New NOAA weather satellite a 'game-changer' for forecasts

The first of NOAA’s advanced weather satellites will lift off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Saturday afternoon, ushering in the next generation of forecasts and warnings.

Cutting-edge technology will provide more accurate and timely weather forecasts

An artistic rendition depicts GOES-R, the long-awaited, next-generation geostationary weather satellite. (NOAA)

A new weather satellite is being called a game-changer for forecasters in the Western Hemisphere.

The first of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's advanced weather satellites — GOES-R — will lift off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Saturday around 5:40 p.m. ET, ushering in the next generation of forecasts and warnings. 

The biggest improvement over the satellites currently being used is higher-resolution imagery.

All weather satellites are placed in geostationary orbit — meaning the satellite remains fixed relative to the same spot on Earth — essential for monitoring storms.

But at 35,000 kilometres up, getting high-resolution details of what's going on down below can be a challenge. 

New technology will allow GOES-R to provide four times more spatial resolution with five times faster coverage.

The finer features of a rapidly changing storm system will be available in real time — whether that be a snowstorm, a hurricane or a tornado. The satellite will offer more clues about how the weather is evolving — and that means more accurate and timely forecasts. 

Lightning tracker

Among GOES-R's six highly advanced instruments is the first operational lightning mapper of its kind, which will allow forecasters to track lightning over the entire hemisphere, almost instantaneously. 

While much of the monitoring will be of the Earth below, GOES-R will also track the sun for extreme space weather events that could affect our communication. 

Once launched, GOES-R will undergo testing and validation for one year before being put into operational use. 

There are more satellites to come. GOES-R is actually the first in a series of four satellites: R, S, T and U, which will extend satellite coverage through 2036.

Sandra Smalley, the director of NASA's Joint Agency Satellite Division, says that "this mission builds on more than four decades of partnership between NOAA and NASA to successfully build and launch geostationary operational environmental satellites." 

To say that meteorologists are excited is a bit of an understatement.


Johanna Wagstaffe

Senior Meteorologist

Johanna Wagstaffe is a senior meteorologist for CBC, covering weather and science stories, with a background in seismology and earth science. Her weekly segment, Science Smart, answers viewers' science-related questions.