Yesterday while working on some Dust RGB related training materials, I was looking at the RGB in AWIPS and noticed a dust event unfolding in real-time in the central High Plains. The loop below shows Dust RGB imagery, generated by GOES-East, yesterday, 28 Jan 2019 during the late morning and early afternoon hours. The loop is centered over NE Colorado and SW Nebraska where you’ll see the blowing dust develop and spread southeastward. In case you’re not too familiar with this type of imagery, the dust is represented by the magenta colors. It’s also possible to observe some of the individual dust streaks or plumes within the larger blowing dust event, which help to show their locations of origin. (By the way, sorry about the loss of image fidelity when saving from AWIPS to an animated GIF).
Research has shown that it takes the right combination of factors to loft dust particles sufficiently to generate these larger scale blowing dust events, partly based on soil moisture and winds. The SPoRT LIS 0-10 cm volumetric soil moisture (VSM) analysis at 18 UTC indicated very low values in the blowing dust source region, with VSM percentages generally around 12-16% (Image 2). The METAR observations also indicate sustained winds were 35-40 knots with stronger gusts over 40 knots at one locations in the area.
This last image is a snapshot of the Dust RGB taken at 1902 UTC, overlaid with surface visibility and ceiling observations. Notice that at station KHEQ in far northeastern Colorado, a ceiling of 100 ft and visibility of 7 SM was reported, which was likely due to the blowing dust.
Some SPoRT collaborative NWS offices in the West CONUS have utilized LIS VSM values to locate areas where the probability of blowing dust events is heightened under the proper conditions. However, SPoRT is looking into opportunities to better predict where these events will occur.