MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) -Forecasting has come a long way. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of room for improvement but it has gotten way better over time. Satellites are one of the reasons for these big leaps in forecasting. The world’s first satellite was launched on April 1, 1960. This weather satellite changed forecasting and gave us the ability to observe potential disasters beforehand and helped people to be prepared.
Weather satellites carry instruments called radiometers, they are not cameras but they scan the Earth to form images. They also have devises that detect at least one or more of either visible, infrared, or microwave radiation. This gives them the ability to monitor weather systems around the world. These measurements are sent back to stations on the ground. The data goes to various weather forecast centers across the world, and are then made available on the internet. The image is typically available in as little as one minute.
There are two main types of satellites that are put into one of two types of orbits around the Earth.
The first type is a “geostationary” orbit, with the satellite at a very high altitude (about 22,500 miles) and orbiting over the equator at the same rate that the Earth is spinning. This allows the satellite to monitor the same area continuously, and is used to provide most of the satellite imagery you see on TV or the internet.
The other type is the polar satellite. This satellite operates at a lower altitude orbit (around 500 miles) that carries the satellite close to the North Pole and the South Pole around every 100 minutes. Polar orbits are able to measure the same location on the Earth two times per day. One of the limitations is this orbit is that the satellite can image a particular location only every 12 hours, and not continuously like the geostationary satellite. To rectify this, two satellites are placed into orbits at different times which have allows up to 6 hourly monitoring.
These satellites can measure through clouds and sense precipitation, temperature in different layers of the atmosphere. It can also detect ocean surface winds.
When it comes to hurricanes, satellites have given us the ability to see what’s happening over oceans. With hurricanes it has helped with knowing where they are heading and being able to narrow that down to a specific area. It can also show the progression of hurricanes from start to deterioration. Some satellites are able to take a picture of the entire hemisphere in just 5 mins. This can be so helpful when it comes to forecasting hurricanes and life-saving.