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New satellite to play big role in weather forecasting and spotting fires

On November 19, 2016 the GOES-16 satellite was successfully launched into orbit from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

The satellite’s advanced spacecraft and instrument technology will play a huge role for meteorologists when it comes to making forecasts and issuing warnings, amongst other things.

“The G in GOES is it’s geostationary, which means it stays over one spot on the Earth,” said John Dumas, Science and Operations Officer at the Los Angeles/Oxnard National Weather Service. “It turns around the Earth at the same rate that the Earth is turning.”

Just ten days after launch, the new GOES-16 weather satellite was placed in orbit 22,000 miles away and is in a trial run that will last about a year from liftoff.

“How you see the screen refreshing and those blotches, that’s why we still have to say this is non-operational, they’re just testing it,” Dumas said.

Dumas and his team are among the few who will be helping to test data from GOES-16.

“We being a West Coast office, we don’t have a whole lot of sensors to the west of us to tell us weather conditions,” Dumas explained. “They were actually testing with us to see can the information get here and is there enough of it.”

The huge amount of information coming in from the new satellite gives weather experts views like they’ve never seen before.

“The resolution you can see such fine detail in it and at such a small time rate,” Dumas said. “We’re actually discovering things. What’s exciting is we don’t even know what they are yet!”

The new images will help meteorologists monitor and study different weather patterns from coast to coast.

“You’re seeing thunderstorms blowing up and just the detail and the number of images we see really tells us about how the atmosphere is reacting,” said Warning Coordination Meteorologist Eric Boldt.

And, it also allows the meteorologists to learn something new every day.

“We gain more knowledge on how the fog behaves and how the stratus behaves and we know that this fog can kind of creep in,” said Mark Jackson, the Los Angeles/Oxnard National Weather Service Meteorologist In Charge.

This important information will help drivers plan their daily commute and air traffic control shorten delays at the airport.

“Able to see on the better time resolution with this satellite, they’d be able to see the fog clearing more quickly,” Dumas said.

The new satellite will also help improve the detection of fires and their intensity.

“We can use it to spot fires that might be starting and then combine it with those aerosol channels; we see the smoke from the fire, we see the hot spot,” Dumas said.

This means meteorologists can keep a closer eye on wildfires and alert firefighters if needed.

“A lot of times our fires will start from lightning, we have dry lightning especially, so being able to see lightning flashes through this technology will be really useful as well,” said meteorologist Ryan Kittell.

The products will also help forecasters be more accurate and faster ahead of threatening weather.

“We can actually see it forming, that’s what we expected to see and that verifies,” Boldt said. “We can go ahead and put out an advisory or warning, whatever’s needed.”

The work in Oxnard is kicking off a program that will continue to make a significant difference in forecasting for decades to come.

“And as it’s moving over the water, before it hits land, now we have a better lead time, a better heads up on what it might do once it hits land,” Jackson said.

This satellite is the first of four going into orbit.

The second one, GOES-S, is slated for launch in 2018.

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