East coast weather satellite GOES dark

Posted on 2012-09-27 10:18

We still have a couple months of hurricane season left on the east coast and we recently lost GOES-13, the geostationary weather satellite that used to provide high-quality satellite images of the Atlantic. There was only a 21 hour period of no coverage, but it should serve as a wake up call about how important these satellites have become to us. While scientists were first puzzling over how to get 13 working again, forecasters were forced to use GOES-15 which is positioned west of Alaska. Even though it was put into "full disk scan" mode, GOES-15's imagery gets significantly worse on the east coast. Forecasters had to combine that data with pass-over images from several POES satellites (polar orbiting sats) to do their east coast predictions. To have the kind of weather (and hurricane) prediction we've gotten used to requires good quality imagery well out over the Atlantic where hurricanes form. The GOES-14 satellite positioned at 105W (a good position for observing the west coast) is now functioning as a replacement for 13 since Sept 24th, and if ultimately 13 can't be fixed, 14 is slated to be moved to a new position at 75W as a permanent replacement. In the meantime, NOAA will have to depend more on aircraft reconnaissance of developing storms so we can expect far less accuracy in hurricane prediction for a while.

These satellites only have a 5 year expected service life expectancy, so GOES-13 has certainly done its duty, but its interesting how little information is available about this (at least that I can find) on the official NOAA page. I would think this would be splashed all over the site as if to say: "See! We need more money!". I can't help but wonder if they are worrying that this might be considered a bit of an emabarrassment to the administration in some way since this effectively leaves the east coast in a potentially dangerous situation.

Herald Tribune Washington Post CIMSS Sat Blog (wisc.edu) NOAA notification GOES-14 viewer