New satellite could improve forecasts


April 27, 2010 at 5:04 p.m.
Updated April 26, 2010 at 11:27 p.m.

The public should see improved forecasts beginning this year because of a new "hurricane eye in the sky" weather satellite.

John Metz with the National Weather Service said the satellite will provide more accurate and reliable information on hurricanes and severe storms.

The better the information going into the computer forecast models, the better the forecasts, he said.

"We're looking forward to seeing the data," said Metz, a warning coordination meteorologist. "We'll see some improvements in the next several years in overall hurricane track forecast and intensity forecast."

The GOES-13 spacecraft is perched 22,300 miles above the equator. It was positioned in a prime location to spot potentially life-threatening weather affecting the eastern United States, including the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.

"I think it's great," said Richard McBrayer, Victoria County's deputy emergency management coordinator. "It makes it easier for us to be alerted and then notify the public and first responders of potential weather threats, including hurricanes and tornadoes."

Just reducing the "cone of error" - the range of locations where the storm could make landfall - will be a big improvement, he said. That will mean a reduced impact on the economy, including industrial plants that must decide whether to shut down and medical facilities that have to evacuate patients.

Metz said the new satellite offers several advantages, including a new tracking system. It will give a more precise location of hurricanes and other severe weather, helping improve landfall prediction.

The old satellite also went through periods of blackouts when its solar panels lacked ample sunlight, causing a loss of data.

"It would be several hours," Metz said. "Because of a new solar array and new types of batteries we will now have full operation where we will not lose data even during an eclipse period."

The new satellite is also designed to last at least 10 years. Older satellites were designed to be operational for only seven years.



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