Weather Satellites: Forecasting and Monitoring Weather From Space

The advent of satellite imagery has brought about many advantages to weather forecasters. Long before this technology, lots of weather forecasting was done blindly without any equipment that could predict accurate weather patterns. The effects of this lack of technology were felt by the people of Galveston, Texas, when a hurricane took about 6000 lives on September 9, 1990. It is considered one of the worst hurricanes that the US has ever encountered. After this event, experts started pushing for technology that could give them a head start on bad weather conditions. First, radar was adapted in the 1950s, which helps experts visualize local precipitation. Ten years later, TIROS-1, the first weather satellite, was launched. This satellite orbited the earth from the polar orbit, i.e., north to south. However, severe weather changes fast and requires more persistent monitoring to keep us updated. A satellite that is placed at 23000 miles over the equator would match the earth’s rotation speed. Such a geostationary satellite would keep an eye on clouds as they develop and ensure that forecasters are one step ahead of the hurricane. Early experiments proved this concept was attainable, and the first geostationary operational environmental satellite – NOAA’s GOES 1 was launched in 1975. Since then, over four generations of GOES have kept us one step ahead and significantly reduced the loss of life from storms and hurricanes. You can know more about satellites, and they help monitor our environment from this site

Types of weather satellites

Polar-Orbiting Weather Satellites

These are the closest satellites to earth launched at an orbit of about 500 miles. They are placed at the polar orbit hence their name, and orbit the earth from north to south. Their orbit permits them to take high-resolution images, as you must have guessed. However, the downside is that they can cover only a small area on earth at a particular time.

These satellites do not go over the same place more than one time a day. This helps them cover more ground and show a complete image of what is happening globally. That is why satellites in the earth’s orbit are best for monitoring the ozone layer and long-term weather forecasting. However, they are not very efficient at tracking the growth of individual hurricanes. That is where geostationary satellites come into play.

Geostationary Weather Satellites

These satellites were created because of the constant need to stay one step ahead of bad weather. They sit over the equator and rotate at the same speed as the earth. Due to their orbit, they have the possibility to watch the same area throughout the day constantly. This is very helpful when forecasting the development of severe weather conditions. It gives people watching from the ground the impression that the satellite is stagnant when it is not.

Even though they are efficient at forecasting bad weather conditions, they don’t take high-quality images. This is because further away from the earth ( about 36000km).

How do weather satellites work?

All satellites require an energy source, which may be the sun or device on the satellite. The radiation from the energy source hits the objects on the earth’s surface and is either reflected or absorbed, then emitted again. Weather satellites contain special sensors called radiometers that measure the energy emitted from the earth’s surface. Most of this energy is not visible to humans and can be grouped into three sections of the EM spectrum: Terahertz, infrared, and visual.

The radiation emitted in all the bands has different intensities, which are measured and recorded. A number is then assigned to every measurement within the band and then changes into a grey-scale pixel. When the pixels are displayed on a computer screen, the final result is a set of 3 pictures, each showing where the three kinds of energy are present.

Advantages of taking weather satellites from space

Satellites offer a broader view of the earth and can monitor different locations. This type of view help experts detect changes in weather patterns long before the event occurs or surface equipment can detect.

Weather satellites closely monitor the clouds and sun since they significantly impact our weather. They also monitor events in our environment that are affected by changes in weather such as sea ice, ocean temperature, and much more.

How weather satellites have changed the view

These satellites have transformed the way we view and interact with our climate. They have made it possible to predict disasters or extreme climate conditions and prepare for them. The first pictures we got back of earth taken by TIROS-1 showed thick bands of clouds covering the US and a typhoon about one thousand miles east of Australia. Ever since then, experts have pushed for more advanced weather satellites. These sophisticated technologies will help monitor precipitation more accurately, improving the accuracy of flood forecasting.

Weather satellite technology has come a long way since 1960 and still has room for development. As technology advances, scientists push for more sophisticated equipment that will accurately forecast abrupt changes in weather patterns giving time for people to prepare.