Snowfall Rate Provides Guidance for New Mexico Snow Event

Forecaster Jennifer Palucki from Albuquerque, New Mexico submitted a nice case study to our online evaluation form being used during the current 2016 NESDIS Snowfall Rate Evaluation.  Here are some of her discussion and impressions of using the product:

A very well defined band of snow developed along a frontal boundary extending from the southern Sangre de Cristo Mountains, toward Las Vegas, and continued southeastward toward Melrose. Initially the southeast part of the band was rain, but as temps dropped it changed to snow. At 0052z (552pm MST; see image below) the merged SFR likely did very well distinguishing where there was snow and no snow, however, in areas that there was snow, amounts were way underdone. At 545pm, approximately 4″ of snow had fallen in Sapello in the southern Sangre de Cristo Mtns. Snow likely started around 1 or 2pm, which is an average of about 1″/hr compared to the 0.3″/hr the SFR product was showing with an 18:1 ratio. Thus, the amounts via the SFR product were largely underdone. It was still snowing heavily according to the spotter at 545pm. At 645pm, approximately 1.5 inches of snow was reported in Las Vegas. The SFR product was showing around 0.1″/hr for this area.


NESDIS SFR Product at 0052 UTC on 03 February 2016 showing light snow over Las Vegas, NM.

Another pass at 0330z (830pm MST; see image below), the SFR product missed the southeastern extent of the snowfall, and again had amounts that were likely underdone. A report of 0.5 inches of snow in the last hour was reported at 841pm in Taos. The SFR product showed around 0.02 liquid equivalent, or around 0.3″/hr snowfall rate given 18:1 ratio (which should be close to the snow ratios in that area).


NESDIS SFR Product at 0330 UTC on 03 February 2016 showing some heavier snow over Taos, NM.

Really like using this product to gather intel on where it is snowing in areas without radar coverage. Do have some concerns about the amounts, especially in these scenarios where the heavier amounts are likely isolated. In this case, the band was very narrow, likely no more than 10 to 15 miles wide.

Life of Winter Storm Jonas as seen by the NESDIS Snowfall Rate Product

Winter Storm Jonas tracked across the eastern United States this past weekend dropping near-record amounts of snowfall in a track from West Virginia through southern New York.  Two things about this storm are particularly interesting:  1) the heavy amounts of snow that fell for long periods of time and 2) the relatively narrow swath of the heaviest snows.  Below is the 48-hour snow accumulations from the National Weather Service ending Sunday, January 24.  It is striking that New York City received on the order of 30 inches of snow, while areas less than 100 miles to the north received little if any snow.


48-hour snowfall totals ending Sunday, January 24, 2016 (from NWS Central Region).  Contours are every 3″ with the darkest reds indicating 30″ of snow.

Select Eastern Region WFOs are currently evaluating the NESDIS Snowfall Rate product, which uses passive microwave observations from 5 sensors, to observe total column snowfall rates.  Below is a series of images from this past weekend showing the SFR product displayed as a 10:1 solid/liquid conversion.  The darkest greens indicate snowfall rates at the top of the sensor detection range at approximately 2″/hr.  Depending on the actual solid/liquid ratio in individual areas, rates may have been higher.



NESDIS SFR Product showing the evolution of Winter Storm Jonas from late on Friday through early Sunday.  The darkest greens indicate solid snowfall rates of around 2″/hr.

In the images, the NESDIS SFR product shows very good agreement with the location and track of the heaviest snows (greens) compared to the heaviest totals in the ground reports.  Additionally, the SFR product does well in picking up the abrupt northern edge of the snowfall (especially across southern New York).

UPDATE:  The Sterling, VA WFO included mention of the SFR product in a forecast discussion to confirm snowfall rates that would cause white out conditions:


NESDIS Snowfall Product Captures Unfolding Winter Weather in the South

Beginning in the morning hours of 22 January 2016, rain began to change to snow across Mississippi, Tennessee, and Alabama.  The NESDIS Snowfall Rate, which is currently being evaluated by a handful of Weather Forecast Offices, has the ability to differentiate rain from snow.  This ability was particularly important for the large winter storm impacting much of the eastern half of the United States.  The animation below shows the 10:1 Solid SFR Product with METAR station observations indicating temperatures and precipitation.


