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Bright Supermoon lights sky for meteorologists

Here’s when the moon peaks in size

Sensitive satellite sensors capture nighttime lights of Jacksonville with the full moon providing a boost to seeing in the dark
Sensitive satellite sensors capture nighttime lights of Jacksonville with the full moon providing a boost to seeing in the dark (NOAA)

The year’s final supermoon is helping meteorologists see clouds in the darkness and the patterns tell an interesting story.

Wednesday night the Flower supermoon will shine bright and look larger and brighter because of its perigee, or closest point to Earth in the moon’s orbit.

When the moon comes this close during its full moon phase it’s called a supermoon.

This is the fourth and last supermoon of 2020 and sure to be missed by sky watchers and meteorologists who benefit from the extra nighttime brightness for seeing storms in the dark using satellite sensing.

Two primary types of satellite images help forecasters see clouds but only one does well at night called infrared satellite images.

Visible satellite images offer much better resolution and details of clouds by taking advantage of sunlight. Unfortunately much of the detail is lost once the sun sets.

But a special sensor instrument on a NOAA polar orbiting satellite can detect even the faintest radiance in the night sky. Bright moonlight helps create a clearer picture of clouds above the city lights.

Lightning streaks are seen from a large storm near Atlanta with the nighttime VIIRS Day/Night Band satellite and light from the 87% full waxing gibbous moon.
Lightning streaks are seen from a large storm near Atlanta with the nighttime VIIRS Day/Night Band satellite and light from the 87% full waxing gibbous moon. (noaa)

The nighttime detection of clouds can reveal atmospheric processes helpful for making a forecast. For instance in Kansas, lines of clouds spotted formed when warm temperatures flowed aloft above colder surface ground temperatures. Fast upper level winds from the southwest rolled the clouds into what’s know as boundary layer wave clouds. While it signifies stable air quiet weather conditions at ground level, it brings turbulence above to aircraft.

Another feature is how the warm water loop current in the Gulf formed a thin line of cumulus clouds along the edge of the loop current. Seeing the clouds can mark the boundary current for good fishing along the temperature gradient.

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. (WJXT)

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