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The state of California has been suffering from a multi-year drought that has severely depleted water resources and reservoir levels. Recent winters have failed to produce precipitation and mountain snows to replenish the losses during the dry summers. However, the situation has rapidly changed this winter, particularly in the past week when multiple atmospheric rivers have impacted the state.

An atmospheric river is a concentrated channel of deep moisture that is transported from the tropical Pacific Oceanic regions to the West Coast of the United States.  These events are often associated with prodigious amounts of rainfall and mountain snows that lead to flooding, mudslides, and avalanches.  We have seen such events this past week impact California, especially the central and northern parts of the state.  CIRA’s total precipitable water product in Figures 1a and 1b depict two separate atmospheric rivers impinging on central California from 8 and 10 January 2017, respectively. The first wave transported a plume of tropical moisture from the south-southwest, which led to massive rainfall and high snow levels.  The second atmospheric river on the 10th was less directly connected to the tropics (coming in from the west-southwest), but nonetheless exhibited a well-focused transport of high moisture content.  Widespread flooding and mountain avalanches have resulted from these moisture plumes as the impacted California, as well as dramatic replenishment of reservoirs.

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Figure 1.  CIRA total precipitable water product (inches) valid at (a) 2100 UTC 8 Jan 2017, and (b) 2100 UTC 10 Jan 2017.

 

SPoRT’s real-time instantiation of the Land Information System (aka “SPoRT-LIS”) has nicely depicted the substantial replenishment of the moisture content in the soils over California.  The SPoRT-LIS is an observations-driven, ~3-km resolution run of the Noah land surface model that consists of a 33-year climatology spanning 1981-2013, and real-time output at hourly intervals sent to select NOAA/NWS partnering forecast offices.  The one-year change in the SPoRT-LIS total column soil moisture at 1200 UTC 11 January (Fig. 2) shows large increases over most of California, particularly in the higher terrain (given by blue and purple shading).  [At the same time, annual degradation in soil moisture can be seen across the central and eastern U.S.]  Interestingly, a substantial portion of California’s annual soil moisture increases has occurred in just the past week (Fig. 3; SPoRT-LIS total column soil moisture change over the past week).  One can certainly see the important role that atmospheric rivers play in being “drought busters”!

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Figure 2.  One-year change in the SPoRT-LIS total column relative soil moisture, valid 1200 UTC 11 January 2017.

 

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Figure 3.  One-week change in the SPoRT-LIS total column relative soil moisture, valid 1200 UTC 11 January 2017.

 

A map of the SPoRT-LIS daily soil moisture percentiles from 11 January highlight the very wet anomaly over California relative to the 33-year soil moisture climatology (Fig. 4; similar to the pattern of annual soil moisture change from Fig. 2).  Blue shading denotes greater than or equal to the 98th percentile, thus indicating unusually wet soils on the tail end of the historical distribution.

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Figure 4.  SPoRT-LIS total column relative soil moisture percentile from 11 January 2017.

 

Finally, SPoRT is acquiring and assimilating in real time the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) Level 2 (L2) retrievals produced by NASA/JPL into an experimental version of the SPoRT-LIS.  SPoRT is a SMAP Early Adopter and has a funded project to conduct soil moisture data assimilation experiments with LIS and evaluate impacts on land surface and numerical weather prediction models.  Figure 5 shows SMAP L2 retrievals of the evening overpasses from ~0000 UTC 11 January.  Panel (a) is the 36-km resolution radiometer product, while panel (b) shows the enhanced-resolution product, obtained from the SMAP radiometer by using Backus-Gilbert optimal interpolation techniques to provide data on a finer (9 km) grid.  The enhanced-resolution product provides much more detail of the wet soils in California, while retaining the same overall regional patterns as the original 36-km retrieval.  Given the loss of the active radar component of the SMAP mission, SPoRT plans to assimilate both the 36-km and 9-km products separately, and compare results on model accuracy.

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Figure 5. SMAP Level 2 soil moisture retrievals for the evening overpasses from ~0000 UTC 11 January 2017; (a) 36-km resolution product; (b) enhanced 9-km resolution product.

Herein is an example of the Tracking Meteogram Tool, which was developed by NASA SPoRT, being used to track and create a time series plot of the total lightning associated with a thunderstorm at the National Weather Service forecast office in New Braunfels, TX (Austin/San Antonio – EWX). The information gleaned by the time series plot from the tracking meteogram tool assisted in the warning decision making process.

For full disclosure, I have a background in total lightning and its operational uses in severe weather operations. My Master’s thesis at the University of Alabama in Huntsville was on the utility of total lightning and the lightning jump to assist in the quasi-linear convective system (QLCS) tornado warning decision process. Also, as a CIMMS research associate at the NWS Warning Decision Training Division, I developed a four-part series on best practices for using total lightning to assist in storm interrogation for various convective modes and severe hazards. I have been an intern at the NWS forecast office in New Braunfels, TX since May 2016.

