NOAA Satellites on the Lookout for Tropical Storm Activity

May 22, 2008

Artist's rendition of NOAA satellite.

Artist's rendition of NOAA satellite.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

With today’s release of the 2008 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook, the head of NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service said the agency’s fleet of high-powered spacecraft is ready to send forecasters images of any storm that develops in the Western Hemisphere.

“Our satellites are in great shape and are closely monitoring the oceans for any signs of tropical storm activity,” said Mary Kicza, assistant administrator for NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service.

NOAA operates two types of satellites — Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) and Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellites (POES) — that monitor the weather, including conditions that trigger hurricanes and the dangerous inland flooding and tornadoes that often accompany them.

“Tropical storms and hurricanes often pose a significant risk to lives and property,” Kicza added. “Seeing a storm’s momentum from space is critical for accurate track forecasts and advance warnings to people in harm’s way.” 

Satellite data are used in combination with hurricane buoys in the water, hurricane hunter airplanes, air-borne Doppler radar, dropwindsondes and the experience and skill of NOAA’s forecasters to predict a storm’s path and impacts.

NOAA has four GOES spacecraft — two are in use, covering the continental U.S. and the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, one is stored in orbit as a ready backup and the remaining GOES is providing better coverage for South America, as part of the World Meteorological Organization’s World Weather Watch Global Observing System.

GOES, which are the prime hurricane spotters in orbit, hover in a fixed position 22,500 miles above the east and west coasts and take constant images of these storms and track their movement.

In addition to managing GOES, NOAA and a European space agency, collectively operate two polar-orbiting satellites — NOAA-18, a NOAA POES spacecraft that circles the globe in an afternoon orbit, while MetOp-A, the European satellite, flies in the morning orbit.

POES, flying 540 miles over the Earth, can detect features in the atmosphere and oceans that could lead to possible tropical storm development.

“We also have an organized back-up system in place, including international partnerships, to handle any technical glitches that may arise with the satellites. We’ll be able to keep monitoring storms this season and beyond,” Kicza said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 70 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.