The animation shows the evolution of snow across the area beginning with snow in Western Tennessee and Eastern Mississippi at around 1200 UTC (6:00a local time).  Also of note at that same time is that the SFR Product indicates relatively heavy snow (~1.5 in./hr. solid snow) directly over the Nashville area; however, the METAR site at the airport is still reporting rain.  In the following hour (1300 UTC; not shown in the loop here because there was no SFR product valid near 1300 UTC) Nashville was reporting snow.  Thus, the SFR product was seeing in-cloud snow in that area that began to reach the ground within an hour of the observation.  This is one way forecasters can use the product to view in-cloud snow to determine the potential for snow to reach the ground.

Later in the period, a similar set up appears in the Huntsville area at the Madison County Executive Airport (KMDQ).  The 1853 UTC SFR product shows light snow over Madison County, but the 1900 UTC METAR was not yet reporting any snow.  However, the 2000 UTC METAR showed snow beginning to fall across the Huntsville area.  The change over to snow falling across Western Madison county into Central Madison county was between 1830 and 1900 UTC, verified as I drove home from work.

The NESDIS SFR product will continue to be evaluated as blizzard conditions begin to set up along parts of the East Coast.

SFR Product Verifies Snow Coverage over Four Corners

The NESDIS Snowfall Rate (SFR) product assessment is in full swing at NWS Albuquerque and forecasters are already capturing some good cases over data sparse regions. The first week of January 2016 was very active across New Mexico as back to back winter storm systems crossed the area. The second system in the series crossed over the Four Corners region on 4 January 2016, producing light to moderate snowfall rates for several hours. The forecaster on shift noted the observation at Farmington, NM (KFMN) indicated light snow with a visibility of 5 statute miles. A quick glance at the SFR procedure used in Figure 1a shows the extent of any precipitation echoes well to the east of KFMN at 0000 UTC 5 January 2016. The nearest radar (KABX, not shown) is located roughly 150 miles southeast of KFMN near Albuquerque, NM. The arrival of a SFR product at 0010 UTC 5 January 2016 showed the extent of the precipitation was much greater with the merged POES image overlaid on the radar data (Figure 1b). Sampled liquid equivalent values in the light green areas to the east of KFMN were near 0.03″/hour.

Figure 1a. Liquid equivalent values of the merged SFR product valid 0000 UTC 5 January 2016. KFMN is denoted by the white circle. Note the extent of the radar coverage is well east of KFMN.

Figure 1b. Liquid equivalent values of the merged SFR product valid 0010 UTC 5 January 2016. KFMN is denoted by the white circle. Note the extent of the snowfall coverage is much greater with the addition of the POES image.

The Terminal Aerodrome Forecast (TAF) issued for KFMN shortly before the receipt of this image indicated temporary fluctuations in the visibility to 1 statute mile with light snow and an overcast ceiling near 1,200 ft between 0000 UTC and 0400 UTC (Instrument Flight Rules, IFR). It is not clear whether any operational changes occurred based on the receipt of the merged SFR product or whether the product increased confidence on the IFR forecast. However, it is entirely possible given the improvement in product latency compared to the 2015 assessment that the imagery could be used in this way.

The webcam available at San Juan College just a short distance from the KFMN observation showed significant decreases in the visibility between 330pm and shortly after sunset (Figure 2a and 2b). The two images below show the decrease in surface visibility as well as notable accumulations on grassy surfaces in front of the college. An observer 3 miles southeast of Farmington did report a total accumulation of 1″ from this event. The merged SFR product did in fact show higher rates immediately to the east of KFMN. The last image in the series shows the impact on travel conditions noted by the NM Department of Transportation web page (Figure 3). The areal coverage of the difficult travel impacts (yellow highlights) was greater than that depicted by what can be seen based on poor radar coverage.

