Shallow Snow and High Wind Event of 14 February during the PyeongChang2018 Winter Olympics

As the Winter Olympics come to a close this weekend, NASA/SPoRT continues its involvement in the International Collaborative Experiments for PyeongChang 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (ICE-POP) through the gathering of field campaign observations and numerical weather prediction (NWP) model data.  The ICE-POP campaign extends through March to support the Paralympic Games, and obtain more event data to set the stage for future research activities.  During the first week of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, another weather event worth highlighting is the shallow snow and high wind episode that disrupted downhill skiing competition at Jeongseon Hill on 14 February.  On this day, a potent shortwave trough embedded in strong northwesterly flow approached the Korean Peninsula (Fig. 1), which led to a relatively short-lived, but potent snow event accompanied by strong winds in the mountains, occurring mainly between 0000-0600 UTC 14 February.


Figure 1.  Animation of NASA Unified-WRF model 3-hourly 500-mb geopotential height (dam) and wind speed (m/s), valid between 1200 UTC 13 February to 1200 UTC 14 February 2018.

An animation of Himawari 10.4-micron infrared imagery from 1200 UTC 13 Feb to 1200 UTC 14 Feb (Fig. 2) shows enhanced cold cloud tops northwest of the Korean Peninsula associated with the shortwave.  However, between 0000-0600 during the snow event, we see relatively warm cloud top temperatures over the Korean Peninsula, indicative of the shallow nature of the snow.  Himawari visible imagery between ~0000-0800 UTC 14 February (Fig. 3) shows the presence of the low clouds that dissipate rapidly in coverage after 0600 UTC.  Experimental ICE-POP disdrometer measurements of hydrometeor size distribution confirm the timing of the snow event between 0000-0600 UTC (Fig. 4), showing predominantly small diameter hydrometeors (most likely snow).  However, the vertical “spikes” seen in Figure 4 between 0000-0200 UTC indicate some larger diameter snow aggregates associated with the more intense snow activity. Cloud profiling radar data (not shown) confirmed a shallow a nature to the precipitation, generally under 2 km depth.


Figure 2.  Animation of Himawari 10.4 micron infrared imagery between 1200 UTC 13 February and 1200 UTC 14 February 2018.


Figure 3.  Animation of Himawari visible imagery between 0000 and 0800 UTC 14 February.


Figure 4.  Experimental ICE-POP distrometer measurements, showing the concentration and size distribution of hydrometeors as a function of UTC hour on 14 February 2018.

The experimental NASA Unified-Weather Research and Forecasting (NU-WRF) model simulations being provided to South Korea during the Olympics captured this event fairly well.  Simulated composite radar reflectivity on the 1-km nested grid from the 1200 UTC 13 February model initialization (Fig. 5) shows a region of enhanced precipitation occurring between ~0000 to 0600 UTC 14 February, around the time of the observed snowfall.  The experimental NU-WRF run also depicts strong 10-m wind speeds during this time (orange shades exceeding 20 m/s, or ~45+ mph), particularly along the axis of higher terrain in the eastern Korean Peninsula (Fig. 6).  Finally, a time-height cross section of the NU-WRF simulated precipitation microphysics at Jeongseon Hill (Fig. 7) shows the precipitation episode timed between ~0000-0600 UTC 14 February, quite consistent with observational data.  The model also captured the shallow nature of the event, with the most substantial snow and graupel mixing ratios being primarily at or below ~1500 m above ground.

The combination of these experimental observations and NWP model data being collected during the Winter Olympics will serve as a foundation for future research to improve our understanding of snow processes in complex terrain.  Additionally, hydrometeor size distribution data from Fig. 4 along with other observations can help refine NWP model microphysical parameterization schemes to determine the proper distribution of precipitation species produced by the model.


Figure 5. SPoRT/NU-WRF simulated composite radar reflectivity (dBZ) every 30 minutes on the 1-km nested grid centered on the ICE-POP Olympics venues, for the model run initialized at 1200 UTC 13 February 2018. Valid times are from 1200 UTC 13 February to 1200 UTC 14 February.


Figure 6.  Same as in Fig. 5, except for the maximum 30-minute interval 10-meter wind speeds.


Figure  7.  Time-height cross section of SPoRT/NU-WRF model simulated precipitation mixing ratios (g/kg) from the 1-km nested grid, valid between 1200 UTC 13 Feb and 1200 UTC 14 Feb 2018 at the Jeongseon Hill Olympics site for the lowest 2 km above ground.

