Eyes in the Sky Are On Storms

NOAA Satellites Crucial in Accurate Hurricane Forecasting


Igor's Wake Seen in Ocean Temperature Data

Igor's Wake Seen in Ocean Temperature Data
Hurricane Igor, the 4th Atlantic hurricane of the 2010 season, reached Category 4 intensity with sustained winds of 155 mph and became the second largest storm by aerial coverage ever observed in the Atlantic. The size and strength of Igor left a noticeable wake of cool water behind the storm, as shown in the graphic, which uses an infrared satellite sea surface temperature dataset and a comparison of the historical average of that particular day from 1971-2000. As hurricanes move across the ocean basins, heat energy is extracted from the water to fuel the storm, resulting in cooler temperatures after the storm passes through.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA NSSL)

During the busy hurricane season, NOAA’s National Hurricane Center in Miami is buzzing with activity. It’s all hands on deck and all eyes glued to computer screens for NOAA forecasters as they interpret the latest data, while coastal residents and emergency managers anxiously await the next updated storm forecast.

Far away from South Florida — thousands of miles above the equator, in fact — high-flying technology is also lending a hand. NOAA satellites stand watch over our skies and seas 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and they’re high on the list of the many tools used by hurricane forecasters.

NOAA operates two types of environmental satellites:

With their expansive field of view, the satellites are capable of detecting atmospheric conditions that can trigger hurricanes and the dangerous inland flooding and tornadoes that often result.

“NOAA’s satellites are incredibly valuable instruments in our forecasting arsenal,” says Bill Read, director of NOAA’s National Hurricane Center in Miami. “Thanks to these spacecraft we are able to continuously monitor the track of any hurricane as it approaches the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.”

While GOES does the space-based heavy lifting for hurricane forecasters by providing continuous imagery over active and developing systems as well as intensity estimates, POES provides a unique set of data including information for input into weather forecasting models. It’s a valuable one-two punch for meteorologists.

Hurricane Earl and tropical storms Fiona and Gaston.

A Sept. 2 GOES image of a trio of storms headed in the direction of the East Coast Hurricane. As Hurricane Earl neared the East Coast, two lesser tropical systems, Fiona and Gaston, lingered behind.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Technology With a World View

NOAA has five GOES spacecraft. GOES-13 and GOES-11 are constantly taking images of the continental United States and the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, respectively. GOES-12 was recently repositioned and is providing enhanced coverage for South America. Two newer spacecraft, GOES-14 and GOES-15, are being stored in orbit as backups.

In addition to operating GOES, NOAA and the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites collectively operate two polar-orbiting satellites. NOAA-19, a POES spacecraft, circles the globe in an afternoon orbit. MetOp-A, the European satellite, conducts the morning orbit and transmits valuable sea-surface wind information.

Data from the orbiting satellites, buoys in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, and hurricane hunter aircraft flown by NOAA and the US Air Force Reserve are fed into sophisticated numerical computer models, which are interpreted by the personnel at the National Hurricane Center. The end result is an accurate forecast that millions of residents in and visitors traveling through hurricane-prone areas rely on.

Be storm ready! Learn more about how to prepare for a hurricane at www.hurricanes.gov/prepare. You can find out more about NOAA’s environmental satellites and view cool satellite imagery by visiting www.noaa.gov/satellites.

Posted Sept. 27, 2010 NOAA logo.