By Bryan Allegretto, Forecaster Posted 3 years ago April 5, 2020
There are many tools you can use to track snow including several types of satellite images. This article will talk about the infrared satellite image.
Satellite weather data comes from a satellite that sits about 22,500 miles above the earth. Most of these satellites are stationary above a particular point on earth, so they always show the same view of the earth, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
How Infrared Satellite Images Work
Each satellite has numerous sensors that view the earth in slightly different ways. The infrared sensor peers down at the earth and measures the temperature of the clouds above the ground, or if there are no clouds, then it shows the temperature of the ground itself. Since the atmosphere (typically) becomes colder further up into the sky, clouds that are higher in the sky are colder. On the satellite image, these colder clouds (blue) show up as different colors than lower, warmer clouds (orange) or even the ground itself.
The infrared satellite image helps skiers in a few ways. Since the satellite relies on temperature to sense clouds and not sunlight, the infrared image is available 24 hours a day. Since the best time for the snow to fall for fresh tracks is usually overnight, viewing weather data at night is important. A second benefit to this type of image is that it shows clouds with higher tops, which can imply that the cloud is very thick as it stretches from near the ground high up into the atmosphere. Thick clouds often produce the heaviest bands of precipitation/snow.
Limitations of Using Infrared Satellite
The first problem is that satellite images show the tops of clouds, not what is falling beneath them. So looking at a satellite image will not directly answer the question, “Is it snowing?” Second, it is sometimes difficult to know if a cold cloud top means that the cloud is thick (and producing lots of snow) or is a thin wispy cloud producing no precipitation. High, thin clouds often move faster than thicker clouds, and they also might appear “wispy” on the satellite image.
You now know the quick version of how to use infrared satellite, but keep in mind that these images are only one tool you should use to chase powder.
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