GOES Satellites Monitor the Earth For Severe Weather


A go is a lot of things: the energy to pursue something; the spirit that propels one through a tough situation; the ability to do a task at an optimal level. But, when it comes to meteorology, a go is also an important piece of the puzzle: The GOES satellites in geostationary orbit constantly monitor the Earth for severe weather conditions like tornadoes, flash floods, hail storms and hurricanes.

The GOES (Government Operations Satellite) system consists of four satellites in a quad-satellite configuration, each with two instruments: an Imager and a Sounder.

GOES is NOAA’s primary satellite program, providing near-real-time imagery of the Earth to support meteorological forecasting and warnings. Each satellite can be assigned to a specific geographic region, such as the East Coast of the US, West Coast of the US, or a particular continent. The GOES-R series of satellites provides the next generation of GOES imagery and data for NOAA’s National Weather Service and is being developed by Lockheed Martin on the A2100 satellite bus.

GOES satellites are named for their first letter (A, B, C, etc) and then once they reach orbit they are designated by a number (1, 2, 3, etc). Those that were launched successfully have been redesignated with numbers (A-F, skipping GOES-G, as GOES-H to GOES-16, skipping GOES-Q because it never got built).

Each of the GOES-R satellites has two instruments: the Advanced Baseline Imager for multispectral imaging and the Extreme Ultraviolet and X-ray Irradiance Sensors for solar monitoring. GOES-R also has a new feature called the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM), which will provide a high-resolution view of lightning activity in real time.

The GOES-R series of satellites is designed to last for at least seven years, though they will carry excess fuel to allow them to operate longer if necessary. They are designed to be a third of the size and weight of their predecessors, with lower power requirements.

Unlike POES satellites, which track storms in the polar regions, GOES-R satellites stay in geostationary orbit above a fixed point on Earth and provide continuous surveillance of a specific region. This allows meteorologists to be more nimble in the way they respond to the atmospheric “triggers” that lead to severe weather events like thunderstorms, tornadoes and hurricanes. They can also provide vital images to monitor wildfires and estimate rainfall. GOES-R images are used daily for forecasting and in warnings issued by NOAA’s National Weather Service. This is particularly important for hurricanes because the more detailed images GOES-R can provide can lead to improved hurricane track and intensity predictions. This year, the GOES-R system has been particularly busy with hurricanes and has already captured some remarkable images. [5]