New satellite to enhance wildfire tracking and weather forecasting

Posted at 10:55 AM, Mar 03, 2022

GREAT FALLS — A new, NOAA satellite was launched from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida on Tuesday and now sits 22,236 miles above the surface of the Earth.

The satellite joins both the GOES-16 and GOES-17 in orbiting the Earth. GOES-18 will eventually take the place of GOES-17 in providing high-resolution imagery of the western hemisphere once the satellite becomes fully functional, likely by next summer.

GOES-18 includes the best technology of the GOES advanced satellite series to date, including the first of its kind "Geostationary Lightning Mapper", which could improve response times to wildfire starts. Meteorologists and fire officials will be able to quickly identify and respond to fire starts and alert the public, ideally saving lives and property in the process. In addition, firefighters will be able to track hot spots, the fire's movements and its smoke output using this technology.

The data from GOES-18 will not only improve fire-fighting abilities but also forecast accuracy in general. Wildfire smoke became nearly a daily issue this summer throughout much of Montana, particularly for sensitive groups. With wildfires becoming an increasing threat throughout the state, more accurate wildfire smoke data will lead to improved fire weather and air quality outlooks.

In addition to the improvements made to fire weather forecasting, there will be many other areas of improvement. While not a threat to Montana, tropical storm and hurricane forecasting should improve with higher resolution sea surface temperature data becoming readily available to meteorologists. Atmospheric moisture is critically important in forecasting the atmospheric rivers that often take shape in the northwestern United States. Improved data will assist in better forecasting the placement and intensity of these atmospheric rivers.

GOES-18 will not just be monitoring the Earth's weather but also space weather. The satellite's technology has the ability to track solar activity and geomagnetic storms, such as the beloved northern lights. The first GOES-18 imagery will be available as early as May.