NOAA satellites captured actinoform clouds over the eastern Pacific Ocean on June 3, 2021. These collections of shallow clouds, organized in a distinctive radial pattern, often appear as leaf-like or reminiscent of wagon wheel spokes. They are commonly observed over open water in the Pacific Ocean, in areas where stratocumulus clouds form. These cloud formations are usually so large that they cannot be seen from below. They were first observed in 1962, by NASA’s TIROS V satellite. It’s not yet clearly understood how these complex clouds organize, and studying these clouds with NOAA’s advanced satellite sensors may lead to important new insights about our atmosphere.
The 2021 hurricane season is officially underway. June 1 marked the beginning of the Atlantic hurricane season; the eastern Pacific season began on May 15. 2020’s Atlantic season was the busiest on record with a total of 30 named storms, including 13 hurricanes. And NOAA is predicting another above-average Atlantic season for 2021. NOAA satellites provide vital information for forecasting hurricanes and monitoring the location, movement and intensity of storms. As hurricane season gets underway, NOAA satellites are vigilantly watching over the Atlantic and eastern Pacific hurricane basins.
NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is predicting another above-normal Atlantic hurricane season. Forecasters predict a 60% chance of an above-normal season, a 30% chance of a near-normal season, and a 10% chance of a below-normal season. However, experts do not anticipate the historic level of storm activity seen in 2020. For 2021, a likely range of 13 to 20 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which 6 to 10 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including 3 to 5 major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5; with winds of 111 mph or higher) is expected. NOAA provides these ranges with a 70% confidence. The Atlantic hurricane season extends from June 1 through November 30.
Severe storms struck Louisiana and Texas on May 17, 2021, producing heavy rain, extensive flooding, damaging winds, large hail, and several tornadoes. Hail the size of baseballs was reported near Girard, Texas, and wind gusts of more than 70 mph downed trees and damaged buildings. Torrential rain fell over parts of eastern Texas and Louisiana, producing widespread flooding. At least four people died amid floodwaters after more than a foot of rain fell in Lake Charles and 10 inches in Baton Rouge. GOES-16’s orbit allows the satellite to keep vigilant watch over a fixed area and capture storms in motion. The ability to monitor clouds and atmospheric conditions in near-real time helps forecasters track rapidly changing weather conditions and give advance warning of severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, and flooding.
On May 8, 2021, NOAA satellites captured von Kármán vortices streaming around Guadalupe Island, off the west coast of Mexico’s Baja California. These cloud formations often occur over the ocean when islands disrupt the flow of the wind. This disruption creates spiral patterns in the clouds. The pattern of the cloud swirls depends on the wind intensity. NOAA satellites and those from NASA and our international partners observe this phenomenon all over the world. When von Kármán vortices form, satellites capture them in stunning detail.
Severe storms struck Texas on May 3, 2021. They formed along a dry line, where moist air from the Gulf of Mexico met dry air from the Desert Southwest. The storms generated strong straight-line winds, hail, and tornadoes. A variety of GOES-16 and GOES-17 imagery shows the severity of the storms. When severe weather strikes, GOES keep a watchful eye to help identify intensifying storms and track rapidly changing weather conditions.
On March 3, 2021, engineers completed a successful test deployment of the GOES-T solar array as part of a series of tests to prepare the satellite for a planned December 2021 launch. This critical test verified that the satellite's large, five-panel solar array — which is folded up when the satellite is launched — will properly deploy when GOES-T reaches geostationary orbit. During this test, engineers unfurled the five panels on rails that simulated the zero-gravity environment of space. Once in orbit, the deployed solar panels will form a single solar array wing to power the satellite using energy from the sun.
To celebrate Earth Day, we are sharing stunning views of our beautiful planet, captured by NOAA satellites. Every day, NOAA satellites provide critical information that keeps us informed and helps us stay safe. From our satellites, we see cloud patterns, severe weather, lightning, hurricanes, ice and snow cover, phytoplankton blooms, fires, dust storms, and more. At NOAA, every day is Earth Day.
“This Week in Weather” is now “Earth from Orbit.” We’ve updated the name of our weekly video series to better reflect NOAA satellites’ vast capabilities that extend beyond weather.
On the morning of April 9, 2021, La Soufrière volcano on the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent began erupting, spewing ash at least 25,000 feet in the air. The volcano continued to erupt over the next several days, with multiple violent explosions. NOAA satellites captured stunning imagery of the eruptions and provided critical monitoring of the resulting volcanic emissions and ash clouds.