On the evening of November 1st, 2016, there were isolated thunderstorms in the forecast across the Interstate 35 corridor between San Antonio and Austin, but severe weather of any sort was not anticipated across our area. The Storm Prediction Center convective outlook highlighted the eastern half of our CWA for possible thunderstorms, but did not have even a marginal risk area outlined.

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Storm Prediction Center (SPC) Convective Outlook product issued at 1z on November 2nd, 2016 (8 pm CDT on November 1st, 2016).

On this particular shift, I was working the public service desk, while my colleague Nick Hampshire, a lead forecaster at EWX, was working the short-term forecast desk. Given my background in total lightning, I typically overlay the one minute 5 km by 5 km Earth Networks Total Lightning Detection Network (ENTLN) total lightning product on top of reflectivity for situational awareness purposes. Isolated showers and thunderstorms began initiating across the region around 6-7 pm that evening. These showers and storms were, as expected, fairly mundane and short lived, only producing light to moderate rainfall before the updraft was cut off and the storm dissipated. When the showers did manage to produce lightning, the lightning frequency was low and short lived.

Around 7:40 pm, a shower initiated east of Seguin, moving northward toward the cities of San Marcos and Austin. By the time it reached San Marcos around 8:20 pm, the shower began producing lightning. As the storm progressed northward toward the city of Austin, the total lightning flash rates continued to increase. To monitor the time series trend of the total flash rate, I used the Tracking Meteogram Tool and configured it to display the sum of the values, thereby plotting all the lightning being produced by the storm at any one time. I noticed a steady increase in the lightning flash rate that coincided with and even slightly preceded the strengthening of the storm as determined by radar signatures. A quick interrogation using radar and the standard environmental package from LAPS of the storm at around 8:51 pm showed 50+ dBZ echoes up to beyond the -30 degree Celsius level (~30,000 feet).

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4-panel display of reflectivity at different tilts from KEWX radar at 8:51 pm CDT on November 1st, 2016 (0151 UTC on November 2nd, 2016).

The total flash rate at this time was 46 flashes per minute, and the flash rate had increased from 34 flashes per minute at 8:47 pm to a local maximum of 47 flashes per minute at 8:52 pm. Given the radar signatures as well as the rapid increasing trend in total flash rate, Mr. Hampshire and I decided that a Significant Weather Advisory was warranted. In the text product, we mentioned pea to nickel sized hail associated with this storm. The SPS was issued around 8:52 pm. We received a few reports of pea sized hail in southwest Austin on social media shortly after 9 pm (2z).

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1 minute ENTLN total lightning 5 km grid with tracking meteogram tool (left) and time series plot of total lightning for the storm of interest from 0133 UTC (8:33 pm CDT) to 0204 UTC (9:04 pm CDT) on November 2nd, 2016 (November 1st, 2016) 

 

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Radar loop from KEWX from 0054 UTC (7:54 pm CDT) to 0210 UTC (9:10 pm CDT) on November 2nd, 2016 (November 1st, 2016)

This case demonstrated the value of total lightning and the tracking meteogram tool. Given the forecast and the atmospheric environment, severe weather was not anticipated. However, it was the large, rapid increase in total lightning that initially prompted my attention to this storm and caused me to delve further into interrogating the severe potential. Had I not had the total lightning information available to me, the Significant Weather Advisory almost certainly would have come out later and perhaps not at all. Granted, this storm did not meet severe criteria, but not having any product issued for pea sized hail when hail of any size was not in the forecast would not have been an ideal situation, and the value added from the total lightning was still noteworthy.

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Tweet posted from the NWS Austin/San Antonio twitter account shortly after the storm had passed through Austin, dropping pea sized hail.

 

November 19th has been eagerly anticipated by the meteorological community as it is the launch of the next-generation GOES-R satellite.  The satellite will carry a suite of space weather instruments as well as two Earth observing sensors.  The Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) will provide three times more channels to view the Earth, four times greater spatial resolution, and 5 times faster coverage.  The ABI will provide new means to monitor atmospheric phenomena.  Additionally, GOES-R will carry the first ever lightning observation sensor on a geostationary platform; the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM).  Numerous organizations, including NASA SPoRT, have been supporting the GOES-R Proving Ground for many years to aid the operational community in preparing for the new capabilities of GOES-R.

