A long-lasting upper level ridge over the western US gave way to a relatively potent upper level trough on 07-08 Sep 2020, resulting in active weather across much of the western US. Over the Pacific Northwest, the system sent a cold front through the region resulting in very dry conditions with gusty winds during the day on the 7th. These conditions helped support the spread of large and fast moving wildfires, as well as widespread blowing dust emanating from freshly plowed fields. As a result, NWS Spokane, WA issued Wind Advisories, a Red Flag Warning and Blowing Dust Advisory for the area.
GOES-West 3.9 um shortwave IR imagery with a simple linear grayscale colortable captures the initial development and following rapid evolution of the wildfires well (Fig 1), while visible imagery reveals widespread opaqueness across the region (Fig 2). The visible texture and (warm) brightness temperature of the atmospheric aerosols (along with presence of wildfires) leads one to surmise that it is either smoke and/or lofted dust.
Combining the SWIR and VIS, it is revealed that some of the aerosols are anchored to hot spot locations, and are therefore likely smoke plumes, while others are originating from open fields with no hot spots, and are suspected regions of blowing dust (Fig 3).
When we view the SWD (with SWIR hotspots overlay), a reliable method for capturing lofted dust given sensitivity of the 10.3 um band, much of the opaque region (smoke and dust) provides a signal typical of lofted dust (neg 10-12 um diff; dark gray to black in this example; Fig 4). There is typically little-to-no signal for smoke in this difference.
As a result, the Fire Dust RGB, that combines IRW, SWIR, and SWD to capture hot spots and dust plumes, shows a similar signal between the lofted dust and active smoke plumes (Fig 5).
Viewing other wildfires in the west (Fig 6), there is a similar SWD signal for some of the most impressive smoke plumes that developed later in the day from the large/very active wildfires (Fig 7). Early day smoke across the area that is composed of much smaller particulates has a very weak to no signal in the SWD. The SWD signal apparent in the very active smoke plumes is likely associated with larger smoke particles (ash) being lofted high into the plume by the strong updraft generated by the wildfire. In the Washington case, the SWD signal is likely a brew of dust mixing with smoke and lofted ash.
Back to Washington, an alternate and IR-only RGB that replaces the IRW (from the Fire Dust RGB) with the Cloud Top Phase difference appears to do a slightly better job at differentiating lofted dust (cyan) from the intense/active smoke plumes (bright green) due to absorption differences between the two channels from dust (small and uniformly shaped particles) to smoke/ash (varying sized particles; Fig 8).
A zoomed out view of the same RGB over the whole western US during the day and following evening continues to separate the impressive smoke plumes from the blowing dust (Fig 9).
Combining the VIS, SWIR and 0.86 um veggie band into a Fire Day RGB discussed in previous blog posts, the lofted smoke and dust become more obvious, and one can diagnose a slight difference between the most probable dust regions (greener cyan) and smoke plumes (bluer cyan), in addition to the hot spots (Fig 10). NWS Blowing Dust Warning polygons are overlaid on the imagery.
GOES-West Geocolor Imagery also captures the smoke and dust well, with slight differences between the two aerosols discernible (Fig 11). GOES-East Geocolor also captures the plumes, particularly later in the day as forward scattering increases toward that satellite (Fig 12).
SNPP and NOAA-20 VIIRS Day Night Band NCC imagery captured the glow of the wildfires across Washington (Fig 13). The first few images in the animation are from the 6th, and show the scene (day and night) prior to fire ignition. During the overnight hours early on the 7th, the first large fire developed and was apparent in the series of VIIRS passes. The following day, the initial fire grows and others ignite, with smoke obvious in the imagery. During the overnight hours early on the 8th, the wildfires had grown considerably, and were depicted in the VIIRS DNB imagery. In particular, the perimeter of the wildfires, along with the most active areas, are captured well in the DNB imagery.
Many images and video depicting the degree of visibility reduction by dust and smoke were shared on social media, some of which are included below.
Bill Line, NESDIS and CIRA
Bill..this is incredible! Nice work. Do you have any idea what caused the fires near and to the northwest of Spokane? It seems like they didn’t start until the front passed by with maybe some CU…does GLM show anything? If ever there were any doubts on the value of GOES16/17 they are gone now. We just need to get this into the hands of decision makers faster. Keep up the great work.
I am not sure of the causes, but there were no GLM flashes, and the cu appeared very shallow, so I doubt lightning. I did see an article mention downed power lines as the cause of at least some of the fires.