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A potent winter storm system impacted portions of New Mexico on March 26, 2016, ending an extended stretch of very dry weather. Snowfall amounts of 3 to 9 inches were reported from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains eastward across the northeast plains. The MODIS and VIIRS satellite products proved useful for illustrating the extent of snow cover in both the daytime and nighttime scenes. The images below are graphical briefings posted to the NWS Albuquerque web page and shared via Twitter after this much needed snowfall event.

Graphical briefing showing the extent of snow cover during the nighttime and daytime periods on March 27, 2016.

Graphical briefing (part one) showing the extent of snow cover during the nighttime and daytime periods on March 27, 2016.

Graphical briefing showing the extent of snow cover through RGBs on March 27, 2016.

Graphical briefing (part two) showing the extent of snow cover through RGBs on March 27, 2016.

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A powerful jet stream approached NM from the Pacific Northwest on February 23, 2016 and carved out a large scale upper level trough over the southern Rockies. Meanwhile, a strong area of surface high pressure raced southward down the front range of the Rockies and provided an influx of moist, cold air into eastern NM. Winter storm warnings were issued for several counties in northeastern NM with winter weather advisories in a few surrounding zones. Forecasters were eagerly anticipating how the event would unfold on the merged SFR product given the recent stretch of very dry and exceptionally warm weather. Figure 1 below is a Graphical Briefing issued prior to the event with expected snowfall totals.

Figure 1. Graphical Briefing issued prior to the expected snowfall event over northern and central New Mexico.

Figure 1. Graphical Briefing issued prior to the quick hitting winter storm event over northern and central New Mexico.

Rain and high terrain snow developed from north to south late on the 22nd before transitioning to all snow early on the 23rd. Forecast models from the 21st indicated that an area of heavy snow would impact northeastern NM on the 23rd. Figure 2 shows a well-defined axis of higher snowfall rates stretching from Trinidad, CO to Capulin, NM and Tucumcari, NM in the stand-alone SFR product from 0912 UTC 23 February 2016. Sampling this area showed peak liquid equivalent values near 0.07″/hr. The 0900 UTC observation at Trinidad showed the visibility had fallen to 1/2 mile within the snow band while the observation at Raton, NM showed no snowfall where the SFR product had near zero values. Farther south near Tucumcari the observation showed unknown precipitation falling at a temperature of 36° south of the main snow band.

Figure 2. Snowfall Rate product from 0912 UTC 23 February 2016 over northeastern NM. An area of higher snowfall rates is shown stretching from near Trinidad, CO to Capulin, NM and Tucumcari, NM.

Figure 2. SFR product from 0912 UTC 23 February 2016 over northeastern NM. An area of higher snowfall rates is shown stretching from near Trinidad, CO to Capulin, NM and Tucumcari, NM. Values peaked near 0.07″/hr.

The following merged SFR image at 0940 UTC showed the area of higher snowfall rates persisting (Figure 3 (left)). A merged SFR product from 0950 UTC is shown to note the extent of the radar void area (Figure 3 (right)). The following stand alone SFR product at 1245 UTC indicated the higher rates had shifted farther south but were still impacting at least portions of this same area (Figure 4). In this example the observation at Las Vegas, NM was indicating snowfall with visibilities down to 1 1/4 miles while Tucumcari showed very light snow with no values on the SFR product.

Figure 3. Merged SFR product from 0940 UTC (left) and 0950 UTC (right) showing snowfall detection in radar void area of northeastern New Mexico.

Figure 3. Merged SFR product from 0940 UTC (left) and 0950 UTC (right) showing snowfall detection in radar void area of northeastern New Mexico.

Figure 4. SFR product valid 1245 UTC 23 February 2016 showing higher snowfall rates persisting over northeastern NM.

Figure 4. SFR product valid 1245 UTC 23 February 2016 showing higher snowfall rates persisting over northeastern NM.

Based on the peak values depicted in the SFR product and the persistence of the snow band in the area forecasters were anticipating snowfall reports in the 2 to 6 inch range. The Snow-Cloud RGB product later in the day in Figure 5 verified this area of snowfall very well (red shades). Spotters reports are overlaid on the RGB imagery. Feedback from forecasters during this event supported accurate observations of the SFR product during the transition from rain to snow as well.

Figure 4. Snow-Cloud RGB product from 2014 UTC 23 February 2016 showing a band of snowfall over northeastern NM overlaid with spotter reports.

Figure 5. Snow-Cloud RGB product from 2014 UTC 23 February 2016 showing a band of snowfall over northeastern NM overlaid with spotter reports.

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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.

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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).

