This weekend weather history will be made. The much anticipated launch of GOES-R will improve weather forecasting for years to come.
Most importantly for our severe weather coverage it will provide us better lead time for tornadoes, damaging winds and lightning. Some of this new technology has been developed and researched right here in North Alabama. The mission is set to lift off on a ULA Atlas V rocket on Saturday, Nov. 19 from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The launch window is 4:42-5:42 p.m. CST.
This weather satellite is the first of four satellites to be launched for NOAA in a new and advanced series of spacecraft. It will provide images of weather patterns and severe storms as frequent as every five minutes. There will also be a rapid scan region capable of smaller, more detailed images in areas where storm activity is present or expected. These images will be used to aid in everyday forecasts, severe weather outlooks, and watches and warnings, assessing lightning conditions, and improving maritime and aviation forecasts. It also will assist in long-term forecasting, such as seasonal predictions and drought outlooks. In addition, the satellite constantly will monitor space weather conditions, like solar flares, to provide advance notice of potential communication and navigation disruptions. The satellite also will assist researchers in understanding the interactions between land, oceans, the atmosphere and climate. The satellite was built by Lockheed Martin and has many local ties.
Local Connection - UAH
The GOES-R Convective initiation product developed by SPoRT at UAH in Huntsville has been under development for several years and will only be helped by the higher resolution and more timely updates from GOES-R. http://weather.msfc.nasa.gov/sport/training/uahci_v2/GOES-R_CI_Quick_Guide.pdf It will allow forecasters to be able to better determine which cumulus clouds are more likely to grow into thunderstorms over the next 35 minutes to an hour. This will help with advanced warnings on days we are under a severe thunderstorm or tornado watch. It will also aid the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma when trying to figure out the best time to issue tornado and severe thunderstorm watches. They will have more confidence when it comes to putting a watch out sooner or holding back on when the event is more in question.
Mapping Total Lightning
UAH first developed it's Lightning Mapping Array in North Alabama back in 2001. They have been researching it ever since. Currently most of the lightning data you see on air and on the First Alert Weather App is cloud to ground lightning. It is lightning detected from a network of more than 100 remote, ground-based sensing stations across the United States. This data is mapped by the National Lightning Detection Network and then transmitted within seconds of a strike with the location, time, polarity and amplitude of each strike to users across the country. The lightning mapper developed at UAH will provide the total mapping of all lightning.
Research has shown that the ability to get the total lightning from a storm can show the development of stronger updrafts within these storms when present. This helps provide advanced warning to storms that are becoming severe. This lightning jump signature (dramatic increase in the number of lightning strikes in a particular storm over a short period of time) can also help determine which storms are more likely to produce tornados in real time. This provides more information to help reduce the number of false alarms with tornado warnings. http://www.uah.edu/news/research/lightning-jump-might-give-warning-of-violent-weather-before-radar-can Inter-cloud lightning can be used to determine if a cloud to ground strike is about to happen or is more likely. Lightning is called the underrated killer for a reason. It almost always strikes with no warning. If we can develop a product that warns of an imminent lightning strike we could one day be able to delay outdoor events before you see that first cloud to ground strike.
Many of these new products will be tested and optimized over the next six months, and the satellite could become totally operational in 2017. Here are some of the other capabilities that come with this new satellite: Better hurricane tracks and intensity, help with heavy rain threats and flash flooding risk, better monitoring of smoke and dust leading to improved air quality alerts, better fire detection and intensity estimates, improved transportation safety and aviation flight planning, improved warning for communication and navigation disruptions and power blackouts, and monitoring of energetic particles responsible for radiation hazards.
We are planning to stream the launch live on the WAFF 48 Facebook page this Saturday afternoon/evening. If you'd like to read more about GOES-R or see any of the instrumentation onboard, you can go to http://www.goes-r.gov/mission/mission.html
Meteorologist David Ernst