For 10 years, a weather satellite named GOES-East has been flying 22,300 miles above Earth staring at the eastern half of the United States down to South America at snow storms and hurricanes, sending information to the ground for meteorologists to build their forecasts.
In satellite years, that’s a long time to stare without blinking.
It’s watched big storms like Hurricane Sandy shut down the mid-Atlantic region and Washington, D.C.’s, “Snowzilla” shut down the federal government. It also watched Hurricane Matthew recently threaten its new sibling, the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R (GOES-R), in a Florida storage facility.
Matthew looked like it would directly hit the Kennedy Space Center along Florida’s East Coast as a Category 4 storm. Instead, it was downgraded to a Category 3 with the eye staying 30-to-40 miles off shore. It spared GOES-R but there was millions of dollars-worth of damage at Kennedy that has delayed GOES-R’s launch.
Some journalists noted the irony of one weather satellite watching a massive storm heading toward another, more advanced weather satellite that has been touted as a game changer in the weather community. Mashable noted: “Lying directly in the path of fearsome Hurricane Matthew … is America’s next-generation, $1.2 billion weather satellite.” The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang: “GOES-R, our next-gen weather satellite, is delayed by a hurricane. Of course.”
The new weather satellite is such big news that NBC’s Al Roker filmed a segment for Today touting its benefits.
The presence of GOES-R in the Cape Canaveral, Fla., clean room might have gone unnoticed except that a new weather satellite is a big deal for two reasons. First, it has been more than 20 years since new technology has been invested in our weather satellites. Second, it is part of the formula to help the country save lives and billions of dollars in economic impact over the course of a decade.
GOES-East and GOES-West, which stares at the West Coast, are using technology developed in the 1990s. Imagine still using a pager versus today’s smart phones. The difference will be stark. The same will be true when GOES-R is operational.
The pixelated, jerky video you see now of storms like Hurricane Matthew will be smooth and movie-quality because imagery will be captured every 30 seconds, five times more frequently, and in more detail.
Storm imagery will be more enhanced because the resolution will be four times better than today, enabling meteorologists to know more about cloud structures and a hurricane’s eye.
The on-board digital camera will also see what the naked eye can’t with three times the number of filters to tell us more about moisture, sea surface temperatures and other factors influencing severe weather.
Updates will come five times faster than today because of the camera’s speed and ground system’s processing capabilities that will deliver data into the hands of the National Weather Service in 30 seconds.
All of these upgrades will help meteorologists better understand storms and their paths, how they develop and how they change over time. Communities will know earlier about tornado activity so residents can take shelter faster. They will know more about potential flooding and whether to evacuate.
Until then, we wait until GOES-R can launch into space from NASA’s Cape Canaveral facility some time in November. The wait will be worth it.