NOAA’s Most-Advanced Weather Satellite Ever Now Officially Operational

Captured by the GOES-16 satellite on August 25, 2017 at 23:00 UTC, this image shows Hurricane Harvey as it reaches peak intensity of Category 4 with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph.

The U.S. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s next-generation geostationary weather satellite known as GOES-16 is now officially operational after moving into its new GOES-East position, where it will observe weather and provide critical data to forecasters from more than 22,000 miles above the earth’s atmosphere.

Since its launch in November 2016, the GOES-16, even in its testing phase, already proved vital for forecasters and emergency managers during 2017’s active hurricane season.

Now in its operational orbit at 75.2 degrees west longitude (the GOES East position), it is ready to give forecasters with sharper, more defined images of severe storms, hurricanes, wildfires and other weather hazards in near real-time, and cover a region including the West Coast of Africa, the central Atlantic Ocean, and the continental United States.

An illustration showing the GOES-16 satellite and its instruments.

“GOES-16 has proven to be one of the most important tools we’ve ever developed for our weather and hazard forecasts,” said retired Navy Rear Adm. Timothy Gallaudet, Ph.D., acting NOAA administrator. “From its impressive first image of Earth last January to monitoring tropical storms and wildfires, GOES-16 has and will continue to greatly improve our ability to visualize potential threats, and enhance forecasts and warnings to save lives and protect property.”

Already, GOES-16 provided critical data which aided in emergency preparedness during this year’s extremely active hurricane season, delivering experimental imagery with detail and clarity never before achieved with existing satellites. Its high resolution – four times higher than previous NOAA satellites – and views of Earth taken every 30 seconds allowed forecasters to monitor how and when storms developed.

Data from GOES-16 also allowed forecasters to better assess and predict how much rain Hurricane Harvey would produce over Texas and see its rapid intensification, along with hurricanes Irma, Jose, and Maria.

Hurricane Harvey landfall satellite
GOES-16 captured this geocolor imagery of Hurricane Harvey on the verge of making landfall on the Texas coast on August 25, 2017. Credit: CIRA

In addition to hurricanes, GOES-16 data helped monitor and detect wildfires, and gave forecasters detailed images of wildfire smoke, enhancing their air quality forecasts. Imagery from GOES-16 helped forecasters spot new wildfires in California, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, and determine which fires were hottest and where the fires were spreading.

GOES-16 testing showed potential improvements for aviation weather forecasting and airport operations. Forecasters are now able to predict with greater accuracy than before when fog and clouds will form and clear. The new satellite can also detect turbulence, enabling forecasters to issue timely advisories, aiding in aircraft and passenger safety.

“We are using the GOES-16 data in ways we planned and in ways we didn’t even imagine,” said National Weather Service director Louis Uccellini, Ph.D. “GOES-16 has been a game changer for monitoring hurricanes, wildfires, severe storms, and lightning. Now that it is operational and the data is incorporated into the forecast process, we will be able to use it across all our service areas, starting with winter storms.”

Data from GOES-16 has been available to NOAA forecasters and the national and international weather modeling and forecasting community during the satellite’s testing phase and will continue to be made available.

GOES-16 is the first in the series of next-generation geostationary satellites. The next new NOAA satellite, GOES-S is scheduled to launch March 1, 2018 followed by GOES-T in 2020 and GOES-U in 2024.