How GOES Satellites Monitor Storms


Since the launch of SMS-1 in 1974, geosynchronous equatorial satellites (GOES) have been a basic element of U.S. weather monitoring and forecasting. The GOES system, operated by NOAA, has a long history of collecting detailed data on storms and severe weather events from high above Earth. GOES satellites orbit about 35,800 kilometers (22,300 miles) above the Earth and track a specific region. The data they collect allows meteorologists to keep a close eye on storms, severe thunderstorms and tornadoes as they develop.

GOES images are collected using a variety of instruments. Some satellites are equipped with the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) that provides multispectral imaging. This allows meteorologists to see different aspects of the same storm and make better predictions. Others may be equipped with the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) which measures the intensity of lightning strikes on and around Earth as well as detecting when clouds are ripe for lightning build-up.

When these data are collected and analyzed, meteorologists can provide information to the public on storm threats. The GOES images can also be used by researchers, who can use the information to study things such as climate change, solar activity and how air masses move over our planet.

The GOES program is a partnership between NOAA and NASA. NASA manages the design, development and launch of the spacecraft while NOAA oversees the operation of them once in orbit. This collaboration makes GOES satellites an important component of the National Weather Service.

NOAA’s latest GOES satellite is called GOES-R, and it successfully launched in November 2016. It will be known as GOES-16 when it reaches geostationary orbit, where it will remain permanently positioned above the same spot on Earth.

As the GOES-R satellites are put into orbit, NOAA will transfer operational control of them to the NOAA’s Satellite Operations Center in Suitland, Maryland. During times of significant weather or other events, NOAA’s GOES schedule can be altered to provide the desired coverage.

There are two GOES satellites currently in orbit, GOES-13 and GOES-15. Both are slated to be replaced by the next-generation satellites in 2024.

NOAA’s GOES-R satellites are being designed to have a longer operational lifetime than the previous generation of satellites. This will help NOAA maintain its commitment to providing reliable and timely weather data. NOAA has plans to include a new version of the ABI instrument on all of its GOES-R series satellites as well as other state-of-the-art sensors such as the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM). For more details about GOES-R and its capabilities, check out NOAA’s GOES-R page.