New weather satellite is bringing forecasting to new heights - KBZK.com | Continuous News | Bozeman, Montana

New weather satellite is bringing forecasting to new heights

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Weather and weather technology is always changing. 

Meteorologists are getting more data faster than ever before.  But one place that we have not seen a drastic change in technology has been with weather satellites. 

The last weather satellite to take orbit and send information to operational meteorologist was set in orbit in 2010. That changed this past November when GOES-16 was set into orbit and became the most advanced weather satellite available.

Weather satellites are stationary with respect to the Earth, which means that their orbit is synchronized with the rotation of the Earth. GOES stands for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite.  The satellite will monitor a suite of Earth, solar, and space products that will range from enhanced cloud imaging to monitoring solar flares.

“It is actually going to be revolutionary,” said Megan Syner who is the Warning Coordination Meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Great Falls. “It is going to provide us with more opportunities and is going to give us over 34 different meteorological, solar, and space products,” Syner said.  “It is not only going to improve our forecasts, but also provide us with new and improved products to help save lives and property.

One of the enhancements that GOES-16 will bring will be the rate and resolution of satellite images.  The satellite images will come in five times faster than they do currently, and with as much as four times better quality. This will give meteorologists around the country a distinct advantage when it comes to monitoring severe weather. With images coming in with better quality and more frequently, weather experts are going to be able to watch various aspects of a developing storm more closely. This will allow more lead-time in alerting the public about the threats of those storms. 

For the National Weather Service, the benefits of getting out products like warnings or watches are enormous. 

“It will help improve not only our forecasts in terms of accuracy” Syner explained, “but also we'll be able to issue more timely watches, warnings, and advisories which are the ultimate goal.” 

Our current satellite technology can make scans and send images as quickly as 7 minutes. The new GOES-16 satellite will be able to scan a sector and send that same information in 30 seconds, which will bring monitoring severe storms to a whole new level.

The satellite is also equipped with new lightning mapping technology known as Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) will also prove key in a few different aspects.  The GLM will constantly monitor both cloud-to-cloud and cloud-to-ground lightning in North America.  Research has demonstrated that the GLM has potential to improve tornado warning lead time and false alarm rate reduction.

The lightning data also may be able to play a role in better identifying areas that may see wildfire start-ups due to lightning. That could help tremendously during the late-summer months in the Northwest. The combination of the GLM sensor and high-resolution satellite data could help identify areas more quickly that are dealing with wildfire starts. 

Those are a few of the key additions to the GOES-16 satellite which is currently in orbit 22,500 miles above the Earth. Right now scientists are validating the initial data with the hope that we could have a fully operational weather satellite within the year. 

For more information, you can go to the GOES website

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