The GOES-R satellite was launched on November 19 with promises to change weather forecasting forever – from black and white to high-definition.
Launched from Cape Canaveral, the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) program is a joint venture of NASA and NOAA. While two GOES spacecraft are orbiting the planet from about 22,000 miles away, the the third satellite brings to the table a range of new Earth observation as well as scientific instruments including the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) and the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM).
The current GOES series of satellites observes the Earth at five different spectral bands, called “channels,” of energy – one channel covers sunlight reflection, and four channels probe different levels of thermal radiation emitted by the Earth’s surface and atmosphere. The new ABI instrument on GOES-R will provide 16 channels, giving scientists far more information about the Earth and its weather. This includes, for the first time in over 50 years, a true-color picture of the planet, compared to the black-and-white imagery from the current GOES series.
Further, thanks to the ABI, scientists will be able to observe the Earth in much higher definition – up to four times the spatial resolution for some channels – and will collect pictures of the planet at a faster cadence than the 15-minute resolution of the old series. The ABI can also scan features of interest, such as hurricanes or thunderstorms, at 1-minute or even 30-second intervals. This high refresh rate will allow forecasters to observe storm structures that evolve too rapidly for legacy sensors to capture, but hold key information related to severe weather onset.
The scientifically and instrumentally enhanced satellite means that weather forecasters will have more accurate information to use when making time-critical forecasts of weather events year-round. This will include severe storms and squall lines in the spring and summer months, tropical cyclones in the late summer and early fall, and powerful winter weather systems.
Development of satellite-based products and forecaster-friendly tools has been at the core of research at the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere (CIRA) at Colorado State University since its inception in 1980. As part of the nationwide GOES-R Proving Ground initiative, sponsored by NOAA, researchers at CIRA have developed several new forecast products to use the new features of GOES-R. They are in the process of deploying these products to NOAA regional centers and National Weather Service forecast offices nationwide.
The lightning mapper instrument, called the GLM, will provide better forecast capabilities for both severe storms over land and tropical weather at sea, including enhanced identification of tropical storms as they rapidly intensify into powerful systems. The recent devastation caused by Hurricane Matthew as it roared through the Caribbean before hitting the U.S. eastern seaboard demonstrates the need for the best possible information for these storms.