You are probably familiar with the visible and/or infrared satellite images of clouds or storms. Water vapor imagery is unique in that it can detect water vapor (gaseous state) as well as clouds (liquid state). The water vapor sensors on the satellite see only about the top third of the troposphere (approximately 20,000 to 30,000 feet), so dry and moist areas at upper levels can be clearly seen. On unenhanced images, white areas show where moisture is present, and grays and blacks show where it is dry. Sensors on the satellite detect the radiative energy from the water vapor and clouds. The output voltage of the sensors is proportional to the energy striking the sensor. This in turn is converted to a "brightness temperature", which is the scale use see on the bottom of the image.
Here is the water vapor image from Tuesday, July 2 at 1200UTC (7:00 a.m. CDT). This image is from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) Real-Time Weather Data web site. This image is color enhanced. The driest areas are in reds, and the areas of highest moisture are in violets to greens.
|Water vapor satellite image for July 2, 2013 6:45 a.m. CDT|
Here is the 500 millibar map for the same time yesterday.
|500 Millibar map for 7:00 a.m. July 2, 2013.|
|Water vapor image 6:45 a.m. July 2, 2013 with features marked.|
Notice how easy it is to pick out the upper level features depicted on the 500 millibar map on the water vapor image. You can clearly see the upper ridge in the west and the trough in the central U.S. with its center in southern Illinois. Additionally, a small disturbance in southeastern Minnesota (yellow circle) clearly visible on the water vapor image is just barely evident on the map (yellow shading). This is an area of vorticity, or rotation, in the atmosphere. Very often these are the features that help fire thunderstorms. In fact, yesterday afternoon thunderstorms developed over Iowa as this feature moved south southwest across the state. Moisture associated with the developing seasonal monsoon is evident over Mexico and southern Arizona. An area of thunderstorms (green/blue) associated with a weak tropical disturbance is evident over Cuba.
Here is today's water vapor image, 24 hours after the previous image. The center of the trough in the central U.S. has moved back west into western Missouri. The area of thunderstorms near Cuba yesterday have moved into the Gulf of Mexico. Dry air off the east coast is associated with the upper level ridge over the western Atlantic.
|Water vapor image for 6:45 a.m. CDT July 3, 2013|