An Evaluation of the SFR Product during a mid-December Winter Storm for Northern New Mexico

The Albuquerque NWS recently began receiving an updated NESDIS snowfall rate (SFR) product from NASA SPoRT. We were anxious to see how the updated product performed during our most recent winter storm. A fast moving upper level trough and associated Pacific Front blasted into western New Mexico on the afternoon of Saturday, December 13. The upper low deepened and closed off over New Mexico with wrap around snow impacting northeast New Mexico through mid-day Sunday, December 14.  Ahead of the system, temperatures were very warm with Albuquerque reporting a high of 61 and Santa Fe reporting a high of 57 on Saturday.  The RGB snow-cloud product from 2045Z on Sunday depicts snow cover following the event. Four areas in the state were impacted – the western high terrain, the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo Mountains (mainly west slopes) in north central New Mexico, and extreme northeastern corner of New Mexico. Four yellow ovals mark areas to be discussed in this blog entry. Strong westerly, downslope flow on the backside of this storm system resulted in the snow-free region along the eastern slopes between Taos and Raton.

In the loop below, the 0.5 reflectivity mosaic and surface observations show the surface front moving into western New Mexico (left most oval in the snow-cloud product) during the period from 1942Z to 2318Z. In the first image, the winds have shifted to the northwest in Farmington (FMN) and rain is reported as temperatures are too warm to support snow. Note that throughout the loop the Farmington area, especially west and north of the site, there are no radar returns. The Four Corners area has poor to no radar coverage and it is an area where we hope the SFR product will help us. Snow was reported at Gallup (GUP) by 2030Z.

0.5 Reflectivity 1942Z to 2318Z

The SFR product was limited during this initial period, with only one swath covering New Mexico at 2034Z (shown below). This image (obtained from the SPoRT product page) shows that snow is detected in northeast Utah and northwest Colorado, but not in northwest New Mexico.  The Gallup area ended up with about one inch of snow while higher terrain south of Gallup reported two to three inches. While only rain was reported at the Farmington ASOS, the snow-cloud product shows some snow just to the east of Farmington where reports of one-half to an inch of snow was reported.


The next SFR product with coverage over New Mexico had a timestamp of 0338Z (14 December 2014), and is compared to the composite reflectivity image of 0336Z in the image below. Reflectivity is strongest just west and northwest of the Albuquerque ASOS (ABQ), which is reporting rain. The cold front however was moving quickly from west to east toward the ABQ metro area. The strong reflectivity returns to the northwest of Albuqurque are actually bright banding as rain began changing over to snow. The dual polarization hydrometeor classification algorithm showed the rain/snow line shifting quickly eastward. Fifteen minutes prior to this image, rain transition to snow was reported in Rio Rancho, just northwest of Albuquerque. The higher terrain just east of Albuquerque, the Sandia and Manzano Mountains, did receive snow accumulations of two to four inches and the SFR product highlights that area with light rates (blue) of about .02 inches/hour. The Santa Fe area (SAF) is not reporting snow at this time, but is highlighted with the max values of SFR, though snow reports in the Santa Fe area were generally less than 2 inches.  Recall that afternoon temperature were quite warm, making it difficult for snow to accumulate. The SFR product also depicts rates up to .05 inches/hour over the Sangre de Cristo mountains north and east of Santa Fe, where accumulations of 4 to 8 inches were reported. Interestingly, the SFR product is estimating precipitation around Santa Fe when the radar reflectivity pattern and observation do not indicate rain or snow. A portion of this area to the immediate northeast and east of ABQ is beam-blocked by the Sandia Mountains (yellow oval southwest of SAF).


A similar comparison is shown for 13 hours later, or around 1655Z on December 15. (Another image was available around 08Z, but is not discussed in the post.)  Note that the SFR product depicts accumulating snow, albeit light, from eastern Taos through all but extreme southern Colfax County. Two stations (KAXX and KRTN) are reporting snow, but radar composite reflectivities do not extend over either location. Snow did accumulate at KAXX, but not at Raton (KRTN) where temperatures hovered right above freezing.


Snow that is evident in extreme northeast New Mexico occurred after mainly 16Z and was associated with persistent wrap around precipitation (a SFR product was not available). The SFR product was not used in near real time for this event but was re-examined only a short time thereafter. However, the product did validate that we will indeed be able to complement radar void coverage areas in an operational forecast environment using polar-orbiting satellite imagery. This example will also serve to highlight potential product applications, advantages, and disadvantages for forecaster training prior to the upcoming NESDIS evaluation period.

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