wettest July), with the exception of northwestern New Mexico where near normal precipitation was observed. August turned much drier for many areas of the state as monsoon moisture and instability focused over Arizona. On August 19th, the Navajo River Fire broke out northwest of Dulce, NM, quickly growing to more than 1,000 acres by the 20th. The photo below taken by Bryon Odallac shows an established smoke plume emanating from the nearby higher terrain on August 20th.  The NASA SPoRT 0-10cm relative soil moisture imagery showed dry conditions coinciding with this same area of northwestern NM. The location of the wildfire is indicated by the “home” text. The 10-40cm relative soil moisture is also shown since it has been suggested that deeper layer soil moisture may better represent fuel conditions in more mature timber areas rather than the near surface duff layer. It is interesting to note that the 10-40cm layer values are actually wetter than the 0-10cm layer over much of this area. The two largest wildfires of the July to August monsoon period of 2015 have both occurred in these dry islands (see August 4, 2015 post on Fort Craig Wildfire).

Navajo River Fire captured by Bryon Odallac on August 20, 2015 near Dulce, NM.

Navajo River Fire captured by Bryon Odallac on August 20, 2015 near Dulce, NM.

 

NASA SPoRT LIS 0-10cm Relative Soil Moisture valid 00Z 21 Aug 2015.

 

NASA SPoRT LIS 10-40cm Relative Soil Moisture valid 00z 21 Aug 15.

NASA SPoRT LIS 10-40cm Relative Soil Moisture valid 00z 21 Aug 15.

A Pareidolia Moment…

Yes, I’m just having one of those interesting moments, but cannot help from seeing the face in this picture.  The Pacific is looking at us!  This is a SPoRT-generated Airmass RGB from the Advanced Himawari Imager (AHI) aboard the recently launched Himawari satellite.  SPoRT is generating some test imagery from the AHI, including several RGBs such as this Airmass RGB.  By the way, that is Typhoon Goni on the left, approaching Taiwan, while Typhoon Atsani is farther to the east (on the right) and is currently forecast to track north of the Marianas Islands over the next few days.

SPoRT Airmass RGB...data from the Advanced Himawari Imager aboard the Himawari Satellite, 2040 UTC 18 August 2015

SPoRT Airmass RGB…data from the Advanced Himawari Imager aboard the Himawari Satellite, 2040 UTC 18 August 2015

NWS Albuquerque recently began ingesting the updated SPoRT CONUS LIS products in our new AWIPS II system as part of our continued collaboration with SPoRT. These products have already peaked the interest of several local, state, and federal partners. Short-term drought conditions have improved steadily since late winter as more frequent and widespread precipitation events impacted the state. Overall, deep-layer soil moisture conditions have improved substantially compared to this time last year (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Deep soil moisture (0-200cm) 1-year change valid 12Z 27 July 2015.

Figure 1. Deep soil moisture (0-200cm) 1-year change valid 12Z 27 July 2015.

The SPoRT LIS products have become a valuable tool for drought monitoring during our monthly drought workshops. Several state and federal partners noted on our most recent call in late July that these new products provided an additional layer of situational awareness and infuse more science into the drought monitoring process. These products have also peaked the interest of our fire weather community, in particular Incident Meteorologist Brent Wachter. New Mexico during late July is generally under the influence of higher humidity with periodic wetting rainfall events. The convective nature of the precipitation however tends to bring about a patchwork of “have’s and have-nots”. The Fort Craig wildfire broke out in a dry pocket of south central Socorro County within the middle Rio Grande Valley during the afternoon of 26 July 2015. The New Mexico State Climatologist, Dave DuBois, captured the wildfire on camera and posted the image to Twitter shortly thereafter (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. A distant view of the Fort Craig wildfire captured by the New Mexico State Climatologist, Dave DuBois, around 830am, July 27, 2015.

Figure 2. A distant view of the Fort Craig wildfire captured by the New Mexico State Climatologist, Dave DuBois, around 830am, July 27, 2015.

The SPoRT LIS 0-10cm volumetric soil moisture at 12Z 28 July 2015 showed the corresponding dry area where the wildfire developed (Fig. 3). Les Owen from the New Mexico Department of Agriculture also noted this area of drying within Socorro County in what he called his “windshield survey” in mid to late July. The Fort Craig fire grew to nearly 700 acres over the course of two days. The NASA SPoRT soil moisture imagery showed the dry area quite well and the fire was located smack dab in the middle of it.

