GOES Gives HD Weather With Little Latency

By Scott Spangler on April 23rd, 2018

20181071530_GOES16-ABI-FD-GEOCOLOR-678x678Mother Nature’s springtime blizzard that dumped more than a foot of snow over an appetizer of freezing rain and ice encouraged me to spend the weekend indoors. Searching for some clue of how many more courses this banquet of wind and snow she would serve led me to the discovery of NOAA’s newest generation of weather satellites, GOES-R.

GOES is short for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite. When launched, the satellites are identified by letter, and GOES-R is not GOES-16, aka GOES East, because that is its geostationary perspective of the Western Hemisphere. GOES-S, the second of the four-satellite system that will provide a weather eye through 2036, reached its geostationary home at 22,300 miles above ground level in March 2018. GOES-17, aka GOES-West, is now undergoing testing and calibration, it will begin supplying imagery in May.

Compared to its predecessors, the new GOES collect three time more data, provide four times better resolution, and more than five times faster coverage (about every 30 seconds). Onboard is the first-ever geostationary lightning mapper; the GLM detects the flashes at the tops of clouds day and night and counts frequency, location, extent, and the total number of in-cloud and cloud-to-ground strikes, all critical cues to severe weather.


Beyond seeing in the visible and infrared spectrums, GOES monitor space weather and images the sun, which are the broad categories of the 34 meteorological, solar, and space weather products the satellites provide. Another 31 may be made available, said the website, as future capabilities. If space weather seems an oxymoron, think solar winds and geomagnetic storms and consider their consequences on our communication, transportation, and electrical power systems.

The new satellite’s increased resolution and transmission gives meteorologists a near real-time look at overall and targeted mesoscale coverage of small regions. In other words, reducing data latency enables more advance warnings of the formation and evolution of severe weather. And when hiding from or getting out of town when Mother Nature is storming forward in one of her moods, more time is always better.

Pilots should readily appreciate GOES contribution to the weather reports and forecasting essential for a safe flight. But since the first GOES satellite was launched in 1975, they have all carried another system pilots depend on, a search and rescue subsystem that listens for emergency locator transmitters carried by aircraft, ships, and individuals. A dedicated transponder detects and relays the signals to a SARSAT ground station.

After learning all this I finally found what I was looking for, online access to the GOES-16’s images. The GOES-East image viewer gives you the Earth’s full disk, but you can zoom in with a click of the mouse. A Colorado State site gives real-time access and a 24-hour loop that is addictive. And it looks like I have a bit of time before I have to dust off the snow blower and see if I can awaken it from its three-year nap. – Scott Spangler, Editor


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