The GOES-R/GEO-XO quarterly newsletter for January – March 2021 is now available. It’s launch year, and our pace and energy are increasing! It’s hard to say what is more remarkable: that in 2021 we are still dealing with the pandemic, or that the pandemic has barely affected our progress. Despite the challenges, the GOES-R/GEO-XO team continues to perform critical work for our nation. GOES-T completed environmental testing and is on track to launch in December. We are moving forward with the GEO-XO Program. We awarded two Phase A Study contracts for the imager and are planning for the Mission Concept Review in June, which will affirm the need for the mission. GOES-16 and GOES-17 provided critical data for recent severe weather, fire, and dust storm events. Our program continues to do a remarkable job of advancing the mission.
On April 3, 2021, NOAA’s GOES-16 and NOAA-20 satellites viewed gravity waves rippling over Western Pennsylvania. Waves form in the atmosphere when air is disturbed, like a stone dropped into a calm pond. The gravity waves seen over Pennsylvania were caused by air being forced upward by hills into a layer of stable air. Gravity causes the air to fall back down, and it begins to oscillate, creating a ripple effect. Learn more about gravity waves in our latest “This Week in Weather” video.
If you’ve ever spent a day at the beach, you’ve probably noticed that the ocean water is constantly moving. Waves cause the ocean to move all day long. And tides cause the ocean to rise and fall twice each day. But what exactly causes high tides and low tides? Learn more in a new video from NOAA SciJinks!
On March 31, 2021, NASA awarded GEO-XO Imager (GXI) Phase A Study contracts to L3Harris Technologies, Inc., and Raytheon Company. These definition-phase study and design development contracts are part of instrument formulation activities for the geostationary satellite mission that will follow GOES-R, GEO-XO. Each company will conduct a one-year study to develop an infrared and visible imaging instrument concept and mature necessary technology. These studies will help define the imager’s potential performance, risks, costs, and development schedule. GEO-XO will be operational in the early 2030s, as the GOES-R mission reaches the end of its lifetime.
From March 17-18, 2021, a severe weather outbreak swept across the Southern U.S. The storms produced damaging winds, large hail, and dozens of tornadoes, including significant EF2 tornadoes in Mississippi and Alabama. Throughout the event, GOES-16 (GOES East) monitored conditions and tracked the storms in real time. The satellite provided important information on cloud properties, storm structure, and lightning activity within the storms.
NOAA’s GOES-T satellite recently completed a series of rigorous tests to ensure it can withstand the harsh conditions of launch and orbiting 22,236 miles above Earth. In addition, the mission operations team conducted critical activities to test communications between the satellite and ground system and rehearse launch procedures. GOES-T is on track for a December 2021 launch.
A late-season snowstorm dropped feet of snow in parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, and South Dakota from March 13-14, 2021. Record-breaking snowfall was measured in Cheyenne, Wyoming and Denver, Colorado. NOAA’s geostationary satellites, GOES-16 (GOES East) and GOES-17 (GOES West), and polar-orbiting NOAA-20 and Suomi-NPP satellites monitored a low-pressure system in the region and followed its evolution into an historic storm. The satellites allowed scientists to forecast the storm’s path and intensity while providing early warning. They also kept watch throughout the event, monitoring the progression of the storm and resulting snow cover.
From March 7-9, 2021, NOAA satellites monitored numerous fires over the Southern Plains. GOES-16 (GOES East) observed these fires in near-real time. By keeping constant watch over the same area, GOES-16 helps to locate fires, detect changes in a fire’s behavior, and predict its motion. The NOAA-20 satellite captured high-resolution imagery of the fires on March 9. This satellite’s VIIRS instrument has an imager band with high spatial resolution, at 375 meters per pixel, which allows it to detect smaller, lower temperature fires. Together, the satellites monitored both the hot spots and smoke plumes from the fires. Satellites allow for detecting and monitoring a range of fires, providing information about the location, duration, size, temperature, and power output of those fires that would otherwise be unavailable.
On March 1, 2021, NOAA satellites monitored lake-effect clouds flowing over Lake Superior. The satellites captured light snow bands embedded in the clouds. Lake-effect snow occurs when very cold air moves over the warmer waters of a lake. GOES-16 viewed the clouds in motion and tracked convection within them, while NOAA-20 captured the scene in stunning detail when the satellite passed over that afternoon. Specialized GOES-16 imagery distinguished snow/ice (white) from the clouds (yellow). GOES-16 and NOAA-20 work together to provide critical information about clouds for weather forecasts and warnings.
North America is home to several different climate types. That means the continent is also home to a variety of extreme weather events. Although we experience the effects of extreme weather here on Earth’s surface, weather satellites can collect some pretty wild pictures and information about extreme weather from above. Meteorologists use this important information to warn us about extreme weather heading our way. This new article from NOAA SciJinks highlights a few of the most extreme weather events captured over the past few decades by NOAA's GOES satellites.
