Monitoring a squall line (SQL) over Gulf of Guinea region

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Meteosat-11 monitors squall lines over the Gulf of Guinea on 18 June 2018.

Monitoring a squall line (SQL) over Gulf of Guinea region
Date & Time
17 June 2018 17:42 UTC–19 June 23:42 UTC
Infrared Channel

By Gore Bi Tra Olivier and Edoh Kodjo Gboneh Gratien (Aerial Navigation Safety in Africa and Madagascar)

The powerful convective systems that often cause most damage to the Gulf of Guinea region are squall lines (SQL). Well known as mesoscale convective system, they consist of a number of small storms at different phases of development joined together by curved line north-south oriented. They sometimes grow rapidly. These SQL mostly, and particularly those which concern gulf of Guinea region, initiate over RCA/Cameroun/south Nigeria during the rainy season (from April to July) and propagate all along the whole Gulf of Guinea, mainly in its southern parts.

It’s clear that due to the rotation aspect they are less strong that those which develop and propagate over the Sahel region; nevertheless, they produce more rain, mainly when they move very slowly or when they are quite stationary.

Their evolution can be well traced using satellite products and applications, as is illustrated in this case of a convective system from 18–20 June, which swept along the coast of the Gulf of Guinea from Port Harcourt through Lagos to Freetown.

This storm cluster evolved, strengthened and brought torrential rains to cities, causing severe flooding in places (see table). In Abidjan, for example, torrential rains were reported to have fallen continuously overnight for seven hours. As a result the water level rose up to 2.5 m in some places; several casualties, and at least 20 dead bodies were reported.

Monrovia 20/06/2018 --- 3–6 km 50 km/h
San Pédro 19/06/2018 54 mm 4–6 km 22 km/h
Abidjan 19/06/2018 40 mm 5–8 km 30 km/h
  20/06/2018 15 mm 6–10 km 26 km/h
Accra 19/06/2018 5 mm 8 km 46 km/h
Lomé 18/06/2018 11 mm 3–8 km 33 km/h
  19/06/2016 32mm 6–8 km 30 km/h

The squall line presented on Figure 2 showed intense convective activity and virga (an observable streak or shaft of precipitation falling from a cloud that evaporates before reaching the ground), as can be seen in the animation.

Figure 2: Meteosat-11 infrared animation, 17 June 17:42 UTC–19 June 23:42 UTC
Figure 3: Meteosat-11 Airmass RGB with MPEF, 18    June 12:00 UTC, with CAPE lines and wind arrows at    1,000 hPa overlaid, from ECMWF.
Figure 4: Interaction between the storm and the environment wind shear, which was favourable to its maintain in life and its displacement westward all along the coastal line.

The environment was very humid (see Figure 1, top right, click to expand). Multi-cellular thunderstorms (progressing in the westward direction) evolved into a monsoon-flow of south west origin, reaching the 800 hPa level, which fed the system.

The low-level was favourable to the wind convergence and, obviously, to the generation of deep convection downstream (Figure 3).

According to the vertical wind profile, the wind speed decreases with altitude and produced a shear which helps to reinforce convection (Figure 4).

It is probably the case, the presence of dry air at middle altitude aided the strengthening of the downdraft, and, obviously, the interaction between this one and the wind shear was favourable to maintaining the life of the convective cluster, and, also, its displacement westward. There was also a relatively high value of CAPE all along its trajectory.

The combination of conditions allowed the system to spread westward to the reaches of Sierra Leone, while maintaining its structure. This convection is typical in western Africa during the rainy season from April to September.

Read the case in French

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