Observations of NUCAPS Soundings in the TN Valley — 20 July 2016

So, recently I’ve had the opportunity to use and evaluate soundings from the NOAA Unique Combined Atmospheric Processing System (NUCAPS).  These soundings, produced by the ATMS and CrIS instruments onboard the Suomi NPP satellite, are available in AWIPS generally twice per day over any given location.

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Image 1.  NUCAPS Sounding data availability example, ~19 UTC 24 July 2016. Colors represent quality control flags — green are considered best available and most representative data.

A couple of advantages of the NUCAPS soundings is they’re available in relatively high spatial resolution (image 1) and also in between radiosonde launches.  So, a forecaster wanting to know more about tropospheric conditions during the midday or early afternoon (usually the most crucial period for severe weather analysis) can utilize NUCAPS sounding data, since radiosonde data won’t be available until later in the evening (unless ~18 UTC launches are being conducted at their location).  On a number of days in recent weeks, a lack of sufficient boundary layer moisture (probably partly due to an ongoing drought in the region) have dampened convective development.  A good understanding of the degree of convective inhibition (CIN) present on a given day can be difficult to obtain and model analyses and forecasts don’t always seem to have a good handle on this.  Even other robust analyses often struggle with a seemingly accurate depiction of CIN on many days.  However, knowledge of CIN, among other factors, can be important when forecasting probabilities for convective development on summer days.

Recently however, I’ve noticed that NUCAPS soundings did indicate the presence of CIN when convective development was perhaps less than expected or forecast.  July 20th was one of these days.  Take a look at the NAM Bufr Sounding for HSV, valid for 19 UTC on 20 July 2016 (image 2).

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Image 2.  NAM Bufr Sounding for KHSV, 19 UTC 20 July 2016

The NAM Bufr model sounding indicated robust CAPE values (generally >2500 J/Kg) and little to no CIN.  Now, let’s take a look at a couple of nearby representative NUCAPS soundings (unfortunately, they don’t include the associated data tables).  Image 3 shows the locations of the NUCAPS soundings with respect to the KHSV observation site and the location in the NAM forecast sounding above (image 2).

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Image 3.  NUCAPS Sounding locations for image 4…also, the KHSV location in northern Alabama

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Image 4.  NUCAPS Soundings at 19 UTC for location A (left, west of KHSV) and location B (right, southwest of KHSV), 20 July 2016

Even though data tables are not shown from the NUCAPS soundings, notice that they indicate much less instability and less steep lapse rates than the NAM Bufr sounding prognostications for the same time (19 UTC).   Also, notice that LCL levels are below the LFC, indicating some amount of CIN at both locations.  If memory serves correctly, NUCAPS soundings indicated CIN values around 25-50 J/Kg at this time.  So, for a forecaster struggling with the likelihood/coverage of convective development and the strength of convective updrafts, the NUCAPS data would have suggested lesser magnitude for both, over the NAM progs.  Image 5 shows the general dearth of convective activity in the area of northern Alabama near 19 UTC that day.  And indeed, convection was generally limited through the afternoon, with mostly isolated, small cells present.

CompRefl_NUCAPSLocations_20July2016_1856Z

Image 5. Composite reflectivity (dBZ) at 1830 UTC 20 July 2016

When viewing the NUCAPS soundings, I’ve generally been looking for CAPE/CIN values while in the convective season.  Of course, having to click on a number of soundings can be a bit laborious.  As part of a JPSS Proving-Ground/Risk Reduction multi-organization project, researchers at CIMSS, CIRA, GINA and NASA SPoRT have developed gridded NUCAPS data, which were utilized in the Hazardous Weather Testbed this past spring.  I’ll be working with members of the SPoRT team to ingest those data in AWIPS II here at the HUN office in the near future for my own testing, evaluation and feedback to the NUCAPS group within the JPSS Proving Ground.  I’m looking forward to the future use and evaluation of these potentially useful operational data sets.

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