New Lightning Tracking Satellite Brings Security to Boaters

GOES-16 and GOES-13 Earth Photo Comparison from January 15, 2017. [photo obtained from GOES-16 website]

If you keep up with advancements in weather technology, you may have heard news from NOAA about the first lightning mapper, the GOES-16 satellite.

This satellite is equipped with new technology that can help track and predict big storms. How does it work? Not to get too technical, but the satellite is in “geostationary orbit,” meaning it will follow the western hemisphere as the Earth rotates for the next five years. Staying in the same location allows it to view more detailed changes in the atmosphere, leading to accurate weather tracking. The National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS) explains, “The mapper continually looks for lightning flashes in the Western Hemisphere, so forecasters know when a storm is forming, intensifying and becoming more dangerous. Rapid increases of lightning are a signal that a storm is strengthening quickly and could produce severe weather.”

Not only can GOES-16 see lightning and track its movement, it can also track in-cloud lightning. In-cloud lightning, where the electricity stays inside of one cloud, often lights up the sky with a flash but generally no sound. These flashes “often occur five to 10 minutes or more before potentially deadly cloud-to-ground strikes. This means more precious time for forecasters to alert those involved in outdoor activities of the developing threat,” the NESDIS website says.

Currently, tracking weather over the ocean is difficult due to the short range of land-based weather trackers, and satellites often have a hard time capturing detail. With the launching of the GOES-16, storms can be monitored and tracked so mariners can hit deep seas with a sense of security. Receiving fair warning to get out of dangerous zones and understanding when you are and aren’t threatened is imperative for safe boating.

GOES-16 launched in November of 2016 and will be in preliminary and testing stages for six to 12 months. GOES-16 is has not been declared operational yet, but has ten years of space time planned. Learn more about the GOES-16 on its website.


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