Record Russian spring snowmelt

Record Russian spring snowmelt

05 May 2013 00:00 UTC

Record Russian spring snowmelt
Record Russian spring snowmelt

On 1 April Moscow had a record-breaking 65 cm (26 in) of snow on the ground, which caused major flooding when it melted.

Last Updated

06 November 2020

Published on

05 May 2013

by Curtis Seaman and Galina Chirokova (CIRA )

originally published on the Suomi NPP VIIRS Imagery and Visualization Team Blog

The 65 cm of snow was the most snow they've ever had on the ground that late in the spring, and it was all thanks to record snowfall during the month of March. This article from 26 March 2013 says they got 70 cm (28 in) in a two day period, and forecasters were predicting another 8–10 cm by the end of the month. What happens when record amounts of snow melt? It causes flooding.

To bring this all together with VIIRS, here is what VIIRS saw on 28 March 2012, right after the region got 70 cm of snow:

 

Figure 1: NPP VIIRS Natural Colour RGB Image

NPP, VIIRS, 28 March 2013, 10:38 UTC
RGB Composite channels I-01, I-02 and I-03
Full Resolution
The location of Moscow has been identified.


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This is the RGB combination that EUMETSAT refers to as 'Natural Colour', where snow and ice appear cyan and liquid clouds appear white. The whole scene is snow, except for a few small clouds north of Moscow, and anywhere there are trees sticking out above the snow, which appear green. Notice that you can't see any rivers. They're all frozen over and covered with snow.

Here's what VIIRS saw (same RGB combination) a month later (29 April 2013):

Figure 2: NPP VIIRS Natural Colour RGB Image

NPP, VIIRS, 29 April 2013, 10:39 UTC
RGB Composite channels I-01, I-02 and I-03
Full Resolution
The location of Moscow has been identified.

 

All the snow is gone. Plus, look at all the rivers you can see. The problem is that you shouldn't normally be able to see all of these rivers. The flooding makes them visible.

What is more impressive is seeing a time-lapse loop of VIIRS images over this period:

Figure 3: Time-lapse animation

NPP, VIIRS, 28 March - 2 May 2013
RGB Composite channels I-01, I-02 and I-03
Full Resolution (animated )
Corresponding MSG SEVIRI animation (animated )

 

Make sure you look at it in full resolution mode. Note that the time period between frames in the animation varies. Some days it was too cloudy to see anything, one or two days had missing data, so this isn't always one image per day.

The city of Ryazan on the Oka River is identified in the animation. To put it into perspective, check out the Google Maps satellite view of the city . The Oka River is normally ~200 m wide near the city. In the last two frames of the animation, the Oka River is over 10 km wide at its widest point near Ryazan! The same goes for a lot of the rivers visible at the end of the loop — rivers that are normally a few tens or hundreds of meters wide are up to a few kilometers wide.

The city of Tambov at 52°43 N, 41°26 E, which is outside of the domain of the animation, but in the southeastern portion of the larger static images, experienced its worst flooding in 130 years in early April (that corner of the domain was the first to experience snowmelt). One of the contributing factors at Tambov, according to that article, was that the ground below the snow was still frozen. The snowmelt occurred before the ground thawed. This meant that the meltwater couldn't be absorbed into the ground — it simply collected in the low-lying areas or ran off into the rivers, which quickly filled as you can see.

Amendment (Jochen Kerkmann, 17 May 2013)

The corresponding MSG SEVIRI animation (animated , for the same period, but for a larger area) also shows the rapid snowmelt in Eastern Europe, but it hardly shows the river flooding that occurred at the end of April. The SEVIRI resolution (3 km sub-satellite point, about 8 km in Russia) is simply too coarse to monitor the change of river width during a flooding event.