Just like we experience weather on Earth, there’s weather in space! The Sun may look very constant and quiet from Earth, but it's constantly spewing out a stream of particles called the solar wind. Space weather is activity on the Sun that can affect Earth and interact with our technology. Part of NOAA’s mission is to monitor space weather and provide timely, accurate warnings to help our nation prepare for and minimize the extent of economic loss and human hardship. This new video highlights NOAA’s space weather mission, including observations from GOES-16 and GOES-17.
The GOES-R Program, in partnership with the JPSS program, NESDIS, NASA Goddard, and CIRA, debuted a new video series on Feb. 25, 2021, “This Week in Weather,” which will highlight a significant weather or environmental event each week. Our inaugural video, “Tracking Dust in the Wind,” examines a Saharan dust event. From Feb. 17–22, 2021, NOAA satellites monitored a large plume of dust from the Sahara Desert as it traveled off the west coast of North Africa and across the Atlantic Ocean. The Saharan Air Layer (SAL), a mass of dry, dusty air that forms over the Sahara Desert, can transport dust far away from the Sahara throughout the year. NOAA satellites like the geostationary GOES-16 and GOES-17 and the polar-orbiting NOAA-20 and NOAA/NASA Suomi-NPP help forecasters and scientists to continuously monitor the evolution of SAL outbreaks and their effects on the meteorology and climatology of the tropical North Atlantic. NOAA satellites also track aerosols associated with dust storms. Aerosol data from NOAA satellites inform air quality alerts and help air traffic controllers monitor visibility for pilots.
Interested in learning how to process, display, and analyze GOES-R and JPSS satellite data? Join our virtual American Meteorological Society (AMS) short course on March 17 and 18, 2021, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. ET. Our subject matter experts will show how to use satellite data products to analyze specific environmental scenarios such as severe convection, tropical storms, flooding, fire weather, air quality, and more. Register for the short course here.
For Black History Month, NOAA Satellites sat down with Kevin Fryar, chief of staff at GOES-R, to talk about his formative experiences as an African American in the sciences, along with advice for budding meteorologists of color. A veteran of the U.S. Air Force with over twenty years of experience as a weather decision support specialist, Fryar has also served at both the National Weather Service (NWS) and National Environmental Satellite and Data Information Service (NESDIS/NOAA Satellites) in a variety of roles. Most recently, he has been instrumental in the development of the new GeoXO satellite system (a ground-breaking mission that will advance Earth observations from geostationary orbit), advising on key issues related to disaster preparedness and management. During his interview, Fryar gave an overview of GOES-R’s newest initiative as well as some practical advice on how his military and on-the-job experience made all of the difference in his career.
2020 will be remembered as a time of unprecedented challenges and changes. These circumstances inspired us to push our boundaries and try new things so that we could provide the nation with the most accurate and timely environmental observations with critical expertise. Learn more about our 2020 accomplishments and how our satellites help protect life and property.
Join us in March for a NOAA Live! Virtual Open House and “visit” some of the places where NOAA science happens. Each week, we’ll tour a different NOAA facility through a live webinar and meet the staff that bring NOAA’s mission to life. Our guides will highlight a few cool spots around campus and answer your questions in real time. These free events are geared toward students in grades 2 through 8, and they’re perfect for classrooms and families. Registration is limited so sign up today!
NOAA’s satellite fleet, renowned for being the backbone of weather forecasts, also played a pivotal role in rescuing 304 people from potentially life-threatening situations throughout the United States and its surrounding waters in 2020 through other capabilities that fly on these satellites. NOAA’s polar-orbiting and geostationary satellites are part of the global Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking system, or COSPAS-SARSAT, which uses a network of U.S. and international spacecraft to detect and locate distress signals sent from emergency beacons from aircraft, boats and handheld Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) anywhere in the world.
The GOES-R/GeoXO quarterly newsletter for October – December 2020 is now available. 2020 was an unforgettable year – for all the wrong reasons. Besides COVID-19 and social injustice, both of which affected the GOES-R/GeoXO family, last year also brought a record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season and a record-smashing western wildfire season. As usual, our team rose to the challenge and delivered the mission. GOES-16 and GOES-17 continue to provide critical data to forecasters and GOES-T is in test preparing for a December launch. We’re also planning for the future beyond GOES-R. We’ve renamed the mission Geostationary Extended Observations (GeoXO) to better reflect the advanced observations of atmosphere and ocean we plan for the GeoXO constellation. We are looking forward to the GeoXO Mission Concept Review in March and formalizing the program.