22 June 2009

Oregon Isn't The Only Thing That's Green!

Posted by Dan Satterfield

IMG_0949The American Meteorological Society has thousands of members in all types of atmospheric disciplines. The smallest group is likely the broadcast Meteorologists. We have a little over 100 attendees here in Portland at the the 37th annual AMS Conference on Broadcast Meteorology. I know what you are thinking. A room full of 100 people with very good haircuts.

You might be surprised though. We come in all colours, shapes and sizes. I even have a slight green tint to my hair due to a hotel pool in Seaside Oregon. It’s a long story, and believe me, it was a real shock, considering I was three days away from presenting at a Climate Seminar that kicked off the conference!

Online remedies included white vinegar, and crushing a bunch of aspirin up, and mixing with shampoo. Mixed results, but it seems a bit better. Apparently this is a result of my attempt to hold off my rapidly greying hair with a grocery store product! I haven’t told my News Director about this yet, but someone at the station will read this and pass it on I suspect!

The conference has been quite good today. We had an update on the GOES satellite program. Almost all of the weather satellites you see on TV, or online are from the GOES. GOES stands for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite.

They are at the same altitude as the satellites that are used for TV signals. At 35,780 km high they take exactly 23 hours, 56 minutes and 47 seconds to orbit the Earth. This is precisely how long it takes for the Earth to turn once on it’s axis. They therefore, hover over the same spot, and with infrared sensors, you can get satellite images of any spot in the USA, every 15 minutes. Around the clock. In rapid scan mode, every 7.5 minutes. (The more observant of you might be wondering why your clock takes exactly 24 hours to go around, not 23 hours 56 mins. and 47 secs.! You should!- Here is a hint: SUN)

GOESLogoV4A new GOES will be launched in a few days. GOES O will likely become Goes 14. They are given a letter before launch, but once operational, they are given a number. The current GOES satellite, that covers much of the Eastern 2/3rds of North America, is designated as GOES 12. GOES 13 is already in orbit, but in storage. This new GOES will not significantly improve our abilities to monitor the weather.

The big improvement will come with the GOES R series in 2015. The next generation of satellites will have higher resolution and sensors capable of “seeing” much more, in the non visible wavelengths. It will also be able to give a close to true colour look at the Earth. The reason you cannot get true colour now, is that there is no sensor for the green wavelengths. (True colour requires Red, Green and Blue) Money is the reason. Big cost for little gain according to what was said today by James Gurka, of NOAA NESDIS.

Perhaps the greatest advance will be the new GLM. That stands for Geostationary Lightning Mapping sensor. We will be able to see real time lightning data across the entire western hemisphere. Not just cloud to ground data like you see on TV during stormy weather now, but cloud to cloud, and in cloud lightning. (Yes that is what it’s really called, I am not simplifying names here!)

I am asked often about the lack of lightning warnings. We warn for severe storms and tornadoes, but why not for lightning?? It’s a good question and there is not one single answer. The gist of it though, is that we do not have enough data or knowledge to do a decent job of it. We should though, because lightning kills more people in the USA, in an average year, than hurricanes or tornadoes.

Portland sunset Monday night from my balcony.

Portland sunset Monday night from my balcony. Click for full pic.

That is changing though, and by the end of the next decade, I think we will indeed have the ability. Frankly, we should have already had GOES R in orbit. The USA is falling behind Europe in remote sensing. Many grad students now go there to work on their research, because they have satellites with the newest technology up already.

A satellite built to gather information on climate crashed into the ocean recently. Who knows if a replacement will be built. Science has truly suffered in this country. I have written before about the war on science, the fact that GOES 14 will not go up for 6 years is at least partially a result.

These satellites cost each American a few pennies per day to operate, and it has been said that if they could see only hurricanes and nothing else, the cost would have been worth it, ten times over! They see much more though. I will do a post soon and show you just how much information is available in one satellite image!

G’nite from a cool and green Portland. Green, in more ways than one!

ps “colour” is correct with or without the u, and I like it with the u. So get over it! 😉