As the Earth completes its 2017 journey around the Sun, NOAA's fleet of satellites had an amazing view along the way. This year, the NOAA Satellite and Information Services (NESDIS) team championed its commitment to provide data that matters to the American people, and helped create a Weather-Ready Nation. Here’s a look back at some of our proudest moments from the past year.
Launch of NOAA GOES-16, now GOES East
NESDIS started 2017 by sharing the first image from the NOAA GOES-16 satellite, a mission that has helped revolutionize weather forecasting. This year, our data has had a critical impact on predicting severe weather patterns, sharing advanced warnings of significant events and demonstrating a real impact on saving lives and infrastructure. Thanks to NOAA GOES-16, local emergency managers and FEMA were better equipped with more accurate weather predictions and faster warnings than ever before. NOAA’s GOES-16 satellite, which launched in late 2016, now resides at the GOES East orbital position, where it officially joins NOAA’s operational observation network - providing weather forecasters with sharper, more defined images of the weather in near real-time, 24/7.
Launch of JPSS-1, now NOAA-20
NESDIS bookended the year by launching its most advanced polar-orbiting satellite, JPSS-1, now called NOAA-20, in November 2017. Polar-orbiting satellites provide 85 percent of the data that goes into our numerical weather forecast models. NOAA-20 is the first in NOAA’s new series of polar-orbiting satellites and represents a major milestone in advancing our mission to protect life and property and safeguard our economic livelihood. Most critically, NOAA-20 will help improve the timeliness and accuracy of U.S. weather forecasts three to seven days out. The NOAA-20 satellite carries five instruments that will improve day-to-day weather forecasting while extending the record of many long-term observations of Earth's climate. This substantial collection of data allows us to monitor annual weather patterns like El Niño and La Niña and record temperatures over multiple decades like those in the warming Arctic. Just eleven days after launch, NOAA-20 shared its first scientific data.
Preparing and Protecting the Public by Monitoring Severe Weather Events
The American public faced multiple severe storms in 2017, including a record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season. Throughout this time, NOAA’s satellites delivered imagery with detail and clarity never achieved before. NOAA GOES-16’s high resolution - four times higher than any previous NOAA satellites - and 30-second rapid views of Earth allowed forecasters to monitor almost continuously the development of each storm. This data also improved advance rainfall predictions by providing more accurate forecasts of where the heaviest amounts of rain would develop. The rapidly available satellite imagery provided unique insight into where to focus efforts and deploy survey teams. NOAA’s flood zone maps also helped FEMA and local officials plan for response efforts after the record-breaking rainfall during Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
In the recovery stage of these storms, NOAA’s polar-orbiting satellites monitored power outages in affected areas like Puerto Rico, providing the first comprehensive assessment of total damage after Hurricane Maria. Continuous monitoring after the storm provided updates on the status of restoring power to the area. NOAA’s satellites also supplied Puerto Rico’s only weather forecasting data in the wake of Hurricane Maria when local radar towers were knocked out by the powerful storm.
Monitoring Deadly Fires
Warmer, drier conditions in areas of the United States created a dangerous environment for wildfire hazards in 2017. NOAA satellites monitored drought and wind conditions, allowing real-time information to help predict how quickly and where a fire would spread. In March of this year, NOAA GOES-16 information enabled us to warn officials of the wildfire outbreak that would burn one million acres across the Great Plains before calls even came through to 911. In October and December, forecasters using GOES-16 data in California could locate hot spots, detect changes in the fire’s behavior, and predict the direction of the fire’s motion, which could then be shared with fire managers. Near real-time imagery of smoke spewing from the fires also improved air quality forecasts. Our website and social media channels also shared some of the first satellite imagery of the fires, providing the public a dramatic perspective on the extent and rapid spread of the smoke and flames.
Monitoring and Protecting Coral Reefs
In 2017 NOAA continued its efforts to repair and protect coral reef habitats. One critical component of this work is increasing public awareness of why corals are dying and what can be done to save them. NOAA participated in the Academy Award shortlisted film, Chasing Coral, which has been included in this year’s list of 15 semi-finalists for the 2017 Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. In addition, NOAA Coral Reef Watch scientists co-authored the paper authored the paper entitled "Global warming and recurrent mass bleaching of corals“, which was highlighted on the cover of the 16 March 2017 issue of Nature, and was ranked #21 in the top 100 most influential papers of 2017.
Our satellites also continue to provide data critical to monitoring coral reefs around the globe - like sea temperature. NOAA satellites contributed to the long and short-term marine ecosystem conservation efforts by alerting scientists and researchers to the potential for coral bleaching events. Learn more here.
NCEI Monitors Climate Change
This year the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information continued to monitor global climate, reporting on temperature, precipitation, drought and the societal impact of extreme weather events. NCEI contributed to a special report published by the American Meteorological Society in which climate change was found to have influenced other heat events in 2016, including the extreme heat in the Arctic, development of marine heat waves off Alaska and Australia, as well as the severity of the 2015–2016 El Niño, and the duration of coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef. To learn more about this report and see the latest climate information check out their website here: https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/
Preparing for the Launch of GOES-S, which will become GOES-17
NOAA’s GOES-S, the second in a series of next-generation geostationary weather satellites after GOES-16, was safely and successfully shipped to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in early December this year. GOES-S is being prepared for launch on March 1 2018. GOES-S will be able to provide critical data for the westernmost United States, Alaska and Hawaii. The satellite will expand coverage of the Advanced Baseline Imager technology beyond the Pacific Ocean - allowing meteorologists and local officials to see severe weather events and developing hazards like wildfires in near-real time. Stay tuned to the GOES-Series website for more information on the GOES-S launch!
Mapping Lightning in New Ways
This year, NOAA GOES-16 also introduced the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM). This new satellite technology is transmitting data never previously available. The mapper continually looks for lightning flashes, so that forecasters know when a storm is forming, intensifying and becoming more dangerous. Rapid increases in lightning indicate that a storm is strengthening quickly and could produce severe weather.
GLM collects information such as the frequency, location and extent of lightning discharges to identify intensifying thunderstorms and tropical cyclones. Trends in total lightning available from the GLM have the promise of increasing the lead time for providing critical information to forecasters, allowing them to warn the public earlier about developing severe storms before these storms produce damaging winds, hail or even tornadoes. In dry areas, especially in the western United States, information from the instrument will help forecasters, and ultimately firefighters, identify areas prone to wildfires sparked by lightning.
Catching the Eclipse
Along with the American public, NOAA’s satellites took in a view of the 2017 total solar eclipse. We shared imagery from the NOAA GOES-16 satellite, which captured the moon’s shadow glide from coast to coast of the United States in geocolor. This clip became one of our most viewed videos ever on our social media pages!
Thank you for following along as we shared 365 days of environmental data to the world, and served our mission to build a Weather-Ready Nation!