Lightning’s Reach

Over the weekend of October 22, thunderstorms moved through eastern Texas.  One feature that stood out was the number of flashes that extended well behind the main convective line of storms.  The image below shows where lightning was observed for one minute at 1258 UTC.  The overall Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) event density display shows the lightning activity in a broken line from just west of Austin, Texas eastward towards Lake Charles, Louisiana.  Overall, the lightning remained fairly close to the parent storm.

The image is much more dramatic one minute later at 1259 UTC.  Here, GLM observes lightning extending from Austin, Texas all the way to Bryan and Waco, Texas and continuing northeast of Tyler, Texas.  Just from Bryan to Tyler, Texas this extends approximately 145 miles!



NOTE:  NOAA’s GOES-16 satellite has not been declared operational and its data are preliminary and undergoing testing. Users receiving these data through any dissemination means  (including, but not limited to, PDA and GRB) assume all risk related to their use of GOES-16 data and NOAA disclaims any and all warranties, whether express or implied, including (without limitation) any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.


Passive Microwave Views of Three Atlantic Hurricanes This Morning…

Below are 89 GHz RGBs (composited) of the three hurricanes affecting the Atlantic basin this morning.  Notice a decent eye structure is observable in all of the storms, including Hurricane Katia in the SW Gulf of Mexico.  This was noted in the 4 AM CDT discussion about the hurricane from the National Hurricane Center (NHC), “Enhanced BD-curve infrared imagery and a GPM microwave composite image indicate improved banding over the western portion of the circulation and the earlier ragged eye presentation has become much more distinct.”  SPoRT helped with the implementation of the passive microwave data into the AWIPS platform at the NHC several years ago, which has aided forecasters there with the diagnosis and analysis of these systems.

For the latest, best up-to-date information regarding the hurricanes, please refer to the NHC website.


89 GHz RGBs from the GPM constellation of the three hurricanes affecting the Atlantic Basin this morning.  Approximate times for passes over the respective hurricanes are noted in the image.

GLM is coming: The instrument

The first beta-release data of the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) instrument will be out this week. (Update as of 12 June 2017:  GLM beta release has been delayed until July.)  As we get closer to having real-time GLM observations, here is a quick post about the GLM instrument itself.


Figure 1:  An artist’s image of the GOES-16 satellite with the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) shown as the zoom out in the upper right.

In the post describing the origin of the GLM (here), it was discussed how the GLM is not the first space-based instrument to observe lightning.  However, it is the first lightning sensor available in geostationary orbit.  Conceptually, the GLM can be thought of as a very large digital camera.  Each pixel of the camera is identifying optical brightness difference from cloud top.  Each pixel is monitoring if any light is observed and if the light observed exceeds a background threshold.  This check is occurring every 2 ms and these observations become the basic GLM “event” observations.  The background field and threshold criteria are designed to reduce false alarms.  The placement of the charge couple device, or CCD pixels, on the instrument designed to help with the instrument’s spatial resolution.  The instrument’s CCD pixels vary in size to help account for the increasing parallax the closer to the edge of the field of view the observations get.  This allows the resolution of the GLM to go from 8 km directly beneath the satellite to only 14 km at the edge of the field of view.

The actual field of view for GLM is shown in Figure 2 for both the GOES-East (eventual location of GOES-16) and -West (future position of GOES-17) positions.  The underlying, normalized annual lightning flash rate comes from observations made by the Optical Transient Detector and Lightning Imaging Sensor from 1995-2005.  Currently, the GLM is in the GOES-16 check-out location (Figure 3).  The total field of view will range from 52 degrees north and south.  Additionally, the GLM does observe total lightning, or the combination of intra-cloud and cloud-to-ground observations.  However, the GLM will not distinguish between the two.  Still, observing total lightning, particularly over such a large domain will aid in warning decision support, lightning safety, as well as situational awareness in data sparse regions.  This will be helpful for detecting flash flooding (noting where is convection) in the inter-mountain west, convection monitoring for aviation, as well as opening up new avenues of research for tropical cyclone forecasting.  Lastly, the GLM was designed to be able to detect 70% of total flashes over the entire field of view over 24 hours.  The false alarm rate was designed to be less than 5%.  Recently, a calibration and validation field campaign had been underway to investigate the GOES-16 instruments.  Early indications are that the GLM will likely exceed the design specifications.  Exact values will be provided later after the field data has been analyzed.


Figure 2:  The field of view for GLM in the GOES-East and -West position.  The normalized, annual lightning flash rate shown is derived from 10 years of Optical Transient Detector and Lightning Imaging Sensor, low-Earth orbiting instrument observations.


Figure 3:  Same as Figure 2, but showing the current GLM field of view through November 2017.