Specifically, NASA SPoRT has been formally involved with the Proving Ground since 2009, although much of our work prior to this point has provided relevant information with respect to GOES-R.  SPoRT has been primarily involved in two activities.  The first has been the assessment of and training for multi-spectral imagery, often called red-green-blue (RGB) composites.  The RGB composites are used to combine multiple single channels into a single image in order to help emphasize phenomena that forecasters wish to monitor.  This can range from air mass microphysics to atmospheric dust.  This work has leveraged work by Europe’s EUMETSAT organization who first developed several of these RGB composites for their Meteosat Second Generation satellite.  SPoRT has worked with NASA’s MODIS instruments from Aqua and Terra as well as the JPSS VIIRS instrument to create the respective RGBs from polar orbiting instruments.  These snapshot demonstrations provided forecasters local examples of RGB composites to allow them to investigate these products prior to GOES-R’s launch.  SPoRT has also coordinated with other product developers to help transition their early development work to National Weather Service forecasters.  This included the University of Alabama in Huntsville’s GOES-R convective initiation product and the NESDIS quantitative precipitation product.

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MODIS Dust RGB demonstrating a future capability of the GOES-R ABI. Dust (magenta) can be seen approaching Las Vegas, Nevada.

In additional to the ABI work, SPoRT has been integral to supporting total lightning (intra-cloud and cloud-to-ground) observations in operational applications.  This dates back to 2003 with the first transition of experimental ground-based lightning mapping arrays that evolved into the pseudo-geostationary lightning mapper (PGLM) product in 2009 to provide operational training for the GLM.  Since then, SPoRT has developed the GLM plug-in for the National Weather Service’s AWIPS system, has personnel serving as the National Weather Service liaison for the GLM, and have developed foundational training that is being provided to every forecaster in the National Weather Service.

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Sample of the pseudo-geostationary lightning mapper demonstration product in AWIPS being used for training on the Geostationary Lightning Mapper.

SPoRT will continue to be actively engaged in GOES-R applications post launch.  This will take the form of developing an applications library, or short 3-5 focused case examples, for both the ABI RGBs and the GLM.  SPoRT will also participate in the formal applications training for RGBs and GLM that will be released to the National Weather Service.  Lastly, SPoRT will be leading an operational assessment of the GLM with National Weather Service forecasters and associated emergency managers.

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GOES-R launching on November 19, 2016!

…And GOES-R is off!

Today, the GOES-R satellite launched from Kennedy Space Center at approximately 642 EST!  As a forecaster, I am very excited about the flow of data and imagery that will be available to us in the near future.  Congratulation to all those who have invested so much time and energy into this project.

The GOES-R satellite launches aboard an Atlas-V Rocket at Kennedy Space Center, approx 642 pm EST.

The GOES-R satellite launches aboard an Atlas-V Rocket at Kennedy Space Center, approx 642 pm EST.

SPoRT would like to thank our collaborators who have worked with us to develop forecasting and other applications for this mission during recent years. And we look forward to continued collaborative projects in the future!

A number of fires have erupted in recent weeks due in part to the drought gripping parts of the Southeast U.S.  Especially hard hit are areas in and around the southern Appalachians, extending into central portions of Alabama and Georgia, where D3 (Extreme) to D4 (Exceptional) drought conditions exist, per the latest U.S. Drought Monitor (Image 1).

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Image 1. U.S. Drought Monitor for 8 November 2016. Notice the large area of D3-D4 drought gripping parts of the Southeast.

Recently, the fires and some smoke were captured well in Shortwave IR (Image 2) and Day-Night Band imagery (Image 3) produced by the VIIRS instrument onboard the Suomi NPP satellite.

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Image 2. Fires appear as small black dots in the Shortwave IR (~3.7 um) imagery taken at 0734 UTC 15 Nov 2016.

 

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Image 3. In this Day-Night Band Radiance RGB, the fires (center of white circles) appear similar to city lights, however smoke plumes are evident with some of the stronger and heavier smoke-producing fires (red ovals), 0734 UTC 15 Nov 2016

Since boundary layer winds tend to shift direction at night with the loss of deep mixing, the Day-Night Band image can be used by forecasters to detect how smoke plumes change direction at night and may help with forecasts of smoke impacts.

Major Hurricane Matthew left a trail of destruction in its wake from the Caribbean up through the U.S. East Coast.  As Hurricane Matthew tracked northward along a large portion of the U.S. Southeast Coast from Florida to North Carolina, the rainfall impacts worsened.  Figure 1 shows the weekly rainfall spanning 4-11 October, ranging from ~2-8 inches along the Florida East Coast to 10-20 inches in the eastern Carolinas.  Since antecedent soil moisture was highest in the eastern Carolinas (Fig. 2), the extreme rainfall led to the most serious flooding in this area.

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Fig. 1.  Weekly rainfall totals from 4 – 11 October 2016.