Figure 2a. Webcam at San Juan College around 330pm. Note the light snowfall beginning to develop over the distant mesas behind the college.

Figure 2a. Webcam at San Juan College around 330pm. Note the light snowfall beginning to develop over the distant mesas behind the college.

Figure 2b. Webcam at San Juan College shortly after sunset. Note the dramatic decrease in visibility and light snow accumulations on grassy surfaces in front of the college.

Figure 2b. Webcam at San Juan College shortly after sunset. Note the dramatic decrease in visibility and light snow accumulations on grassy surfaces in front of the college.

Figure 3. Screen capture of NM DOT web page showing areal coverage of difficult travel conditions (yellow highlights) and some text summaries detailing the impacts.

Post Frontal Orographic Snowfall Impacts NM

A slow-moving upper level storm system tracked east across northern NM and southern CO on 14-15 December 2015. A weak tap of subtropical moisture ahead of this system provided light to moderate snowfall mainly along the Continental Divide of western NM and the higher terrain running north-south through central and northern NM. Snow accumulations of 3 to 8 inches were reported ahead of and immediately behind the surface front and the mid level trough passage. A classic westerly,upslope flow event developed behind the upper wave as moist, unstable flow interacted with the north-south oriented higher terrain. Winter weather advisories and winter storm warnings were in effect over much of northern NM for the expectation of storm total snowfall of 8 to 12″ with locally higher amounts. Figure 1 depicts the distribution of advisories and warnings over northern NM on the Albuquerque National Weather Service public page.

Advisory and warning map for the ABQ CWA valid 15 December 2015.

Figure 1. Advisory and warning map for the ABQ County Warning Area valid 15 December 2015.

Poor radar coverage over northern and western NM makes it a challenge for assessing winter precipitation patterns and snowfall rates. Figure 2 shows a radar mosaic valid 1800 UTC 15 December 2015 utilizing an enhanced color curve to identify areas of lighter snowfall. Automated surface observations are sparse in this area however there are at least a few observations reporting snow where nothing is present in the radar reflectivity. Webcams at ski resorts serve as an excellent near real-time proxy for visualizing active snow accumulations in these poor radar coverage regions. Additionally, once daily snow accumulation reports from ski resorts aid the verification process following the winter event.

Figure 2. Winter radar mosaic from KABX valid 1800 UTC 15 December 2015. Note the orange circle depicting a large area of poor radar coverage.

The integration of satellite data allows forecasters to supplement these data void areas. The most recent interation of the NESDIS snowfall rate products available at WFO Albuquerque illustrate the snowfall rate derived from radar (Figure 3a) and the snowfall rate available from merging the POES satellite data with the radar data (Figure 3b). Note the grey areas overlaid on the map in Figure 3a indicate areas of reliable radar coverage. The snowfall rate derived from satellite data in Figure 3b clearly shows coverage outside of the area with reliable radar coverage. A very cold and unstable airmass in association with this precipitation suggested snowfall rates in the higher terrain would average between 20-30:1. The 18:1 image in the lower right of Figure 3b indicated rates around 0.4/hr.

FIgure 3a. Radar derived snowfall rate product over northern NM valid 1750 UTC 15 December 2015.

Figure 3a. Radar derived snowfall rate product over northern NM valid 1750 UTC 15 December 2015. Note the grey areas overlaid on the map indicating where reliable radar coverage exists. Upper left (liquid equivalent), upper right (10:1), lower right (18:1), lower left (36:1).

NESDIS snowfall rate product filling in the radar gaps over northern NM valid 1750 UTC 15 December 2015. Note the circles in the upper left image are the location of the webcams in Figure 4.