Subsequent posts will start to focus on actual GLM observations once they are made available.

GLM is coming: The origin of the GLM

The Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) successfully launched aboard GOES-R (now GOES-16) on November 19, 2016.  Now we are a week away from the initial preliminary, beta data observations being made available.  This is an exciting time, especially with some of the early public release imager from the GLM available on the GOES-R multimedia page (  In advance of next week’s milestone here is some of the history that has led to the development of the GLM.

One of the earliest satellite-based instruments specifically designed for lightning observations was the Optical Transient Detector (OTD).  Figure 1 (below) shows the annual flash frequency for 1995 to 2000. This was developed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.  Amazingly, the OTD was built in nine months.  Launched on April 3, 1995 the OTD was placed in a near polar orbit allowing it to monitor lightning over much of the Earth during both the day and night.  However, the OTD only provides a few minutes a day for any given location.  This prevented the OTD from studying local weather activities, but allowed the OTD to study global lightning patterns and their evolution.  The OTD also launched at a time when the awareness of the important role lightning played in the Earth’s atmosphere was becoming better understood and that lightning was likely an indicator of the strength of convective storms.  OTD efforts would contribute to the discovery of lightning as an indicator of potential severe weather, what we now call lightning jumps.  Additionally, OTD discovered that the global flash rate is approximately 40 flashes per second.  Ultimately, the OTD’s contributions reinforced the need for lightning observations from geosynchronous orbit, which would ultimately lead to the development and launch of the GLM.


Figure 1:  Annual flash frequency from 1995 to 2000 from Christian et al. (2003).

Given its short production time, the OTD served as a production prototype for a more robust, low-Earth orbiting lightning sensor.  This new instrument was the Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS) aboard the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM).  The LIS was designed by scientists at the University of Alabama in Huntsville as well as NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.  Launched in 1997, LIS, and the TRMM satellite as a whole, far exceeded their projected service life and provided 17 years of continuous observations.  Unlike the OTD, the LIS was on an orbit that focused on the tropical regions of Earth.  However, LIS had superior detection abilities for both day and night.  Figure 2 (below) shows the lightning activity in the LIS field of view for 2012.  Once operational, the LIS has provided significant contributions to investigating convective and precipitation processes.  The long operational life of LIS has also helped identify most lightning active regions on Earth, such as Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela with 232 flashes per square kilometer per year!  Like the OTD, LIS reinforced the importance of a geostationary platform where storm morphology can be monitored continuously.  Many concepts in the design of the LIS have been used in the GLM instrument.


Figure 2:  Lightning Imaging Sensor observations of lightning across the instrument’s field of view for 2012.  Image courtesy of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

Stay tuned for the next “GLM is coming” blog post that will focus on the efforts to prepare for the Geostationary Lightning Mapper.

It’s Dust (RGB) Season!

It’s Dust (RGB) Season!

A large dust plume occurred over the southwest CONUS on 23 March 2017 as high winds lofted surface materials from the Mexican plateau across the border toward Texas and New Mexico.  Blowing dust events are common in the Spring in this region given the frequency of strong cyclones passing over dry land with sparse vegetation at this time.  For this event the dust plume could be detected during the day in visible imagery and even infrared single channel imagery from the newly launched GOES-16 satellite; however, the high resolution visible imagery traditionally used to monitor dust is not valid after sunset and through the overnight period.  The nighttime impacts of the dust plume eventually extended to locations downstream in Colorado, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Fortunately, a combination of infrared channels from GOES-16 can be used within an red, green, and blue (i.e. RGB) imagery product to highlight the dust location (bright magenta coloring) both day and night.


Dust RGB Imagery from GOES-16 at 0257 UTC (~9:57 PM Central) on 23 March 2017 centered on northwestern Texas of the U.S.  Dust plume is identified by magenta coloring while thick cloud features are mostly in tans to reds with other thin clouds in dark shades ranging from purples and blues to black.


For the above and subsequent images/animations: NOAA’s GOES-16 satellite has not been declared operational and its data are preliminary and undergoing testing. Users receiving these data through any dissemination means  (including, but not limited to, PDA and GRB) assume all risk related to their use of GOES-16 data and NOAA disclaims any and all warranties, whether express or implied, including (without limitation) any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.


Dust RGB Imagery from 0002 to 0357 UTC, 23 March 2017 centered over western Texas of the U.S.  Blowing dust is colored in magenta.

