WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – A lifesaving weather satellite a decade in the making will lift into the heavens next month with a payload of aspirations to solve some of the atmosphere’s most vexing meteorological puzzles.
The GOES-R satellite, which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said will revolutionize forecasting, is scheduled for liftoff Nov. 16 from Cape Canaveral. Hurricane Matthew delayed an earlier date.
NOAA has not sent a new weather satellite to space in nearly seven years.
“The satellites up now have a life span and they are reaching the end of that life span,” said Kevin Cooley, director of the office of planning and programming for service delivery at the National Weather Service. “This will be like going from black and white TV to big screen high-resolution.”
Equipped with a state-of-the-art camera, the satellite can scan the Earth five times faster and with four times the resolution of current satellites.
It also has a geostationary lightning mapper — the first of its kind in orbit — that will help determine whether a thunderstorm is deepening by looking at not just cloud-to-ground lightning, but cloud-to-cloud lightning.
Currently, forecasters use lightning data provided by ground-based instruments that detect only cloud-to-ground lightning.
GOES-R will orbit with the Earth, keeping pace with the planet’s spin with a focus mostly on North America.
GOES stands for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite, and the GOES-R is the latest in a series of GOES satellites that was first launched in 1975.
GOES-R has six instruments, two of which are specifically geared for weather, including the geostationary lightning mapper. The other is the advanced baseline imager, which is basically a camera that will send back images more quickly and with more detail. It can scan half the Earth in five minutes. In severe weather, forecasters can request a scan every 30 seconds.
A key piece that researchers believe GOES-R will help advance is predicting hurricane intensity with a more intimate look at the very heart of tropical cyclones.
“One facet to forecasting hurricanes is looking closely at the eyewall, its shape, and how that shape changes over time,” Cooley said. “Forecasters will have access to near real-time imagery taken of formed and forming hurricanes in much greater detail.”
Intensity, especially rapid intensification, is a weak link in tropical cyclone meteorology. Last year, Hurricane Joaquin deepened from a tropical storm to a Category 3 hurricane in 24 hours, raking over the Bahamas. Early forecasts had indicated that there would be little to no strengthening.
Also in 2015, Hurricane Patricia’s winds in the Pacific Ocean rocketed from a Category 1 storm to a 207-mph Category 5 in 24 hours.