FIgure 3. NASA SPoRT 0-10cm relative soil moisture within south central Socorro County valid 12Z 28 July 2015. The location of the Fort Craig wildfire is indicated by the home identifier.

FIgure 3. NASA SPoRT 0-10cm volumetric soil moisture within Socorro County valid 12Z 28 July 2015. Note the large dry area in near surface soil moisture in response to the recent dry stretch. The location of the Fort Craig wildfire is indicated by the home identifier.

Several storms then impacted the area late on the 28th and the 29th leading to some natural fire suppression and reduction in active fire behavior. The follow-up SPoRT imagery at 12Z 30 July 2015 showed the increase in 0-10cm relative soil moisture over the same area (Fig. 4). The high resolution imagery could be useful in determining fuel dryness for potential fire starts from human activities, cloud to ground lightning ignitions, as well as highlight potential active fire behavior areas. We will continue to assess the possible applications of the SPoRT LIS products as we move through the remainder of the 2015 monsoon season.

Figure 4. NASA SPoRT 0-10cm relative soil moisture within Socorro County valid 12Z 30 July 2015. Note the dramatic increase in near surface soil moisture values in response to the active storm pattern. The location of the wildfire is noted by the home identifier.

Figure 4. NASA SPoRT 0-10cm relative soil moisture within Socorro County valid 12Z 30 July 2015. Note the dramatic increase in near surface soil moisture values in response to the active storm pattern. The location of the Fort Craig wildfire is indicated by the home identifier.

Update from Tucson

Just a quick initial note to show a few things we have been looking at with NASA SPoRT LIS and some of the satellite imagery so far.

1) We have had a limited sample size so far this year, but we have been looking at integrating LIS volumetric soil moisture and relative soil moisture into the Dust Storm decision making process (both short fused warnings and our longer term new “Watch”-like product).  Here is the 0-10cm Volumetric soil moisture image from Wednesday,  coincident with a moderate outflow (up to 20 kts) that pushed northward from Pima county into Pinal County. Not a strong outflow, but  one that can generate enough dust for reduced visibilities (likely not to warning levels).   soilmoisture2

In this case, with percentages in the 18 to 21 percent range in the origin area and 12 to 14 percent in the path of the outflow, there were no indications whatsoever of reduced visibilities.  We will be watching to see if the (relatively) elevated soil moisture in the origin area is any indication of limited potential and strength of blowing dust issues as the season progresses.

We are also trying to incorporate the more shallow volumetric and relative soil moisture levels into heightened awareness for flash flood threat areas daily.  More on this later.

2) We have been impressed with the superior accuracy and versatility of the CIRA LPW products.  Here is a recent comparison with the AMSU and SSM/I Blended Total Precipitable Water product: tpw compare

About 1.3″ from CIRA versus 22mm (0.86″) for the Tucson area.  12Z sounding showed 1.76″.  Add afternoon mixing in there and 1.3″ worked much better.  With our typically deep boundary layer and elevated subcloud layer, the individual lower layers of the LPW have also been useful to help determine the threat of dry vs. wet microburst activity with initial convective development.

We continue to evaluate the NESDIS QPE and  Passive Microwave Rain Rate imagery.  More on this later as well.

The SPoRT Center regularly works to display unique data in products, such as total lightning from ground-based lightning mapping arrays (LMAs), in the Weather Service’s display system; AWIPS II.  However, there is occasionally an opportunity to try a different method for specific operational applications.  One of those opportunities came with the Morristown, Tennessee forecast office.  Here, the collaboration was looking for a web-based visualization in order to better collaborate with emergency managers.  Feedback to SPoRT requested the need for a real-time display that could animate the data, auto-update, and allow zooming to a feature that would not reset with an update.  Additionally, there was a need to make this functional on mobile devices.

This has resulted in the test display shown here of the North Alabama Lightning Mapping Array flash extent density from July 1, 2015 from 1:30-4:00 PM (Central).  Like the more traditional display in AWIPS II, this flash extent density highlights the main storm cores where the updraft is intensifying, shows the spatial extent of total lightning, and even highlights several long flashes into the stratiform region behind the main convection, as shown in the still images below.  While the display is just in a development state now, it is demonstrating the potential for how to bring these data to emergency managers and Weather Service forecasters who may be in the field and not in the office, such as for special outdoor events.