This “Dust RGB” was originally created by EUMETSAT nearly a decade ago during initial use of the MSG/SEVIRI instrument in order to more efficiently utilize the 3-fold increase of infrared channels available to forecasters. NASA/SPoRT transitioned this Dust RGB to U.S. forecasters via MODIS and VIIRS starting in 2011 in preparation for GOES-16, and this is the first look at geostationary Dust RGB imagery of a major blowing dust event over the southwest CONUS. This event continued into the night when visible imagery was no longer useful.  For this post note the Dust RGB and visible animations below and how the initial development of dust plumes in Mexico are more easily noticed in the Dust RGB around 1700 UTC in magenta while the plume is not readily evident in the visible imagery even at the end of the animation at 1842 UTC.  In addition, the visible imagery shows the thin clouds (orographically-induced) in northern Mexico as very similar in nature to the dust plumes themselves.  However, the Dust RGB shows the thin clouds in blue to black coloring and easily differentiates the dust from the clouds as well as land surface features.




Dust RGB and visible 0.64 micron imagery from 1617 to 1842 UTC on 23 March 2017 centered over western Texas near the U.S./Mexico border (click on animation to enlarge)

Nighttime Microphysics RGB: Stratus and Fog Cover much of the Great Plains and South, March 2017

Nighttime Microphysics RGB: Stratus and Fog Cover much of the Great Plains and South, March 2017

The development of low clouds and fog over wide areas of the Gulf Coast states and the Great Plains began in the early morning around 0600 UTC on 22 March 2017.  Expansion of these features by 1200 UTC stretched from Texas to Florida in the South and from Oklahoma into the Dakotas along the Great Plains.  These features are easily distinguished in the Nighttime Microphysics (NtMicro) RGB imagery (Fig. 1) from the newly launched GOES-16 imager.  The low cloud/fog range from aqua coloring in the south and become more lime colored toward the colder portions of the Great Plains.  The Pueblo Colorado NWS Weather Forecast Office (PUB) commented on the use of GOES-16 to monitor these low cloud and fog features when considering possible impacts to the public and aviation users.


Figure 1. Nighttime Microphysics RGB imagery from GOES-16 at 1207 UTC, 22 March 2017 over the CONUS.

For the above image and subsequent animations: NOAA’s GOES-16 satellite has not been declared operational and its data are preliminary and undergoing testing. Users receiving these data through any dissemination means  (including, but not limited to, PDA and GRB) assume all risk related to their use of GOES-16 data and NOAA disclaims any and all warranties, whether express or implied, including (without limitation) any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.

The forecast discussion from PUB included this paragraph in the aviation portion:

“GOES-R fog loop shows stratus deck expanding over the plains as of 10z, and expect at least patchy MVFR stratus along and east of I-25 until midday. Western fringe of the cloud deck will likely produce some IFR cigs/vis near the mountains and Palmer divide as clouds push up against higher terrain.”


Figure 2. GOES-16 “Fog” product (i.e. 3.9 – 11 micron difference) and ceiling/visibility observations.   A default color enhancement is applied to the “Fog” product.  The animated GIF is from 0812 – 1207 UTC, 22 March 2017

The “fog” loop product mentioned above is the channel difference of 3.9-11 microns , and it is shown in the default AWIPS color curve (Fig 2.) where one can see the pink to nearly white features representing negative differences that correspond to low clouds and/or fog.  As anticipated, some MVFR conditions did occur due to ceilings below 3000 ft, and many parts of the Palmer Divide and the Raton Ridge became surrounded by these features.

While the “fog” product shows the various low cloud and fog features, this same capability is found in the “green” component of the Nighttime Microphysics RGB.  This event of low clouds and fog can also be seen in the NtMicro RGB below (Fig. 3) where the land surface and various mid/high clouds are more easily distinguished from the low clouds and fog. This differentiation of features occurs due to additional infrared channels/differences that help to classify cloud thickness and height.  While the event mostly involved low stratus, fog can be seen developing in the low lying areas of southeast Colorado and northeast New Mexico.  Given the improved resolution of GOES-16 in space and time and the availability of more channels compared to legacy GOES imagers, monitoring the fog between in situ observations becomes easier with the NtMicro RGB, and thus allows forecasters to better anticipate impacts to aviation sites and public roadways.



Figure 3. Nighttime Microphysics RGB imagery from GOES-16 from 0812 – 1207 UTC, 22 March 2017 centered on west Kansas.

For more information regarding the Nighttime Microphysics RGB, including interpretation guides for the color features in the imagery:

SPoRT Quick Guide: Nighttime Microphysics RGB in the SPoRT Training Site

SPoRT Nighttime Microphysics RGB Fundamentals (Module) ~20 minutes