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On April 27, 2011, a severe weather outbreak occurred across the southeastern United States, resulting in 199 tornadoes across the region and over 300 fatalities (NWS 2011 Service Assessment).  Alabama was among the states hardest hit, with 68 tornadoes surveyed by the National Weather Service (NWS) Weather Forecast Offices (WFOs) in Huntsville, Birmingham, and Mobile, Alabama, and over 250 reported fatalities in the state. Huntsville, home to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and the Short-term Prediction Research and Transition (SPoRT) Center, lost power along with most of Madison County after tornadoes severed major utility lines.  The power outage lasted well over a week in some areas. Once power was restored, SPoRT team members were able to provide satellite imagery to our partners in the National Weather Service to help clarify some of the high-intensity tornado damage tracks that occurred throughout the state. SPoRT provided pre- and post-event difference imagery at 250 m spatial resolution from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and 15 m false color composites from the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER). These surveys helped our NWS partners confirm their ground surveys, but also helped to correct the characteristics of several tracks (Molthan et al. 2011). Many of these products remain available through the SPoRT web page (link) and also through the USGS Earth Explorer portal (link).

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The MODIS Band 1 difference image above shows some of the scars left behind by the April 27, 2011 tornado outbreak. Radar snapshots were taken from various times to identify the supercell thunderstorms associated with each track.  Reproduced from Molthan et al. 2011.

Follow-on studies examined the capability of various NASA sensors for detecting and measuring the length and width of scars visible when using the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index, or NDVI, a measurement of vegetation greenness and health commonly derived from multiple satellite imaging platforms.  SPoRT examined NDVI products from MODIS (250 m), Landsat-7 Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM+, 30m) and ASTER (15 m) collected in May and June 2011. Possible tornado tracks were identified, mapped, and were then measured to compare against the official NWS damage surveys.  In general, many of the major tornadoes (defined here with maximum intensity EF-3 and greater) were at least partially visible at resolutions of 15-250 m, though weaker tornadoes or those that occurred in complex terrain were more difficult to detect using NDVI and a single snapshot in time. As tornadoes initiated and increased in intensity, or dissipated and decreased in intensity, some of their characteristics became more difficult to detect.  However, some weaker tornadoes were also apparent in Landsat-7 imagery (30 m) in well-vegetated areas.  A summary of the study is available as a publication in the National Weather Association’s Journal of Operational Meteorology. In 2013, SPoRT received support from NASA’s Applied Sciences: Disasters program to partner with the NWS and facilitate the delivery of satellite imagery to their Damage Assessment Toolkit (DAT).  The DAT is used by the NWS to obtain storm survey information while in the field. Satellite imagery from NASA, NOAA, and commercial sensors (acquired in collaboration with USGS and the Hazards Data Distribution System) helps to supplement the survey process by providing an additional perspective of suspected damage areas.

Many of the damage scars apparent from the April 27, 2011 outbreak exhibited signs of recovery and change in the years following the outbreak.  Other tornado events also brought additional vegetation damage and scarring to the region. With five years passing since the 27 April 2011 tornado outbreak, annual views of cloud-free imagery have been obtained from the Landsat missions, operated and managed as a collaboration between the USGS and NASA.  In the viewer linked below, SPoRT has collaborated with the USGS Earth Resources Observation Systems (EROS) Data Center to acquire 30 m true color and vegetation index information from Landsat 5, Landsat 7, and Landsat 8 during the late spring and summer months when local vegetation is at its greenest, allowing the greatest contrast between damaged and undamaged areas. Users can take a look at these images in a web viewer that allows toggling between different products and years, view some of the tornado tracks surveyed by the NWS following the April 27, 2011 event, and zoom into areas of interest to examine how some of the affected areas have evolved over time:

Tuscaloosa, AL

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The above animation shows the year before and years after the EF-4 tornado impacted the Tuscaloosa area. The tornado track has seen a significant recovery, but a scar still remains in 2015. In addition to seeing how the landscape as recovered from tornado, development in and around Tuscaloosa is also apparent.  Missing pixels in 2012 are due to an issue with the Landsat-7 imager.

Hackleburg-Phil Campbell

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Similar to the Tuscaloosa animation, this animation shows the recovery of the EF-5 tornado that moved through Hackleburg and Phil Campbell, before tracking northeast across the Tennessee River.  Missing pixels in 2012 are due to an issue with the Landsat-7 imager.

