How advanced satellite is changing the way we track weather

GOES 16 Satellite (Courtesy: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — On November 19, 2016, weather history was made with the launch of the GOES 16 weather satellite.

GOES stands for “ Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite.” It is considered one of the most advanced weather satellites in the world, opening the window for significant improvements in real-time weather observations, measurements and day-to-day forecasting, covering the Earth’s entire Western Hemisphere.

The GOES 16 has many improvements over the older satellites that we currently use, including:

  • Higher image resolution (sharper, crisp detail)
  • More frequency of data (large volumes of data over a short period of time)
  • Real-time mapping of lightning strikes
  • Monitors sun activity, including solar flares from the surface of the sun
  • Improved warning times for severe weather (tornadoes, hurricanes, flash floods)
  • Accurate tracking of lightning and thunderstorms over the oceans, too distant for land-based radar and sometimes difficult to see with satellites. Will support safe navigation for aviators and mariners.

The new mapper also detects in-cloud lightning, which often occurs five to 10 minutes or more before potentially deadly cloud-to-ground strikes. Rapid increases of lightning are a signal that a storm is strengthening and could become more dangerous. This means more valuable time for forecasters to alert those involved in outdoor activities to the developing threat.

While GOES 16 data is available to our Pinpoint Weather Team for forecasting, the information is still considered experimental and will not be officially operational until this fall. Regardless, our team is currently analyzing this raw data daily, especially during periods of severe summer weather. It’s going to be especially helpful as we get closer to the more active portion of hurricane season (August and September).

All this week, the Pinpoint Weather Team will be taking an in-depth look at the potential threats summer can bring and showing you how we track severe weather so you can prepare. 

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