 

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Large wildfires during the heart of the southwest monsoon season are a fairly rare occurrence most years. Lightning sparked fires are typical in late June and early July before mainly dry thunderstorms transition to a wetter variety. These fires can be managed by land agencies while awaiting higher humidities to develop over the area.  July 2015 was a very wet month for much of New Mexico (10th wettest July), with the exception of northwestern New Mexico where near normal precipitation was observed. August turned much drier for many areas of the state as monsoon moisture and instability focused over Arizona. On August 19th, the Navajo River Fire broke out northwest of Dulce, NM, quickly growing to more than 1,000 acres by the 20th. The photo below taken by Bryon Odallac shows an established smoke plume emanating from the nearby higher terrain on August 20th.  The NASA SPoRT 0-10cm relative soil moisture imagery showed dry conditions coinciding with this same area of northwestern NM. The location of the wildfire is indicated by the “home” text. The 10-40cm relative soil moisture is also shown since it has been suggested that deeper layer soil moisture may better represent fuel conditions in more mature timber areas rather than the near surface duff layer. It is interesting to note that the 10-40cm layer values are actually wetter than the 0-10cm layer over much of this area. The two largest wildfires of the July to August monsoon period of 2015 have both occurred in these dry islands (see August 4, 2015 post on Fort Craig Wildfire).

Navajo River Fire captured by Bryon Odallac on August 20, 2015 near Dulce, NM.

Navajo River Fire captured by Bryon Odallac on August 20, 2015 near Dulce, NM.

 

NASA SPoRT LIS 0-10cm Relative Soil Moisture valid 00Z 21 Aug 2015.

 

NASA SPoRT LIS 10-40cm Relative Soil Moisture valid 00z 21 Aug 15.

NASA SPoRT LIS 10-40cm Relative Soil Moisture valid 00z 21 Aug 15.

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NWS Albuquerque recently began ingesting the updated SPoRT CONUS LIS products in our new AWIPS II system as part of our continued collaboration with SPoRT. These products have already peaked the interest of several local, state, and federal partners. Short-term drought conditions have improved steadily since late winter as more frequent and widespread precipitation events impacted the state. Overall, deep-layer soil moisture conditions have improved substantially compared to this time last year (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Deep soil moisture (0-200cm) 1-year change valid 12Z 27 July 2015.

Figure 1. Deep soil moisture (0-200cm) 1-year change valid 12Z 27 July 2015.

The SPoRT LIS products have become a valuable tool for drought monitoring during our monthly drought workshops. Several state and federal partners noted on our most recent call in late July that these new products provided an additional layer of situational awareness and infuse more science into the drought monitoring process. These products have also peaked the interest of our fire weather community, in particular Incident Meteorologist Brent Wachter. New Mexico during late July is generally under the influence of higher humidity with periodic wetting rainfall events. The convective nature of the precipitation however tends to bring about a patchwork of “have’s and have-nots”. The Fort Craig wildfire broke out in a dry pocket of south central Socorro County within the middle Rio Grande Valley during the afternoon of 26 July 2015. The New Mexico State Climatologist, Dave DuBois, captured the wildfire on camera and posted the image to Twitter shortly thereafter (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. A distant view of the Fort Craig wildfire captured by the New Mexico State Climatologist, Dave DuBois, around 830am, July 27, 2015.

Figure 2. A distant view of the Fort Craig wildfire captured by the New Mexico State Climatologist, Dave DuBois, around 830am, July 27, 2015.

The SPoRT LIS 0-10cm volumetric soil moisture at 12Z 28 July 2015 showed the corresponding dry area where the wildfire developed (Fig. 3). Les Owen from the New Mexico Department of Agriculture also noted this area of drying within Socorro County in what he called his “windshield survey” in mid to late July. The Fort Craig fire grew to nearly 700 acres over the course of two days. The NASA SPoRT soil moisture imagery showed the dry area quite well and the fire was located smack dab in the middle of it.

FIgure 3. NASA SPoRT 0-10cm relative soil moisture within south central Socorro County valid 12Z 28 July 2015. The location of the Fort Craig wildfire is indicated by the home identifier.

FIgure 3. NASA SPoRT 0-10cm volumetric soil moisture within Socorro County valid 12Z 28 July 2015. Note the large dry area in near surface soil moisture in response to the recent dry stretch. The location of the Fort Craig wildfire is indicated by the home identifier.

Several storms then impacted the area late on the 28th and the 29th leading to some natural fire suppression and reduction in active fire behavior. The follow-up SPoRT imagery at 12Z 30 July 2015 showed the increase in 0-10cm relative soil moisture over the same area (Fig. 4). The high resolution imagery could be useful in determining fuel dryness for potential fire starts from human activities, cloud to ground lightning ignitions, as well as highlight potential active fire behavior areas. We will continue to assess the possible applications of the SPoRT LIS products as we move through the remainder of the 2015 monsoon season.

Figure 4. NASA SPoRT 0-10cm relative soil moisture within Socorro County valid 12Z 30 July 2015. Note the dramatic increase in near surface soil moisture values in response to the active storm pattern. The location of the wildfire is noted by the home identifier.

Figure 4. NASA SPoRT 0-10cm relative soil moisture within Socorro County valid 12Z 30 July 2015. Note the dramatic increase in near surface soil moisture values in response to the active storm pattern. The location of the Fort Craig wildfire is indicated by the home identifier.

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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.
SnowCloud121414_2045Z

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.

SPoRT_SFR_121314_2034Z

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).

mosaic_Comp_Ref_20141214_0336_SFR_0338Z

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.

mosaic_Comp_Ref_20141214_1642_SFR_1645Z

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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