Solar radiation is the ultimate source of energy flowing through the atmosphere; it fuels all atmospheric motions. The visible-wavelength range of solar radiation represents a significant contribution to the earth's energy budget, and visible light is a vital indicator for the composition and thermodynamic processes of the atmosphere from the smallest weather scales to the largest climate scales. The accurate and fast description of light propagation in the atmosphere and its lower-boundary environment is therefore of critical importance for the simulation and prediction of weather and climate. Simulated Weather Imagery (SWIm) is a new, fast, and physically based visible-wavelength three-dimensional radiative transfer model. Given the location and intensity of the sources of light (natural or artificial) and the composition (e.g., clear or turbid air with aerosols, liquid or ice clouds, precipitating rain, snow, and ice hydrometeors) of the atmosphere, it describes the propagation of light and produces visually and physically realistic hemispheric or 360∘ spherical panoramic color images of the atmosphere and the underlying terrain from any specified vantage point either on or above the earth's surface. Applications of SWIm include the visualization of atmospheric and land surface conditions simulated or forecast by numerical weather or climate analysis and prediction systems for either scientific or lay audiences. Simulated SWIm imagery can also be generated for and compared with observed camera images to (i) assess the fidelity and (ii) improve the performance of numerical atmospheric and land surface models. Through the use of the latter in a data assimilation scheme, it can also (iii) improve the estimate of the state of atmospheric and land surface initial conditions for situational awareness and numerical weather prediction forecast initialization purposes.
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