Bell, JR; Gebremichael, E; Molthan, AL; Schultz, LA; Meyer, FJ; Hain, CR; Shrestha, S; Payne, KC (2020). Complementing Optical Remote Sensing with Synthetic Aperture Radar Observations of Hail Damage Swaths to Agricultural Crops in the Central United States. JOURNAL OF APPLIED METEOROLOGY AND CLIMATOLOGY, 59(4), 665-685.

The normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) has been frequently used to map hail damage to vegetation, especially in agricultural areas, but observations can be blocked by cloud cover during the growing season. Here, the European Space Agency's Sentinel-1A/1B C-band synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imagery in co- and cross polarization is used to identify changes in backscatter of corn and soybeans damaged by hail during intense thunderstorm events in the early and late growing season. Following a June event, hail-damaged areas produced a lower mean backscatter when compared with surrounding, unaffected pixels [vertical-vertical (VV): -1.1 dB; vertical-horizontal (VH): -1.5 dB]. Later, another event in August produced an increase in co- and cross-polarized backscatter (VV: 0.7 dB; VH: 1.7 dB) that is hypothesized to result from the combined effects of crop growth, change in structure of damaged crops, and soil moisture conditions. Hail damage regions inferred from changes in backscatter were further assessed through coherence change detections to support changes in the structure of crops damaged within the hail swath. While studies using NDVI have routinely concluded a decrease in NDVI is associated with damage, the cause of change with respect to the damaged areas in SAR backscatter values is more complex. Influences of environmental variables, such as vegetation structure, vegetation maturity, and soil moisture conditions, need to be considered when interpreting SAR backscatter and will vary throughout the growing season.