Gridded NUCAPS products developed as part of a multi-organization JPSS PG/RR project are currently being evaluated at the Hazardous Weather Testbed (HWT) Experimental Warning Program (EWP).  The project contains contributions by researchers from UW/CIMSS, CSU/CIRA/ UAF/GINA, and SPoRT.  NUCAPS soundings are retrieved temperature and moisture soundings from the Suomi-NPP CrIS and ATMS sounders.  The evaluation of NUCAPS at HWT is aimed at providing upper air temperature and moisture information in the pre-convection environment to better understand variables that are necessary for convection and severe weather.  The Gridded NUCAPS products allows for isobaric plan views of temperature and moisture that forecasters can use to gain confidence in the model output

Forecasters at the HWT-EWP posted some input on the use of the Gridded NUCAPS products.  On the Satellite Proving Ground at HWT Blog (http://www.goesrhwt.blogspot.com/2016/04/nucaps-planviews.html), a forecaster noted:

“[Gridded NUCAPS] would be beneficial in the forecasting environment as added temperature data would be available in between standard upper-air launches.  This could serve as a good proxy to help judge the strength of a capping inversion, while also possibly serving as an additional information source during winter wx events.

However, the forecaster also noted that the amount of missing data included in the product limits its utility.  Currently, the Gridded NUCAPS contains only the highest quality (i.e., “best”) data that comes from a combination of both microwave and infrared (top image below).  In this image, the dark blue pixels represent the data that are discarded due to QC issues.  However, this quality control can be strict at times and leave out “good” data that can still be useful to the forecasters.  When these “good” data are included, there are much more useful data (bottom image below) without any noticeable discontinuities or oddities in the data.

SPoRT plans to use the feedback from HWT-EWP participants to test pushing the inclusion of the “good” quality data to the Gridded NUCAPS product to provide forecasters with more data for their analysis.

NUCAPS.2016.04.21.1902329.853mbtemp_QCeq1

853 hPa Gridded NUCAPS temperature product from 21 April 2016 at 1902 UTC including only the highest quality flags.  Dark blue pixels denote discarded data that results in data gaps.  Note that a lot of over-land observations are discarded.

NUCAPS.2016.04.21.1902329.853mbtemp_QCle2

853 hPa Gridded NUCAPS temperature product from 21 April 2016 at 1902 UTC including both “best” and “good” quality flags.  Dark blue pixels denote discarded data.  Missing pixels generally correspond to thick cloud features.

 

On April 16th a fire was reported in the Shenandoah National Park in eastern Rockingham County, Virginia, situated roughly between the cities of Harrisonburg and Charlottesville. Estimated at about 500 acres (per latest news reports), the fire (named the Rocky Mountain Fire) is large enough and producing a sufficient amount of smoke to be seen in Geostationary satellite data from GOES-13 this afternoon (Image 1).

GOES_AfternoonLoop_18Apr2016

Image 1. GOES visible loop, 1646-1845 UTC, 18 April 2016.  A plume of smoke can be seen extending SSE of the fire in the central portion of the image.  The Charlottesville, VA observation site (in the path of the smoke) contains a report of smoke in the last couple of frames of the loop.

However, the fire can also be seen in Day-Night Band Imagery, produced by the VIIRS instrument aboard the Suomi-NPP satellite.  The first image below (image 2) shows no visible fire early on the morning of the 16th and the growth of the fire over the next couple of mornings in the next two images (images 3, 4).

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Image 2.  VIIRS Day-Night Band Radiance RGB, 0729 UTC 16 April 2016. The circle shows the eventual location of the fire (although not evident yet in this image from the morning of April 16th).

 

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Image 3. VIIRS Day-Night Band Radiance RGB, 0710 UTC 17 April 2016. The small white dot in the center of the circle likely represents the fire early on the morning of the 17th.

 

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Image 4. VIIRS Day-Night Band Radiance RGB image, 0615 UTC 18 April 2016, showing the much larger “Rocky Mountain Fire” in portions of the Shenandoah Nat’l Park in eastern Rockingham County, VA.

