Although not yet operational, data from NOAA’s GOES-16 satellite proved vital in forecasting operations for Hurricane Maria as it neared Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. Radar in San Juan went out at 5:50 a.m. EDT, just before Maria made landfall on the island. Land-based radar is used during storms to provide detailed information on hurricane wind fields, rain intensity, and storm position and movement. With this critical technology disabled and a major hurricane approaching, forecasters were able to utilize data from NOAA’s latest geostationary satellite, GOES-16, to track the storm in real-time.
GOES-16 is able to scan a targeted area of severe weather as often as every 30 seconds, a capability not available with current GOES. This rapid scanning rate is allowing forecasters to analyze cloud patterns and track Maria in real time. GOES-16 also has three times more channels than the current GOES imager, providing better estimates of the structure of tropical cyclones and their environments. The four-fold improvement in resolution from GOES-16 provides greater accuracy of feature attributes, allowing for better characterization of the eyes of hurricanes.
In the absence of radar, GOES-16 data helped fill the void and allowed forecasters to keep an eye on Maria, which made landfall on September 20 near Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, around 6:15 a.m. EDT as a category 4 hurricane. Forecasters continue to use the new capabilities available from GOES-16 to track the storm.
GOES-16, launched in November 2016, is currently in a central checkout orbit of 89.5 degrees west longitude, where it is undergoing an extended validation phase. The satellite will be relocated to its operational location as GOES-East at 75.2 degrees west late this year.