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Fig. 2.  Total Column (0-2 m) relative soil moisture prior to Hurricane Matthew’s impact on North and South Carolina, valid at 0000 UTC 7 October 2016.

Referring back to the precipitation totals in Fig. 1, we can see that there was a sharp rainfall gradient on the northwestern edge in the Middle Atlantic region.  Interestingly, this gradient in Hurricane Matthew’s rainfall coincided with a pre-existing transition zone between wet conditions near the Atlantic coast and drought conditions further inland from the Appalachians through New England.  The net result was to accentuate the wet-dry contrast already in place.  The animation in Fig. 3 highlights this contrast nicely by presenting the SPoRT-LIS daily total-column relative soil moisture percentiles from 1-12 October.  The percentiles are based off a 1981-2013 daily soil moisture climatology that SPoRT produced from its ~3-km resolution SPoRT-LIS simulation.  By 9 October, notice the incredible transition from excessively wet soil moisture exceeding the 98th percentile (Carolinas through the southern half of Delaware) to extremely dry soil moisture less than the 5th percentile across Pennsylvania into the Northeast (as well as much of the inland Southeastern U.S.).  In fact, total column soil moisture values are less than the 2nd percentile over a large part of Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and the New England states, indicative of the ongoing severe drought there.

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Fig. 3. Daily animation of SPoRT-LIS total column relative soil moisture percentile from 1 to 12 October 2016.

CrIS/ATMS soundings processed through the NOAA Unique Combine Processing System (NUCAPS) are available in AWIPS.  SPoRT is working with the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) Proving Ground to testbed the utility of NUCAPS soundings to anticipate hurricane tropical to extratropical transition.  Although satellite derived soundings are “smoother” than radiosondes they can provide valuable information about the depth of moist or dry layers in data sparse regions. Forecasters can anticipate extratropical transition by identifying the dry slot and upstream potential vorticity anomalies on satellite imagery that may interact with a storm while also considering many other factors that lead to extratropical transition.  Although Hurricane Matthew is not expected to undergo extratropical transition for quite a few days, the NUCAPS Soundings can be used to diagnose the temperature and moisture characteristics surrounding the hurricane as highlighted below.

GOES-13 water vapor imagery shows dry upper levels west of Hurricane Matthew and abundant moisture surrounding the system (Fig. 1).  Since water vapor imagery can only detect moisture characteristics in the mid-to upper- levels of the atmosphere, the NUCAPS soundings (green dots on Fig. 1) can be analyzed to provide more information about the vertical extent of the dry air and whether it is in close proximity to the hurricane in the mid- to lower- levels.

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Fig. 1. 5 October 2016 1830 UTC GOES-13 water vapor imagery and 1811 UTC NUCAPS Soundings. Green dots represent point and click soundings. Blue numbers label location of example soundings highlighted below.

Scroll down through the example Soundings to compare the changes in moisture conditions west of Hurricane Matthew. Soundings 1 and 2 (Fig. 2 and 3), taken in a region of dry air as identified by the orange color enhancement on the water vapor imagery, confirm a dry column throughout the depth of the atmosphere. Sounding 3 (Fig. 4) shows the drying is not as intense in the upper-levels and mid-level drying extends down to about 600 mb. Sounding 4 and 5 (Fig. 5 and 6) show upper level conditions are more moist closer to the hurricane, as expected from the water vapor imagery. While Sounding 4 (Fig. 5) shows moist conditions throughout the atmospheric column, Sounding 5 (Fig. 6) does show mid-level dry air is present.  Previous analysis of Sandy 2012 and Arthur 2014 showed the same signature (e. g., similar to Sounding 5) became more abundant surrounding the systems as upper-level dry air intruded.  Currently, there are very few soundings with this signature surrounding Hurricane Matthew.  The NUCAPS soundings confirm dry atmospheric conditions are well west of the system and there is very little mid- to low- level dry air in the proximity of the system.  This preliminary example is presented but as Hurricane Matthew continues to evolve NUCAPS Soundings and SPoRT Ozone Products will be analyzed to discern the utility for anticipating dry air intrusion and associated hurricane tropical to extratropical transition.

Sounding 1

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Fig. 2. 5 October 2016 1811 UTC NUCAPS Sounding at Location 1.

 

Sounding 2

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Fig. 3. 5 October 2016 1811 UTC NUCAPS Sounding at Location 2.

Sounding 3

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Fig. 4. 5 October 2016 1811 UTC NUCAPS Sounding at Location 3.

Sounding 4

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Fig. 5. 5 October 2016 1811 UTC NUCAPS Sounding at Location 4.

Sounding 5

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Fig. 6. 5 October 2016 1811 UTC NUCAPS Sounding at Location 5.