Building off of a previous blog post, a simple RGB can be made that allows for the observation of the hot spot, smoke plume, and burn scar associated with a wildfire. The RGB discussed in this post combines the 3.9 um band (RED) to sense the hot spot, the 0.86 um band (GREEN) to highlight the previously burned area, and the 0.64 um band (BLUE) to track the smoke plume. The hot spot (active wildfire) will appear as red, the smoke plume as faded blue or cyan, clouds a bright cyan, and burned area as a locally dark area. Highly vegetated areas will appear as a bright green, and bodies of water very dark. The recipe used in this example is shown in Figure 1. An animation of this RGB with GOES-17 for the Kincade Fire on 27 Oct is found in Figure 2, and the RGB with the three ingredients is shown as a 4-panel in Figure 3. The active large fire is readily apparent, with the associated burn scar extending north of the ongoing fire. The smoke plume is diagnosed extending well to the southwest of the fire. The heavily forested region of northern California is obvious to the west and northwest of the fire. What appears to be lofted dust is also apparent in this example in the southeast part of the scene.
A late October trough brought significant weather impacts to portions of the western and central United States. The impressive trough was diagnosed in GOES-East water vapor imagery with features readily apparent (Fig 1). The upper jet extended south across the Pacific Northwest, rounded the base of the trough, and stretched northeast across the Great Basin and into the northern US plains. Exceptional shortwave energy near the base of the trough was digging south across northern California, and an associated cold front was racing south down the southern high plains. An overlay of GOES-16 Derived Motion Winds (DMWs) confirms the speed of the jet in areas where winds are available.
In California, extreme fire danger was observed as high pressure built in the wake of the potent shortwave, resulting in strong easterly surface winds and plummeting RH in the presence of very dry fuels. In northern California, rapid expansion and increase in temperature of the Kincade Fire was observed by GOES-West shortwave IR imagery during the overnight hours of the 26th into the early morning hours of the 27th (Fig 2).
Further east, the precise location of the cold front could be tracked as it pushed south across the high plains, with cold air pooling along the Colorado front range and southeast mountains (Fig 3). An overlay of MSAS 3-hr pressure changes and wind barbs shows an expected increasing pressure behind the IR-detected front, along with a shift of winds to a northerly direction.
With sunrise, the extensive shield of low clouds developing within the cold airmass in the wake of the cold front was observed in GOES-East visible satellite imagery (Fig 4). Pikes Peak and other mountain ranges are seen poking through the low cloud layer. Additionally, a multitude of cloud top gravity was are diagnosed atop the cloud layer.
A cloud-to-ground lightning strike initiated a wildfire in southeast Colorado during the early evening of 18 October 2019. A progressive shortwave trough moving across Colorado sent a cold front south down the eastern Colorado plains during the afternoon and evening. Lift associated with the trough and cold front, and weak instability aloft, aided the development of showers and weak thunderstorms ahead of and along the frontal boundary. Dry low levels and dry fuels in place across the eastern Colorado plains along with gusty north winds behind the front aided the growth and southward spread of the lightning-initiated wildfire during the evening. Given the expected conditions, a Red Flag Warning for dry lightning was issued the morning of the 18th.
GOES-East water vapor imagery shows the shortwave trough quickly moving east across Colorado on 18 Oct (Fig 1). The associated frontal boundary is also diagnosed in water vapor imagery racing south across the central high plains.
The National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN) detected a negative cloud-to-ground lightning strike over SSE of Lamar at 2315 UTC (Fig 2). Interestingly, neither the GOES-West nor GOES-East GLM detected the flash associated with this particular CG. Shortly after the CG detection, under clearing cloud cover, a hot spot was noted in GOES-East 3.9 um shortwave IR imagery at the location of the CG strike. The fire accelerated south thereafter as north winds picked up behind the front. NWS Pueblo provided spot forecast information to local fire crews working the wildfire overnight.
Overnight, the JPSS NOAA-20 VIIRS Day Night Band detected light associated with the wildfire during the late night hours, along with the scorched earth in its wake to the north (Fig 3).
