New weather satellite aims to improve North West forecasts

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Local forecasters have a new weather satellite at their disposal that could make forecasts more accurate.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s geostationary weather satellite, GOES-17, was launched into orbit in March last year. The satellite, also known as GOES West for its orbital position above the Pacific Ocean off the west coast, just became operational on Tuesday.

“The satellite gives us a huge amount of data to use,” said Will Ahue of the National Weather Service’s Portland office. “Before, we got an image every 15 minutes; now we have the ability to get images every five minutes, with even higher temporal resolution images every minute.”

Ahue said overall, the new satellite will help the National Weather Service provide the public with better weather information.

“It certainly has the potential to help increase our confidence in our forecasts and provide more data in our weather models, which will certainly help increase forecast accuracy in the region,” Ahue said.

Snow and ice cover Hood River, Oregon, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. Winter weather made travel difficult in parts of Oregon on Tuesday and could return later in the week.

Moriah Ratner/OPB

The accuracy of the National Weather Service’s forecast became an issue this week as the agency struggled to say with confidence whether the region would see more snow Tuesday evening or if precipitation would fall as heavy rain.

Some social media users complained that the forecast included snow as a possibility, even though forecast low temperatures remained above freezing.

“It’s like people assume we want to be wrong ALL THE TIME,” the Portland office of the National Weather Service wrote on Twitter. “We do our best to provide the most accurate predictions possible based on the information we have.”

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the satellite can help predict “Pacific storm systems, severe storms, fog, wildfires and other environmental hazards.”

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