Demonstration total lightning web display

The North Alabama Lightning Mapping Array flash extent density animation from 1:30-4:00 PM (Central) on July 1, 2015 in a new demonstration web display.  State and county boundaries are in black, while interstates are blue and major U.S. highways are in red.  (Click for the full resolution image.)

The two images below show a still image from 2:14 PM (Central) of the total lightning flash extent density and the corresponding radar reflectivity.

A still taken from the animation above at 2:14 PM (Central).  The main storm core and stratiform region lightning are highlighted.

A still taken from the animation above at 2:14 PM (Central). The main storm core and stratiform region lightning are highlighted. (Click for the full resolution image.)

 

The corresponding radar reflectivity at 2:14 PM (Central) for the still image above highlighting the locations of the total lightning features.

The corresponding radar reflectivity at 2:14 PM (Central) for the still image above highlighting the locations of the total lightning features. (Click for the full resolution image.)

Smoke from wildfires in parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan Provinces in Canada made entry into the U.S. recently. The smoke may its way into the Tennessee Valley by the afternoon of June 30th and could easily be seen in the True Color RGB imagery from the VIIRS instrument on board Suomi NPP.  The smoke was even evident in the SPoRT Day-Night Band Radiance RGB imagery later that night (Image 2)).  While the smoke was well aloft and not necessarily impactful to health, it was still an unusual site for many in the eastern U.S. not used to such phenomena.

Image 1.  Annotated True Color RGB 1812Z 30 June 2015.

Image 1. Annotated True Color RGB at ~1812Z 30 June 2015.

Image 2.  Annotated DNB Radiance RGB at 0630Z 1 July 2015.

Image 2. Annotated DNB Radiance RGB at 0630Z 1 July 2015.

The Huntsville office has a long history of using total lightning information from the North Alabama Lightning Mapping Array (NALMA) for warning decision-making.  Since 2003, WFO Huntsville has been ingesting and receiving a source density product from NASA SPoRT.  However, recently, we decided to begin migrating to Flash Extent Density (FED) data; this is more consistent with the Geostationary Lightning Mapper, more consistent with recent operational research, and easier to convey and understand.  Typically we are trying to apply the “two-sigma” lightning jump algorithm suggested by Schultz et al. (2009, 2012).

On June 8, a weak front moved across the Huntsville forecast area, initiating development of strong to severe thunderstorms.  An 1800 UTC sounding from Redstone Arsenal indicated a relatively high threat for wet microbursts.

One of the storms moved across extreme southern Jackson and northern DeKalb Counties in northeast Alabama.  I was viewing the NALMA FED data and watched as the storm went from less than 10 flashes, to 40 flashes, in three “scans” (from 2214 to 2218 UTC).  (Interestingly, despite using SAILS with the KHTX radar, AWIPS-2 matched all three lightning images to a single 0.5-degree radar scan.)

2015-06-08-2214

Fig. 1: KHTX Reflectivity valid 2215 UTC and NALMA FED valid 2214 UTC 8 June 2015

Fig. 2: KHTX Reflectivity valid 2215 UTC and NALMA FED valid 2216 UTC 8 June 2015

Fig. 2: KHTX Reflectivity valid 2215 UTC and NALMA FED valid 2216 UTC 8 June 2015

Fig. 3: KHTX Reflectivity valid 2215 UTC and NALMA FED valid 2218 UTC 8 June 2015

Fig. 3: KHTX Reflectivity valid 2215 UTC and NALMA FED valid 2218 UTC 8 June 2015

Since we cannot get the formal lightning jump algorithm into AWIPS-2 at this time, forecasters need to do some quick mental math to decide if jumps such as these constitute a real jump.  I was certain this did (and later Excel work verified this) so I issued a severe thunderstorm warning, despite the storm being very close to the Georgia state border.

This storm produced structural damage in the Cartersville community near the state line shortly after the warning was issued, tearing the roof off of an apartment complex and downing trees and powerlines.  There was not much lead time (there rarely is with these kinds of storms) but this reinforces our past experience with total lightning–and reinforces that lightning may be especially useful during a challenging warm season warning environment.

 

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