Dust RGB via GOES-16 from 1732-2232 UTC on 12 April 2018 over the U.S. Southwest

SPoRT used the MODIS and VIIRS imagers (on NASA’s Aqua & Terra satellites, and NOAA’s S-NPP satellite, respectively) within the NOAA’s Satellite Proving Ground to assess the value of a “Dust RGB Imagery” product for potential use with GOES-R (now GOES-16).  The Dust RGB proved useful on 13 April 2018 (animation above) where many dust plumes developed in the U.S. Southwest and Mexico.  Forecasters were able to monitor dust plume initiation and issue advisories and warnings.  In addition, several plumes continued to have impacts after sunset, and the Dust RGB, which uses only IR window channels (see Dust RGB Quick Guide), was able to continue monitoring the event at night while the visible imagery was no longer valuable.  Some advisories were extended beyond their original expiration time.  NASA SPoRT is using the NASA CALIPSO satellite and associated CALIOP lidar on board to validate and categorize dust signatures seen in the RGB and examine quantitative aspects like plume height and thickness.  The image below shows an event from 3 April 2018 where forecasters from the NWS Albuquerque WFO and CWSU evaluated the Dust RGB impact to operations as part of SPoRT’s assessment activities, and the CALIOP lidar backscatter captured the dust plume over west Texas.  From CALIOP the dust plume appears to be about 2 km thick in most locations, but the most concentrated region reached a height of about 3 km above ground.


Dust RGB via GOES-16 (upper) over the CONUS and lidar backscatter via CALIOP (on NASA’s CALIPSO satellite) for 2007 UTC on 3 April 2018.  Annotations in yellow point out the dust plume and clouds along the path of CALIOP shown by white arrow/text.

The NASA A-Train Takes a Second Look at Hurricane Bill

Due to a convenient alignment between the A-Train orbital trajectory and the path of Hurricane Bill along the eastern coastline of North America, the CloudSat radar and AMSR-E radiometer was able to take a second look at the structure of the cyclone and passed very near to, or perhaps directly across, the cyclone center.  This overpass occurred around 18 UTC on August 22, 2009 when Hurricane Bill was classified as a Category 1 storm, with tropical storm warnings issued for Nova Scotia and Bermuda by their respective meteorological agencies.

Passive microwave brightness temperatures depict the convective towers associated with the eye wall, as well as the cyclonic shape of the symmetric rain bands located to the north and south of the storm.  The most intense activity appears to be in the southeast quadrant, while northwest of the storm, activity may have been deterred as the cyclone was impacted by wind shear associated with an upper level shortwave departing the northeastern United States.

The AMSR-E 89 GHz passive microwave radiometer depicts the brightness temperatures associated with Hurricane Bill at 18 UTC, 22 August 2009 as it departs the eastern coast of the United States.

The CloudSat radar follows a similar track to the Aqua satellite, the platform supporting the AMSR-E instrument.  Therefore, once again their observations are nearly coincident in time.  It is unclear whether CloudSat directly sampled across the eye, however, with the center located near the 36th parallel, it is likely that CloudSat is depicting the structure of convection to the north and south of the storm.  The relative lack of convection near 36 degrees may be associated with the eye of the storm, with some shallow convection present.  The outermost rain bands, approaching the coastlines of New Jersey, New York and Massachussetts, are present in the cross section near the 40th parallel.   Numerous, isolated convective towers are evident in the CloudSat cross section, which is again attenuated severely just below the melting level due to the large amount of liquid precipitation.

Assuming that CloudSat sampled the eye, it is interesting to note that it depicts a layer of relatively thick, high altitude cloud which may have obscured the location of the center in visible or infrared satellite imagery.  CloudSat indicates that some shallower convection may be occurring near the eye center, while AMSR-E is able to use passive microwave brightness temperatures to see through these nonprecipitating ice clouds for a clearer shot at the cyclone center.

CloudSat observes the precipitation and cloud structures of Hurricane Bill, then a category 1 storm, as it travels along the eastern coast of the United States.

Finally, the CALIPSO instrument provides imagery of high altitude ice clouds associated with the tropical cyclone.  The highest cloud tops are located near the cyclone center at 36 degrees, and maintain a cloud top altitude of 15 km as in the previous sampling.  Meanwhile, the outer band approaching the United States appears weaker with tops ranging from 8 to 12 km.

The CALIPSO satellite indicates significant lidar backscatter obtained from the high altitude ice clouds associated with Hurricane Bill as it passes along the east coast of the United States.

CALIPSO Observations of Hurricane Bill

Hurricane Bill was also sampled by a third A-Train member instrument, the Cloud-Aerosol Lidar with Orthogonal Polarization (CALIOP), aboard the CALIPSO satellite, a joint mission between the United States and France.  As a lidar instrument, CALIOP is an active sensor that measures total attenuated backscatter (similar to radar) and is designed with a sensitivity toward atmospheric aerosols and cloud ice particles.  The CALIPSO satellite flies in line with CloudSat, therefore, their observations differ from a marginal separation in time.  In the image below, CALIPSO samples along a track similar to CloudSat (see previous blog post), and obtains backscatter from the high altitude ice clouds (cirrus) at 15 km and above.  CALIPSO is even better at detecting thin ice clouds than CloudSat, and in some cases may offer a better measure of cloud top height.  Note that although CloudSat depicts the eye as being completely cloud free, CALIPSO measurements detect some returns almost completely across the width of the storm.  Therefore, some “optically thin” cirrus may have been present in the vicinity of the CloudSat track or across the eye of Hurricane Bill that was only detected by CALIPSO.

CALIPSO detects the high altitude ice cloud (cirrus) associated with the expanse of Hurricane Bill, using a 532 nm lidar instrument capable of detecting atmospheric aerosols and small cloud ice crystals. The inset map (upper left) depicts a portion of the CALIPSO orbit track.

For more information about the NASA A-Train and other NASA instruments applied to hurricane research, check out the following article: NASA’s A-Train of Satellites “On Track” With Hurricane Research.  Quick look imagery from the CALIPSO satellite are provided by NASA Langley Research Center.