 

On December 23, 2015, an unusual early winter season tornado outbreak struck much of the Tennessee Valley. Several tornadic supercell thunderstorms developed across northern Mississippi and western Tennessee in the afternoon hours, producing several large long-track tornadoes that unfortunately resulted in numerous fatalities and injuries. These same storms then moved rapidly east-northeastward at up to 70 mph across Middle Tennessee during the evening, spawning 4 tornadoes and causing 2 deaths and 7 injuries. Prior to this tornado outbreak, only 7 tornadoes had ever been recorded across Middle Tennessee since the 1800s, easily making this the largest and worst December tornado outbreak in Middle Tennessee history.

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OHX radar base reflectivity (left) & storm-relative velocity (right) at 623 pm CST on December 23, 2015 showing a supercell thunderstorm with an EF2 tornado in progress southeast of Linden, TN

NWS Nashville sent out three storm survey teams to evaluate all of the damage from these tornadoes on Christmas Eve and again on Christmas Day. Unfortunately, the affected areas were very rural and mostly inaccessible to the storm survey teams, with few roads available to evaluate damage indicators or determine beginning and end points. Thankfully, Landsat 8 imagery was available in the online Damage Survey Interface (DAT beta version) that depicted the swaths of blown down forests along the tornado paths that tracked through areas where the storm survey teams could not access. Landsat imagery allowed NWS Nashville personnel to extend two of the tornado paths by several more miles than originally estimated.

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Landsat 8 panchromatic imagery (contrast enhanced) from March 22, 2016 showing the damage swath from an EF2 tornado that killed 2 people southeast of Linden, TN. The beginning point of this tornado was adjusted ~2 miles further southwest than originally estimated based on the satellite imagery.

A potent winter storm system impacted portions of New Mexico on March 26, 2016, ending an extended stretch of very dry weather. Snowfall amounts of 3 to 9 inches were reported from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains eastward across the northeast plains. The MODIS and VIIRS satellite products proved useful for illustrating the extent of snow cover in both the daytime and nighttime scenes. The images below are graphical briefings posted to the NWS Albuquerque web page and shared via Twitter after this much needed snowfall event.

Graphical briefing showing the extent of snow cover during the nighttime and daytime periods on March 27, 2016.

Graphical briefing (part one) showing the extent of snow cover during the nighttime and daytime periods on March 27, 2016.

Graphical briefing showing the extent of snow cover through RGBs on March 27, 2016.

Graphical briefing (part two) showing the extent of snow cover through RGBs on March 27, 2016.

Conditions have been very warm and dry lately in parts of the Southern Plains and the Southwest.  This has resulted in a few blowing dust events and over the last 24 hours or so, and some very large grass fires in the open prairie.  Take a look at this loop of GOES 3.9 um imagery from 1655 UTC to 2115 UTC today, to see this rapid expansion of a very large fire ongoing on the Oklahoma/Kansas border, encompassing Comanche, Barber and Woods Counties.  The black colors represent the fire hot spots developing and expanding in the very dry and windy conditions.  In fact, widespread wind gusts around 40 to 50 mph were common in the region today.

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Image 1. GOES 3.9 um loop from 1655 to 2115 UTC 23rd March 2016.

 

This fire even showed quite up well last night in the Suomi NPP VIIRS Day-Night Band imagery.

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Image 2. Suomi VIIRS Day-Night Band Radiance RGB, 0818 UTC 23rd March 2016. The white circle indicates the location of the large grass fire in Woods and Comanche Counties.

Interestingly, the smoke from these grass fires is apparently not sufficiently dense or reflective to show up very well in the nighttime visible imagery.  Only a faint wisp of smoke can be seen extending to the NE of the fire in the prevailing direction of the surface wind last night.

Meanwhile, the Dust RGB showed significant dust plumes in and around the region…

DustRGB_1946UTC23Mar2016

Image 3. Suomi NPP VIIRS Dust RGB, 1946 UTC 23rd March 2016. Circles indicate areas of blowing dust evident in the Dust RGB. At this time, blowing dust was reported in Lubbock, TX and Hobbs, NM (not shown).

 

A significant flooding event occurred over the U.S. Deep South from 8-10 March 2016 due to a slow-moving low pressure/front from southern Texas to the Mississippi River, combined with a deep tropical moisture plume.  Tremendous rainfall totals of 4-8″+ were depicted by the Multi-Radar Multi-Sensor (MRMS) 1-km gauge-corrected radar rainfall estimate product for consecutive 24-hour periods ending 1200 UTC 9 March and 10 March 2016 (Fig. 1).  The MRMS gridded product provides short-term input precipitation estimates to the real-time Land Information System (LIS) run at the NASA Short-term Prediction Research and Transition (SPoRT) Center.

