Wind gusts upwards of 70 miles per hour pushed a 6,000 foot high dust cloud through Lubbock, Texas on February 20. From its orbit 500 miles above Earth's surface, the Suomi-National Polar Partnership (NPP) satellite's Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) captured this image of the massive swath of dust (in pink shading) as it moved over Texas.
Satellite data are used to detect and monitor atmospheric particles -- such as dust -- to help NOAA prepare poor visibility warnings and air quality forecasts. In the case of Lubbock, Texas, NOAA's National Weather Service issued a 'red flag' warning, alerting people that high winds and low visibility (due to dust) conditions were likely to occur. Even though the red flag warning was in effect, the thick dust that swirled over West Texas reduced visibility to less than 50 feet and contributed to a series of traffic accidents, including a 30-car pile-up that claimed two lives and injured dozens of others.
Information from NOAA's next generation of weather satellites, called the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), which will have the same instruments and technology as Suomi NPP, is expected to help meteorologists improve accuracy and reliability of forecasts of hazardous weather events such as strong winds and dust storms.