Op-Ed: Launching the Next Generation of Weather Satellites


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Four years ago this month, America’s eastern seaboard began the long and difficult process of rebuilding in the wake of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction, the second-costliest weather disaster in American history. Since then, extreme weather events have continued to claim lives, devastate our communities and negatively affect our economy.

In 2016 alone, we have seen a tornado outbreak tear through the Ohio Valley, floods ravage parts of Texas and southern Louisiana, wildfires scorch areas of California, and Hurricane Matthew bring a deluge of heavy rain and flooding to the Southeast coast. As of September, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) identified 12 separate weather and climate disaster events just this year with losses exceeding $1 billion across the United States.

As the Secretary of Commerce, I am fortunate to lead NOAA, home to some of the world’s foremost authorities on climate science. We know from their work that our climate is changing, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans. And we know that change is caused primarily by the burning of fossil fuels.

There is no doubt the world must take steps now to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. But while we tackle the broader challenge of slowing our changing climate, we must all take innovative, scientific steps to prepare for a world in which environmental disasters are increasingly common.

Last week, a new U.S. weather satellite, GOES-R, will launch into space. Like NOAA’s other satellites, it will provide the National Weather Service will critical oceanic and atmospheric data needed to identify severe weather threats and issue lifesaving forecasts – but GOES-R is a true game changer.

The new satellite will deliver vivid images of severe weather as often as every 30 seconds, scanning the Earth five times faster, with four times greater image resolution and using triple the number of spectral channels than other GOES spacecraft. GOES-R is the meteorological equivalent of taking our satellite technology from black and white to ultra-high-definition color TV.

So how does this prepare us for the most extreme weather?

Fixed in geostationary orbit above North America, GOES-R will improve hurricane tracking forecasts and increase thunderstorm and tornado warning lead time. It will improve aviation flight route planning for our pilots, enhance space weather monitoring for our scientists and provide information about the long-term health of our planet. Simply put, GOES-R will lead to more accurate and reliable weather forecasts and severe weather outlooks.

We are entering a new era in which environmental information increasingly underpins the decisions made by businesses, consumers, and even financiers. Accurate weather forecasts, climate predictions, and water data help customers reduce costs and companies increase profits. For example, insurance companies can use weather data to send micro-targeted text message warnings to customers living in the areas that will be hit hardest by storms – helping protect families as well as their cars and homes while saving the company from costly claims.

Across the country, companies and communities are using NOAA’s climate data every day. Our retailers are relying on hourly and weekly forecasts to keep cargo and transportation operations running smoothly. Air carriers are transmitting real-time wind and atmospheric data to pilots that help them avoid turbulence and keep passengers safe. And energy companies are using seasonal predictions to more precisely deliver electricity and gas, and upgrade vulnerable infrastructure that could disrupt power.

In this era when extreme weather events are becoming more and more frequent, weather data are more than obscure numbers on a computer screen. Deployed effectively, good data can save lives, make communities more resilient, inform business decisions and form the seeds of economic growth. When GOES-R was launched from Cape Canaveral last week, we entered a new era of weather data that will help every community from coast to coast become more environmentally and economically resilient.

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Last updated: 2016-11-23 13:13

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