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New GOES-17 Satellite a Boost to Oregon Coast Weather Predictions

Published 02/26/2019 at 4:23 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

New GOES-17 Satellite a Boost to Oregon Coast Weather Predictions

(Portland, Oregon) – A new weather satellite put into orbit for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is likely to make predictions at least a little easier for the Oregon coast. GOES-17 just become operational this month, after its launch last year in March. (Satellite image above courtesy NOAA).

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Having just completed its checkout phase, GOES-17 now trains its eyes on the United States’ West Coast states of Oregon, Washington, California, Canada’s British Columbia, as well as other stretches of the globe. It is the next generation of geostationary weather satellites, set to replace GOES-15 someday, but for now both satellites are working in tandem with GOES-16.

Its primary use is by National Weather Service (NWS) forecasters to help predict Pacific storms, severe storms, fog, wildfires, and other environmental dangers. NOAA said observations in these areas have so far been previously limited, and yet it’s where many weather systems that affect the rest of the continent originate.

Case in point: NOAA's GOES-17 captured an active weather pattern in the Pacific Ocean with a storm hitting the West Coast on February 9. That same system brought heavy rain and snow to the Pacific NW, Oregon and California through the next week and beyond.

“With its new spectral bands providing high-definition images as often as every minute, GOES-17 is helping forecasters locate hot spots, detect changes in a fire’s behavior, and predict a fire’s motion better than before,” NOAA said in a press release. “This information helps firefighters on the ground combat fires more effectively and emergency managers plan life-saving evacuations sooner.”

The satellite is crammed full of the latest high-resolution technology and rapid-scanning capabilities, along with infrared imaging. All of this helps considerably with detecting and analyzing weather events such as wildfires and where the smoke ends up. More data and sharper imaging allow for more precise views of coastal weather systems as well as leading to better marine and aviation forecasts for those traveling across the Pacific Ocean. Weather predictions for air travel will also improve.

At the Portland office of the NWS, meteorologist Laurel McCoy said this new system and technology should make more accurate predictions for the state and especially the Oregon coast.

She referred to more channels of data, and thus more observations to grab from the atmosphere. Before, NWS forecasters were working with eight channels of data for the Pacific – now it’s 16 channels.

“It’s helping us see things in the Pacific Ocean where we just don’t have any sensor data,” McCoy said. “There’s a handfull of buoys across the entire Pacific, and this helps fill in the gaps.”

Systems moving into the Pacific Northwest will be more easily analyzed, she said, and forecasters' knowledge of what’s happening in the nearshore environment and atmosphere will be greatly aided.

An example of the data channels the NWS is working with is the water vapor sensors from satellites – water vapor being an important factor in determining weather. There has typically been only one channel for that data.

“That’s pretty much looking at a fairly broad layer,” McCoy said. “Now we have three new channels: upper level water vapor, middle level water vapor and lower level water vapor. Now we have a better picture of the vertical structure of that part of the atmosphere, how things are stacked up, instead of looking at a two-dimensional pic.”

NOAA also announced that NOAA-20, the first spacecraft in the Joint Polar Satellite System, is operating as NOAA’s primary afternoon polar satellite. This satellite is the most advanced of the fleet, with the mission of capturing the most precise atmospheric observations yet of the world’s air, land and waters. See Oregon Coast Weather.

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