Strong southwesterly winds wrapping around the south/west portion of an upper low traversing the southern US plains resulted in the development of widespread blowing dust. Surface dew points within the dry southwesterly flow dropped into the single digits to below zero, while widespread wind gusts over 40 knots were also observed. Initially, blowing dust developed out of the Chihuahuan Desert of northern Mexico, and was drawn east and north across Texas throughout the day. Later, thunderstorms developing further north in east-central New Mexico sent an outflow boundary east into west Texas, along and behind which a very dense dust plume developed. This region of blowing dust, or haboob, reduced visibilities considerably along it’s path, resulting in the issuance of NWS Dust Storm Warnings. Fortunately, a GOES-East 1-min mesoscale sector was available over the region to aid in monitoring for wildfire hot spots, but also provided a unique view of the blowing dust plume. There were numerous photos and videos shared on social media captured visibilties well less than 1/4 mile within the blowing dust plume.
The Midland, TX NWS office noted the critical role satellite imagery and products played in operations during the event. In particular, Geocolor and DEBRA-Dust products were important in timing the outflow boundary and associated wind shift, denoted in imagery by the very thick dust plume, as it quickly approached a wildland fire west of Andrews, TX. Forecasters were able to communicate the precise timing of the outflow to local partners, resulting in fire crews moving off the southern periphery of the fire prior to the wind shift and dramatic drop in visibility, potentially saving lives and equipment. Thankfully, the wind shift took the fire south of town.
Day Land Cloud RGB imagery within the 1-min sector, available in AWIPS, provided a detailed view of the very thick blowing dust plume as it developed behind the outflow boundary and advanced east through the evening (Fig 1). The animation captures the dust plume in the context of NWS Dust Storm Warnings and surface observations, which measured wind gusts over 40 knots and visiblities as low as 1/2 mile. The more transparent area of lofted dust (out of Mexico) is diagnosed ahead of the more dense dust plume that resides within the thunderstorm cold pool. The 1-min imagery allows for the exact position of the dense blowing dust and likely reduced visibility to be analyzed in real-time and between observations.
The CIRA Geocolor product was available within the 1-min sector and accessible through the CIRA Slider webpage (Fig 2). The dust plume is especially apparent in the GOES-East true color imagery closer to sunset with increased forward scattering toward the satellite sensor.
Given the dry and windy conditions, fire danger was high across the region, influencing the growth of several wildfires. One-min Natural Color Fire RGB imagery from GOES-East captured the dust plume, clouds, and wildfire hot spots (red) and smoke plumes in a single product (Fig 3). Of note is the large hot spot WNW of Midland, TX, discussed in an earlier paragraph.
The lofted dust from both Mexico and NM/TX continued east and then north around the low during the evening, and was still detectable early the next morning. A VIS-IR-Split Window Difference procedure captured the evolution of the dust during the day and evening (Fig 4). The procedure relies on the 10.3-12.3 um Split Window Difference for detecting lofted dust, and overlays it as a semitransparent shade of yellow for negative values (dust signal).
Other procedures and products capture the blowing dust day/night, including the Dust-Fire RGB (Fig 5; which also shows the wildfire hot spots), and the CIRA Debra-Dust product (Fig 6; can be accessed on CIRA Slider).
Impacted NWS offices shared various imagery products of the blowing dust, shown below.
Procedures and products shown in these blog posts can be requested by NWS users.
Bill Line, NESDIS and CIRA
Input from NWS Midland, TX