Storm Justine hits the Azores

26 January 2021 00:00 UTC-29 January 10:00 UTC


At the end of January 2021 a series of storms formed in North Atlantic, one of them moving close to the Azores.

Last Updated

11 February 2021

Published on

09 February 2021

By Ângela Lourenço (IPMA) and Natasa Strelec Mahovic (EUMETSAT)

The Azores, an archipelago in the middle of the north Atlantic, is often affected by extratropical cyclones, frequently deep and intensive ones, with heavy rain, strong winds and high seas.

On 26 January 2021 a low, named Justine by IPMA Azores, started to develop from a frontal wave at the eastern coast of the United States (Figure 1) and moved east-northeast across the Atlantic basin. It was expected to pass close to the Azores western islands later in the day on 28 January.

 Atlantic Surface Analysis
Figure 1: Atlantic Surface Analysis on 26 January 2021, 00 UTC. The black circle marks the frontal wave that later become storm Justine. Credit: NOAA Ocean Prediction Center. 

During the 26th the surface low deepened and developed a rather slow movement, but on 27 and 28 January the storm rapidly intensified below the left exit of the jet stream and started moving faster (Figure 2). The development seen in the loop of Airmass RGB images is typical for the Rapid Cyclogenesis process.

Figure 2: Meteosat-11 Airmass RGB loop from 27 January, 18:00 UTC to 29 January, 10:00 UTC

The first forecast track (Figure 3) showed that later on 28 January, Justine could pass over Corvo and Flores islands (the western group of the islands) as a deep cyclone.

Motion tracks
Figure 3: Motion tracks (green arrows) and forecast positions (dots) of Justine (classified as a frontal wave – orange dots; barotropic low – black dots or diminutive wave – green dots) for all EPS members at 12h interval up to T+96. Credit: ECMWF.

Eventually, the cyclone centre passed near Corvo (around 500 km) at 21:00 UTC on the 28th, further west than initially forecast. The main threats were the wind gusts, and IPMA-Azores issued several warnings, including a red wind warning for Corvo and Flores islands. The highest wind gust of 110 km/h was registered on Flores island at 03:00 UTC on the 29th, just after the cold front had passed. Between later in the afternoon of the 28th and early morning of the 29th the wind gusts were between 90 km/h and 110 km/h.

On 27 January, in the early stage, Justine was seen by scatterometer sensors. At 13:30 UTC both ScatSat-1 and ASCAT-A overpassed the low centre (Figure 4) and in the southwest quadrant winds were already 30 to 35 kt.

Meteosat-11 infrared with ScatSat-1 and ASCAT-A
Figure 4: Meteosat-11 IR 10.8 micron image overlaid with ScatSat-1 (left) and ASCAT-A (right) wind barbs on 27 January 13:30 UTC. Credit: OSI SAF.

Later on the same day, at 22:30 UTC Justine's centre was again seen by ScatSat-1 (Figure 5), and the winds were already higher in the southern part of the storm, reaching 35 to 40 kt.

Meteosat-11 IR with ScatSat-1 wind barbs
Figure 5: Meteosat-11 IR 10.8 micron image overlaid with ScatSat-1 wind barbs on 27 January 22:30 UTC. Credit: OSI SAF.

Along with the wind gusts there were also high seas threat that lasted longer and would also affect western Europe (Figure 6).

Significant Wave Height analysis
Figure 6: Significant Wave Height analysis, 28 January 12:00 UTC (left). The arrow shows the high seas area that affected the Azores later that day. Significant Wave Height forecast, 30 January 12:00 UTC based on 28 January 12:00 UTC model run (right). The arrow shows the high seas area associated to Justine, approaching west Europe.  Credit: ECMWF.

The storm was forecast to affect north Iberia, and in Guarda, a weather station in central Portugal, 99 km/h wind gusts were registered on 30 January.

On 27 January at 15:00 UTC, both the GOES-16 Airmass RGB and Cloud Phase RGBs (Figure 7) showed the rapid deepening phase of the storm, starting approximately at this time. In the Cloud Phase RGB thick water clouds with small droplets appear yellow, and thick water clouds with large droplets appear pink. Blue shades are related to ice clouds on top of the storm. Convective clouds embedded in the system can be recognised.

GOES-16 image comparison

GOES-16 Cloud Phase RGB compare1

Figure 7: GOES-16 Airmass RGB and Cloud Phase RGB images comparison, 27 January 2021, 15:00 UTC.

On 28 January at 09:00 UTC the storm was still deepening and both the cloud head and the dry intrusion, typical features of rapid cyclogenesis, are well seen in the Airmass RGB. Figure 8 shows the comparison of Meteosat-11 and GOES-16 Airmass RGB images.

The slight difference in the position of the cloud features is the result of different viewing angles of the two satellites. However, the difference in the spatial resolution can clearly be seen. The GOES-16 image mimics the resolution of the images that will be available with the Meteosat Third Generation satellites.

Airmass RGB comparison

GOES-16 Airmass RGB compare1

Figure 8: Meteosat-11 Airmass RGB compared to GOES-16 Airmass RGB for 28 January, 09:00 UTC

The dry intrusion can also be clearly seen by the dark area on the rear side of the cyclone in WV 6.2 image, caused by the jet streak, shown in the yellow isolines in Figure 8, and the PV anomaly, depicted in the magenta colour. Note that the wind speed at 300 hPa is above 60 m/s whereas the PV anomaly shows lowering of the stratospheric air down to lower troposphere (below 800 hPa), as seen in the cross-section, indicating very strong cyclogenesis process.

Meteosat-11 WV isotachs and IPV
Figure 9: Meteosat-11 WV 6.2 micron image overlaid with isotachs at 300 hPa (yellow) and the height of IPV=1.5 PVU (magenta) (left) and a cross section along the white line (right) for 28 January 09:00 UTC. Source: EUMeTrain.