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NOAA's new GOES-16 satellite is packed with next-gen weather and solar observing instruments, which will launch our weather forecasts into the next century.
OUT OF THIS WORLD | Earth, Space and Everything In-Between - a daily journey through weather, space and science with meteorologist/science writer Scott Sutherland

Five ways GOES-R will drive next-gen weather forecasts

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Saturday, November 19, 2016, 5:00 PM - NOAA is set for a Saturday launch of their next-generation weather satellite, GOES-R. Here are just five ways that this will leap our day-to-day weather forecasts into the future!

Fast facts

• GOES-R will be the most advanced weather satellite monitoring the western hemisphere
• It will return higher resolution imagery, faster and more frequently than ever before
• It will track storms and lightning in finer detail than we've ever seen
• It will also monitor solar activity and Earth's local space environment
• GOES-R launched at the very last minute of its launch window, Saturday, Nov 19

Watch the launch!

GOES-R lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Nov. 19, 2016, at 6:42 p.m. EST, headed for geostationary orbit, 36,000 km out into space.

Watch below, as NASA replays the flawless launch.

Here is what GOES-R has to offer!

Better, more detailed imagery

The most important contribution of satellites to weather forecasting is the imagery they take of weather systems from space.

The current Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) in orbit are GOES-13 or "GOES East", GOES-15 or "GOES West" and GOES-14, which acts as an on-orbit spare, in case of a malfunction in one of the other two satellites. Launched between 2006 and 2010, these were the most advanced geostationary satellites watching over North and South American weather, but since then, technology as moved on.

GOES Full Disk. Credit: NOAA

Himawari-8 Full Disk. Credit: JMA

The resolution of western hemisphere satellite imagery is about to upgrade from the left view (Current GOES Full Disk) to the right view (Current Himawari-8 Full Disk), thanks to GOES-R's Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI).

ABI will take images across 16 spectral bands, compared to 5 spectral bands from GOES-13 and GOES-15, improving resolution and contrast to offer better views of weather systems.

Credit: NOAA

Faster, more frequent imagery

According to NOAA:

ABI is a multi-channel passive imaging radiometer designed to observe the Western Hemisphere and provide variable area imagery and radiometric information of Earth’s surface, atmosphere and cloud cover. ABI will be used for a wide range of applications related to weather, oceans, land, climate, and hazards. The instrument has two scan modes. The default mode will concurrently take a full disk (Western Hemisphere) image every 15 minutes, an image of the Continental U.S. every five minutes, and two smaller, more detailed images of areas where storm activity is present, every 60 seconds. The ABI can also operate in continuous full disk mode, providing uninterrupted scans of the full disk every 5 minutes.

So, it will take 4 full-disk images per hour, compared to 3 from the current satellites, and while GOES East and West image the Continental US roughly 4 times per hour, GOES-R will do so 12 times per hour and zoom in for closeups of individual storm systems every 60 seconds.

That is going to provide weather forecasters with an amazing amount of information about developing weather.

Credit: NOAA

Higher-resolution storm mapping

Better full-disk imagery of the planet is great for seeing the "big picture" but ABI will allow forecasters to focus their attention on the small-scale as well, with 4x better resolution than before.

Image resolution improves from 16 square km per pixel to 4 square km per pixel in new ABI scans. Credit: NOAA

The differences between these two images are subtle, requiring a keen eye to spot, but in many cases, these details are of the highest importance. This is especially so during extreme weather, such as heavy thunderstorms and tornado outbreaks.

Next-level hurricane tracking

Current satellites can give forecasters a good idea of what's going on with the winds around a tropical storm or hurricane, but when GOES-R turns its eyes on these storms, a wealth of data is going to pour in, even revealing what's going on in the cores of these cyclones.

Just compare the atmospheric motion vectors (AMVs) the GOES satellites in orbit now provided during Hurricane Katrina, in 2005, to what ABI would have given forecasters if it was in operation at the time.

Credit: NOAA

Given the destructive potential of hurricanes, especially when making landfall, having ABI's better, higher-resolution and faster wind vector plots will help people prepare for the worst.

Advanced lightning detection

According to NOAA:

Research has shown that lightning is an excellent early warning indicator for approaching severe storms and the development of tornadoes.This data visualization shows actual lightning measurements captured by an array of ground-based lighting detectors capable of tracing how lightning propagates through the atmosphere and simulates how the GOES-R Geostationary Lightning Mapper will monitor atmospheric flashes. This technology could provide critical minutes of valuable warning time in advance of approaching severe storms.

That's not all, though, as these are only the top five ways that this new satellite will improve weather forecasts.

There is a whole suite of new products that will become available due to the inflow of data from GOES-R. Additionally, the satellite will join the fleet of spacecraft that monitor solar activity for sunspots and other phenomena, as well as keeping a close watch on Earth's local space environment for potential hazards, and it will even monitor Earth for aircraft, ship and personal distress signals, as part of the Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking (SARSAT) system.

GOES-R won't be delivering these advanced weather products immediately. It must first take roughly 18 days to arrive at its final orbital distance, around 36,000 km out. After that, NOAA will run the satellite instruments through its paces, calibrating them so that they return the best data possible when the mission finally goes live.

NOAA expects the very first public images from GOES-R go be released between 60-90 days from now, and it should be fully operational, so sometime between late January and late February, 2017. After all testing and calibration, it should go "operational" as of November 2017.

Sources: NOAA | NASA

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