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Fig. 1.  Rainfall estimates from the Multi-Radar Multi-Sensor (MRMS) gauge-adjusted radar product for the 24-h period ending (a) 1200 UTC 9 Mar 2016, and (b) 1200 UTC 10 Mar 2016.

The soil moisture response to the heavy rainfall was captured nicely by NASA’s Soil Moisture Active-Passive (SMAP) satellite Level 2 retrieval product of 0-5 cm volumetric soil moisture for the early morning overpass across the Central U.S from 9 March (Fig. 2a).  Very high retrieved volumetric soil moisture of 0.45 or higher is seen from eastern Texas across much of northern Louisiana and southern/central Arkansas, aligned well with the areas that received the heaviest rainfall.  The corresponding SPoRT-LIS modeled soil moisture analysis for the 0-10 cm layer of the Noah land surface model (Fig. 2b) shows a reasonable agreement with the SMAP retrieved soil moisture but with slightly less dynamic range than the SMAP data — a reasonable result given that the SMAP retrieval is valid over a shallower, near-surface layer than the LIS top model layer.

Fig2_SMAPL2_LIS

Fig. 2.  (a) Soil Moisture Active-Passive (SMAP) 0-5 cm volumetric soil moisture retrieval valid 1223 UTC 9 Mar 2016, and (b) corresponding SPoRT-Land Information System (LIS) 0-10 cm volumetric soil moisture analysis valid 1200 UTC 9 Mar 2016.

The SPoRT-LIS total column relative soil moisture (RSM) has been found to qualitatively correlate with areas of river/areal flooding when exceeding ~60% across northern Alabama.  The depiction of total column RSM from the early morning of 10 March shows a large area exceeding 65% (blue  shading in Fig. 3a) across eastern Texas, northern Louisiana, and southern/central Arkansas.  The weekly change in total column RSM (Fig. 3b) highlights the regions that experienced the largest increases in soil moisture in response to the heavy rainfall.  As the soil approaches saturation/field capacity, most new rainfall goes directly to runoff, thereby exacerbating the flooding situation.

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Fig. 3.  SPoRT-LIS analysis valid 1200 UTC 10 Mar 2016 of (a) total column relative soil moisture (RSM), and (b) one-week change in total column RSM.

Another product available from the real-time SPoRT-LIS is the total column RSM percentile, which shows how anomalous the current soil moisture conditions are relative to a historical, 33-year climatological database of modeled soil moisture. The percentile product from the morning of 10 March (Fig. 4) shows that areas of eastern Texas and northwestern Louisiana (and a few other spots) exceed the 98th percentile for the current day — indicating that these present-day soil moisture values are about the most moist it has been in the last 33+ years for 10 March.

Notice that there are a few anomalous “bulls-eyes” of dry percentiles in southern/eastern Arkansas.  These areas are caused by corrupt input precipitation data driving the SPoRT-LIS land surface model simulation.  The issue is currently being corrected by the operational organizations managing the rain gauge input.  However, it should be noted that SPoRT is working to implement near real-time data assimilation of the SMAP Level 2 soil moisture retrievals into its LIS simulation.  Routine assimilation of SMAP satellite soil moisture will help correct anomalies caused by poor input precipitation, thereby resulting in more robust soil moisture analyses for situational awareness and disaster-response applications.

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Fig. 4. SPoRT-LIS total column RSM percentile valid 1200 UTC 10 Mar 2016.

Finally, the areas of active flooding at U.S. Geological stream gauges and the NOAA/NWS flood watch/warning map are given in Fig. 5 for the afternoon of 10 March.  The axis of flash flood warnings (dark red color) aligns quite well with the total column RSM percentiles exceeding the 98th percentile in Fig. 4, whereas the broader footprint of all flood warnings/watches corresponds closely with the total column RSM above the 65% value (blue shading in Fig. 3a).

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Fig. 5.  Plot of U.S. Geological Survey stream gauges with active flooding (top), and NOAA/NWS active [flash] flood watches and warnings (bottom-right) for the afternoon of 10 Mar 2016.

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