GOES Satellites Improve Weather Forecasting and Meteorological Research

GOES stands for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite. The GOES program is an essential part of NOAA’s National Weather Service operations. GOES provides continuous, dependable, high-quality data to meteorologists and the broader weather community. This critical information is used to support weather forecasting, severe storm tracking and meteorological research.

The GOES satellites orbit the Earth in a geosynchronous orbit, 35,790 kilometres (22,240 miles) above the Earth’s surface. This allows the GOES spacecraft to continuously monitor one area of the Earth from a fixed position. The GOES satellites have multiple instruments that measure the brightness of Earth-emitted and reflected radiation. The resulting measurements provide data on atmospheric temperature, winds, moisture and cloud cover.

The newest GOES satellites (GOES-16 and GOES-17) offer increased image resolution and faster temporal cadence. This improved imaging will enhance the capabilities of NOAA National Weather Service Weather Forecast Offices and national centers, especially during hazardous weather events such as severe thunderstorms or wildfires. Additionally, the new ten-minute full-disk imagery will improve the capability to detect volcanic ash clouds and their movements which are important to aviation safety.

For example, during the busiest Atlantic storm season on record in 2020, GOES-16 and 17 provided frequent images of the rapidly developing hurricanes. These detailed images allowed meteorologists to track the development of these severe storms and predict their strength. Additionally, GOES-16 and 17 observed the development of the huge wildfires in Florida and the Pacific Northwest, allowing NOAA meteorologists to provide accurate forecasts for fire behavior.

GOES-17 is also equipped with the new Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM). GLM measures when and where lightning occurs over the United States, which can help improve tornado prediction as well as the detection of storm severity and development.

Another new GOES instrument is the Enhanced Visible and Infrared Sensor, which uses both visible and infrared channels to observe and monitor clouds and precipitation. This sensor can also measure the temperature of the atmosphere and monitor ice crystals, which are essential for severe storm prediction.

In addition, GOES-17 has the Space Environment Services Center’s Solar X-ray Imager (SXI) that provides high-cadence monitoring of large solar features and is able to detect the effects of a flare on satellite communications and navigation systems, electric power networks, the missions of spacecraft astronauts on the International Space Station and high-altitude aviators.

The next satellites in the GOES-R series are expected to be launched in 2022 and 2024. The GOES-R series will continue to use the Advanced Baseline Imager and Sounder for multispectral imaging, as well as the new Geostationary Lightning Mapper and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Sounder (GOES-R Sounder). These sensors will be upgraded with better resolutions and improved speed. The new GOES-R spacecraft will also have the Hazardous Solar Atmospheric Radiation Sensor and the Space Environment Modeling and Prediction System. This will allow the GOES-R series to continuously monitor atmospheric phenomena such as severe local storms and tornadoes. The GOES-R spacecraft also has the capacity to track polar cyclones, allowing forecasters to accurately predict the movement of these dangerous weather phenomena.