Above: The image from the new GOES-16 satellite is from March 6, 2017 just as the wind was shifting 90 degrees from the southwest to the northwest near the Kansas/Oklahoma border.
This article is for the weather and remote sensing geeks out there and anyone who is interested in the latest developments about the real time detection of wildfires from space.
During the siege of wildfires on March 6 and 7 in Kansas, Oklahoma, and northern Texas strong winds before and after a frontal passage fanned existing small fires into huge firestorms that burned about a million acres in Kansas alone. Six people were killed and firefighters were stretched far beyond the capabilities of the mostly rural departments they served.
While this was going on a few meteorologists with access to the new, still being tested GOES-16 satellite were monitoring the emerging wildfire situation. This game-changing satellite orbiting hundreds of miles overhead has a baseline imager that will view the Earth with 16 different spectral bands (compared to five on current GOES satellites) and it will provide three times more spectral information, four times the spatial resolution, and more than five times faster temporal coverage than the current system. It also has the first satellite sensor dedicated to detecting real time lightning.
This video explains how data from GOES-16 was used as the fires were burning, including notifying fire departments of what the fires were doing, where they were, and what they were likely to do as the front passed, shifting the wind and the direction of fire spread 90 degrees from the southwest to the northwest.
If you don’t have time to view the entire 12-minute presentation, at least check out the change in direction of spread of the fires that begins at 8:30.
Above: This map from GOES-16 shows lightning in clouds associated with the weather system that produced severe thunderstorms and a few tornadoes in East Texas on February 14, 2017. The system can monitor a given area at 500 frames per second, and can distinguish individual lightning strikes within each flash. NOAA/NASA
It also has the first sensor on a satellite specifically designed for monitoring lightning. The Geostationary Lightning Mapper records total lightning (in-cloud, cloud-to-cloud, and cloud-to-ground) activity continuously day and night over the Americas and adjacent ocean regions.
In addition, the baseline imager will view the Earth with 16 different spectral bands (compared to five on current GOES satellites) and it will provide three times more spectral information, four times the spatial resolution, and more than five times faster temporal coverage than the current system.
The GOES-16 satellite that was launched in November is still being tested and is not fully operational, but some of its new capabilities are being explored. It has new sensors, some of which have a much better resolution and are better at detecting smoke. And it can rescan an area as often as every 30 seconds compared to 15 to 30 minute intervals on the older GOES-13 satellite. This makes it possible to produce much better animations of wildfire activity and smoke plumes.
Below is the description provided by NOAA for the video above, which has the imagery from the new GOES-16 on the left, compared to the older GOES-13 on the right.
This comparison of GOES-16 ABI and GOES-13 imager shortwave infrared (3.9 µm) data shows a number of grass fires burning near Lake Okeechobee in southern Florida on February 20, 2017. In the left panel, GOES-16 imagery at 30-second intervals is shown, while the right panel displays GOES-13 imagery at routine 15-30 minute intervals. The warmest shortwave infrared brightness temperatures are enhanced with yellow to red colors (with red being the hottest). Note the many advantages of the 30-second GOES-16 imagery: (1) new fire starts are detected sooner in time; (2) the fire behavior (intensification vs dissipation) can be better monitored; (3) the intensity of the fires is more accurately depicted with the 2-km resolution GOES-16 data vs the 8-km resolution GOES-13 data; (4) numerous brief fires are not detected at all in the 15-30 minute interval GOES-13 imagery (especially south and southeast of Lake Okeechobee, during the 2100-2115 UTC time period).
Bill Line of the NWS has posted a fascinating animated gif on his website that shows wildfires and smoke in Oklahoma today, Saturday.
Below is a screengrab from Mr. Line’s gif. The yellow areas represent heat.
An excerpt from his description:
The 0.47 um band will have higher reflectance in the presence of atmospheric aerosols (such as smoke) when compared to the legacy 0.64 um visible band. Combining these two bands into one display gives a forecaster a very helpful, quick view of wildfire activity across the region. The 2.25 um band can also be utilized to detect fire hotspots (especially very hot fires), particularly at night when the hotspot contrasts nicely with the surrounding darkness.