The next morning, GOES-East visible imagery showed the north-to-south oriented path of scorched earth associated with the wildfire emanating south from the location of the previous day’s lightning strike (Fig 4).
The Decker Wildfire has been burning just a few miles south of Salida, CO in the far northern Sangre de Cristo wilderness since 8 September 2019. As of 13 October 2019, the fire had burned 8,118 acres and has prompted periodic evacuations and pre-evacuations. On 13 October 2019, the fire had broken containment during critical fire weather conditions. The intensification could be seen in GOES-East 3.9 um SWIR imagery via the flare up in brightness temperature south of Salida around 18Z (Fig 1).
The smoke plume was easily diagnosed in GOES-East visible imagery extending well east of the fire within strong westerly flow (Fig 2). A significant increase in smoke production was observed after 18Z, following the flare up seen in the SWIR imagery.
SNPP VIIRS True Color imagery with VIIRS Active Fires product overlaid during the early afternoon shows numerous thermal anomalies (~750 m spatial resolution) associated with the fire along with the extensive smoke plume (Fig 3).
The IMET tasked to the fire requested that WFO PUB request a mesoscale sector in support of the fire fighting activities. WFO PUB requested another mesoscale sector the following day (10/14) given continued critical fire weather conditions over the fire.
A photo taken around 2300 UTC from between Canon City and Pueblo shows the impressive smoke plume around sunset (Fig 4).
A S-NPP pass during the night of the 13th provided VIIRS Day Night Band imagery over Colorado with favorable illumination. The Decker Fire is readily apparent in the imagery as a cluster of bright light south of Salida in a region that would otherwise be dark.
An early season winter storm brought much colder temperatures and widespread snowfall to portions of the eastern Rockies and high plains October 9-10. Analysis of GOES-16 water vapor imagery shows key large scale features associated with the system as it digs south into the Great Basin and WY/CO (Figure 1) through 12Z. Overlaid on the animation are 700-300 mb GFS-derived Quasi-Geostrophic Omega, highlighting regions of greatest ascent and descent, correlating with what is observed in the imagery. The surface cold front is also seen pushing south through the high plains.
Now analyzing GOES-16 IR imagery over the same period and zooming in, the southward progression of the cold front is easily diagnosed in the imagery, including the banking of cold air up against the Colorado front range and Sangre de Cristo Mountains. An overlay of a surface wind analysis confirms the progression of the front. 60 mph winds were measured behind the front across southern Colorado.
Behind the front in northern Colorado during the evening of the 9th, thunderstorms managed to develop, producing heavy graupel and small hail. GLM Flash Extent Density from GOES-16 showed a lightning jump during the development of the strongest storm, which produced up to 3/4″ hail.
The Suomi NPP VIIRS Day Night Band (DNB) Near Constant Contrast (NCC) product provided high resolution “visible” imagery during the night as the front pushed south and low clouds expanded across the plains, thanks to illumination from the moon.
The storm system resulted in widespread snowfall amounts of up to around 5 inches over the portions of the Colorado I-25 corridor and eastern plains. The Day Cloud Phase Distinction RGB can be utilized during winter weather events to diagnose developing bands of snow or track ongoing snow bands during (especially in poor radar coverage areas). Using this event over southeast Colorado as an example, shades of cyan colored clouds (water clouds) transitioning to bright green represent increase of ice in the cloud top and a potential snow producing cloud/band (Fig 5). Multiple snow bands developed in the vicinity of Pueblo and areas south, expanding east through the afternoon in the presence of strong upper forcing and low-level easterly/northeasterly upslope flow.
Overlaying base radar reflectivity, one can see the snow bands as observed in radar imagery match up well with our analysis of the bands in RGB imagery (Fig 6).
NOAA-20 VIIRS DNB NCC imagery from the next evening provided an early view of snow cover over eastern Colorado from the previous day’s storm (Fig 7). Widespread snow cover is observed along the I-25 Corridor from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins, and much of the plains to the east. Further south, snow cover resulting from the banded snowfall is diagnosed near and south of Pueblo. Low clouds are masked with the GOES fog difference (blue).