Written by Sebastian Harkema and Emily Berndt
The first major heavy-banded snowfall event of the 2019-2020 winter season occurred from Oct. 9-12 and produced over two feet of snowfall in North Dakota. Throughout the event, the NESDIS merged snowfall rate (mSFR; Meng et al. 2017) product tracked the heaviest snowfall rates, including bands with snowfall rates greater than 2 in/hr. With a temporal resolution of 10 minutes, this product can be used in real-time to forecast the location and evolution of snowbands producing heavy snowfall, and even anticipate cloud-seeding. SPoRT has collaborated closely with NESDIS to experimentally transition and assess the passive microwave and merged snowfall rate products with NWS forecast offices (Ralph et al. 2018). Therefore, this product is available in AWIPS and forecasters can select different snow-to-liquid ratio values to best fit the situation.
Figure 1 demonstrates the mSFR product overlapping GOES-East ABI (channel 13) for October 9th as the snowband traversed across Montana. While the mSFR product provides a unique way to monitor snowfall, the phenomenon known as thundersnow captivated the attention of some operational forecasters as well as the general public, in part by the availability of Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) observations. Recent work from NASA SPoRT has shown that the overlap of GLM and mSFR data can be used to objectively identify and characterize electrified snowfall (i.e., thundersnow; Harkema et al. 2019a). In fact, Harkema et al. 2019a demonstrated that thundersnow flashes identified by GLM contain on average more total optical energy per flash area than other flashes in the GLM field-of-view. Harkema et al. 2019a also demonstrate that thundersnow flashes observed by GLM are spatially larger compared to non-thundersnow flashes and is likely a result of weaker mesoscale updrafts and slower charging rates compared to severe summertime convection.
Figure 2 demonstrates the objective identification of thundersnow based on the overlap of mSFR and GLM flash extent density observations on October 10th around the Colorado/Nebraska/Wyoming border region. From the loop, this region experiences an enhancement of snowfall rates approximately 30-40 minutes after the first occurrence of thundersnow. Even though it appears as though thundersnow can be used as a precursor for enhancement of snowfall rates in the near future, thundersnow has a spatial offset of 131±65 km from the heaviest snowfall rates (Harkema et al. 2019b, In Review). This spatial offset is evident when examining the thundersnow that occurred along the Minnesota/Manitoba border between 12-15 UTC on October 11th (Fig. 3).
The thundersnow observed by GLM occurs on the northern extent of the heaviest snowfall rates (purples/whites). The separation of thundersnow and the heaviest snowfall rates is likely caused by hydrometeor lofting of the snowfall as it descends to the surface because of the low terminal fall speed of the ice crystals.
Winter is fast approaching and the NESDIS mSFR product and GLM can be used in tangent with each other to improve situation awareness. NASA SPoRT is at the forefront of understanding the operational implications of electrified snowfall and continues to investigate the thermodynamic and microphysical properties that are associated with it. See the official JPSS Quick Guide and a past JPSS Science Seminar for more product information.
Harkema, S. S., C. J. Schultz, E. B. Berndt, and P. M. Bitzer, 2019a: Geostationary Lightning Mapper Flash Characteristics of Electrified Snowfall Events. Wea. Forecasting, 43(5), 1571–1585, https://doi.org/10.1175/WAF-D-19-0082.1.
Harkema, S. S., E. B. Berndt, and C. J. Schultz, 2019b: Characterization of Snowfall Rates, Totals, and Snow-to-Liquid Ratios in Electrified Snowfall Events from a Geostationary Lightning Mapper Perspective. Wea. Forecasting. In Review.
Meng, H., Dong, J., Ferraro, R., Yan, B., Zhao, L., Kongoli, C., Wang, N.‐Y., and Zavodsky, B. ( 2017), A 1DVAR‐based snowfall rate retrieval algorithm for passive microwave radiometers, J. Geophys. Res. Atmos., 122, 6520– 6540, doi:10.1002/2016JD026325.