30 November 2015

Spotting Rough Air from Space

Posted by Dan Satterfield

Image from Aqua satellite Monday, 30 Nov. 2015.

Image from Aqua satellite Monday, 30 Nov. 2015.

Look at those thin clouds over Florida. Those are transverse cirrus clouds, and they look like mares tails from the ground, but they can also be a clue to some rough air. The winds aloft are from the northwest over Florida, but farther north they are from the west. The jet stream is crossing the area at the top of the image with winds of 55 to 70 mph, yet the cirrus clouds are still oriented north/south, i.e. transverse to the flow. These cirrus bands (oriented at a 90 degree angle to the wind) can be a clue to clear air turbulence in the area. The scalloped edges of the clouds (over GA. and the Carolinas) are also a big clue that there is rough air about, and this is especially true near the jet stream. EUMETSAT has a good primer here.

The latest turbulence reports over the southeast are below. Moderate turbulence has been reported over GA and the Carolinas today.

Water vapor imagery is perhaps even better at spotting severe turbulence, and the new GOES R satellite will have higher resolution at these wavelengths in the IR band. See this blog post from CIMMS about that. The take home message is that satellite images have value far beyond what most non-meteorologists realize!