10 June 2015
I spent the day in a short course on weather satellites here in Raleigh,NC today. The course is part of the 43rd AMS Conference on Broadcast Meteorology, and I was invited to present a talk about some experimental products I evaluated at the NOAA Hazardous Weather Test-Bed last June. We spent the day looking at exactly what the GOES-R will be able to see, and what each of the visible and IR channels can see best. The GOES-R will not have a green channel, so we will not get a true colour image from the new satellite, but using a combination of other channels should allow for a product that produces something close to one. The Japanese Himawari satellite does have the ability to produce a true colour image, although the green channel is not at the perfect wavelength, so it looks slightly muddy.
If all “GOES” well, the U.S. will launch a new weather satellite next March called GOES-R. This new Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) will revolutionize the way we forecast everything from severe storms to hurricanes, and while the U.S. still has no atmospheric sounder (It was taken off GOES-R due to budget cuts), we will catch up for a while at least to Europe and Japan (as far as imaging satellites go). I say for a while, because Europe already is building an even more advanced satellite that will launch in a couple of years. Unfortunately, the U.S. is also behind Europe in numerical weather prediction as well, with the USAF deciding a few weeks ago to go with a UK weather model instead of a U.S. model.
The new GOES-R will also have an instrument to detect lightning from space, and while you are used you seeing lightning strikes on TV weather reports, you are only seeing cloud to ground strikes and not “in cloud” flashes. It turns out that the total cloud flashes are a very valuable tool in forecasting severe thunderstorms, and when the total flashes increase, the storm usually strengthens a few minutes later. I saw this first hand at the Hazardous Weather Testbed in Norman,OK.
There is also a connection to lightning flash rate and hurricane strength as well, and with the intensity forecasts of hurricanes remaining a major forecast problem, this should be very valuable data. We will also be seeing images of much higher resolution and instead of every 15 minutes, it will come every 5 mins and sometimes in serious weather situations, every 30 seconds. A spare GOES satellite in orbit now can produce one minute imagery at lower resolution, and you can see what it looks like below:
This annual conference hosted by the American Metr. Society is for meteorologists who work on TV, and there is concern that the main weather vendors may not be ready to supply GOES-R data to broadcasters when it is available. Since almost all TV stations use weather graphics equipment from two main companies (which is why weathercasts around the country look so similar), there is reason to worry that based on past performance, they may not be ready for the new satellite era this may cause major delays in our ability to show GOES-R data.
Many broadcast meteorologists already grab raw data directly from polar orbiting satellites, and show it on air, but this takes time. During severe weather situations (when this is most useful), we are already on air, and cannot pause to download it manually. After today’s short course, I suspect they will be hearing from many of my fellow on-air mets about this during the conference this week.
One way to really improve our models and short-term severe weather forecasts (and even the longer range forecasts) would be to launch a satellite with an atmospheric sounder that can measure temperatures and even moisture at different levels of the atmosphere, but unlike Europe or Japan, this was dropped because of the cost. It almost seems that the our weather data outlook is starting to look like our roads and airports compared to many other countries, a bit out-dated with a lot of rough spots. If we invade Belgium or Japan though, the Air Force weather folks are in good shape, with a great model and superb satellite data!