Although there is sparse coverage of automated surface observations around the higher terrain, webcams from ski resorts can verify the existence of moderate to heavy snowfall. Visibilities in the webcams below suggest snowfall rates higher than those depicted in the NESDIS products – visually, rates look closer to perhaps 1″/hr in the upper right and lower right images (Figure 4). One of our goals of this assessment is to combine information from the webcams with the more quantitative snowfall rate product to better estimate snowfall in data void areas. Snowfall reports from the Chama Railyard indicated 8.5″, Taos Ski Valley 6″, Ski Santa Fe 12″, and Pajarito Mountain 10″.


Figure 4. Webcams from across northern NM. Top left (Chama Railyard, yellow circle), Top right (Taos Ski Valley, white circle), Bottom right (Ski Santa Fe, red circle), Bottom left (Pajarito Mt, orange circle).


Latest Version of NESDIS Snowfall Rate Product in AWIPS

Researchers at the National Environmental Satellite and Information Service (NESDIS) have recently wrapped up development of the latest iteration of their Snowfall Rate (SFR) product to aid WFOs in situational awareness of snowfall events and snowfall forecasting.  The developers within NESDIS have teamed up with SPoRT, utilizing SPoRT’s unique transition, training, and evaluation capabilities to deliver the SFR products to several WFOs in the CONUS and Alaska.  During the evaluation period this winter, I will be evaluating the SFR and merged SFR products for use mainly here in the Tennessee Valley (provided the atmosphere obliges), but I will also be looking at the product CONUS-wide (and perhaps AK too, as the opportunity affords).

The SFR products are being delivered in two main versions: a merged snowfall rate product (merged polar-orbiter and radar data) and a product that contains only data from polar orbiters.  Through collaboration with researchers and forecasters (especially at the Boulder NWS office), SPoRT is including SFR data with liquid to snow ratios of 10:1, 18:1, and 35:1.  These data are being ported in AWIPS II workstations at the NWS offices.  In the merged product, the polar swath data are complimented with NSSL’s Multi-Radar/Multi-Sensor (MRMS) precipitation data, and update much more frequently (every 10 minutes).  Swaths containing polar orbiter data of course come in as associated polar orbiter swaths cross a region, with updates from about every 30 minutes to as long as ~4-5 hours over any location.

A look at the products the past several days has brought the opportunity for some initial evaluation.  So far, the SFR product looks rather promising.  Here’s a quick look at the product as a snowstorm was ongoing yesterday evening (Dec 15th) across the northern/central Rockies and the Northern Plains.  The loop below (Image 1) shows data from 0110Z through 0410Z 16 Dec 2015.

NESDIS Merged Snowfall Rate Product (showing 10:1 liquid to snow ratio) 0110Z to 0410Z 16 Dec 2015

Image 1.  NESDIS Merged Snowfall Rate Product (showing 10:1 liquid to snow ratio) 0110Z to 0410Z 16 Dec 2015

The loop above shows the Merged Snowfall Rate product (displaying 10:1 liquid to snow ratio).  Most of what you see is the MRMS precipitation during the loop.  At the end of the loop however, you will notice a sudden expansion of the apparent snowfall over the region as an insertion of snowfall rate derived from a polar orbiter swath is incorporated into the product.  So, let’s take a closer look at that single image containing the polar orbiter data (Image 2).


NESDIS Merged Snowfall Rate product (10:1 ratio) with polar orbiter data insertion, 0410Z 16 Dec 2015

Image 2.  NESDIS Merged Snowfall Rate product (10:1 ratio) with polar orbiter data insertion, 0410Z 16 Dec 2015

In the image above, you will notice that MRMS data remain and replace satellite retrievals where these data are available.  That is, the MRMS data take precedence over the satellite data in the merged SFR product.  However, data are inserted for locations where snowfall is detected by satellite instruments and radar (MRMS) data are not available.  For large areas of Wyoming and Colorado, where radar coverage is certainly more limited, notice that the insertion of polar-orbiter data allowed for a more thorough and proper analysis of locations likely experiencing snowfall.  Many of the surface observations (in yellow) likewise corroborate the snow that was occurring, particularly for locations in Wyoming, where coverage from radar data alone was very lacking.  However, there are some surface observations that do not corroborate where the SFR product is indicating snowfall.  Multiple reasons for this apparent discrepancy may exist, but it’s important to remember that the polar orbiting satellite instruments are detecting snowfall in the clouds.  Some of this snowfall may not be reaching the surface due to sublimation aloft.  Also, the snowfall could be very light and patchy in some instances with detection issues at some of the automated ground observation sites.

Now, let’s take a quick look at the polar orbiting data alone (Image 3).

NESDIS SFR product (liquid to snow ratio 10:1) 0345 UTC 16 Dec 2015

Image 3.  NESDIS SFR product (liquid to snow ratio 10:1) 0345 UTC 16 Dec 2015

The resolution of the polar orbiting data still allowed for the detection of banded structures across parts of the Dakotas that were evident in the MRMS data.

Further evaluations and posts about this product will be forthcoming as we progress through the winter.  Perhaps I’ll have the chance at some point to evaluate the product here in the Tennessee Valley…that is, if the current mild Eastern U.S. pattern changes.


Spring Snow in New Mexico

With an unseasonably strong upper low approaching New Mexico,  forecasters at NWS Albuquerque anticipated high elevation snow and widespread rain with relatively high QFP values for the period of 26-27 April 2015.  A winter storm watch was issued at 400 am MDT on Saturday, April 25.  Snow was forecast for the highest terrain across the northern and central New Mexico, but significant snow accumulations were expected late Sunday, April 26 through early Monday, April 26.  Additionally, rain amounts in excess of an inch were expected across the eastern plains.

The GFE storm total snow from mid-day Saturday, April 25 is shown below.  The forecast called for the most significant snow accumulations, just over a foot across the highest peaks, to occur over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains (just to the west of Interstate 25) and the higher elevations along the Colorado border north of Raton, NM. The watch was upgraded to a warning at 4am MDT on Sunday, April 26.


Widespread precipitation was reported during the overnight hours, with 3-.6in of rain in the Albuquerque metro area. The position of the closed low early on the morning of Monday, April 27 is shown below.  Snow was still being reported at Angel Fire in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, but the big story by this point was rain across the eastern plains.


Two Snowfall Rate products were received during the overnight hours around 3am MDT (09Z). The date/time stamp was not included on the images – the first shows SFR at 0838Z and the second at 0913Z.  Both include metar observations from 09Z.  Angel Fire is reporting snow, though in both images the SFR ends just north of the site. Raton is reporting rain and the SFR products both show the eastern edge of snow accumulations ending just to the west of Raton. Based on very high accumulations south of Angel Fire, the SFR product may be underestimating the area of active snow.



As is often the case, radar cover across the north central mountains is limited. The 0.5 reflectivity mosaic below is from 09Z, between the two SFR products above. Angel Fire is marked by the purple circle. Radar returns over the Sangre de Cristo mountains are greater north of Angel Fire. In eastern New Mexico, Tucumcari (blue circle) is reporting rain associated with the strongest radar returns. Rain continued through the daytime hours with numerous rainfall reports of over one inch.  In fact, Tucumcari Aiport reported 1.50″ of rain, the 3rd largest 1-day total in April since 1941!


Snow accumulation reports did verify our forecast of over a foot of snow for this late season event. Determining snow records is more difficult since routine snow observations are few.  Highest totals were received in the Sangres, with 18 inches observed at Black Lake, just south of Angel Fire. Smaller accumulations were noted over the San Juan and Jemez Mountains, areas which did not have a Winter Storm Warning in effect.  The RGS Snow-Cloud product from April 28 shows new snow cover across much of the north central high terrain. Snow over the San Juan and Jemez Mountains (west of the Sangres) likely accumulated prior to the SFR products above.

snowfallreports SnowCloudRGB_20150418_1726Z