Weather Satellite Helps Increase Tornado Warning Time


It may seem unlikely, but do you think a weather satellite in the vacuum of space could help? increase the time between an issued tornado warning and a confirmed tornado on the ground.

But first, what is the GOES-16 satellite? This satellite provides real-time images of storm systems and clouds covering the eastern half of the United States. This satellite replaced GOES-13 in 2016 and has a much better resolution of around half a mile. This means that the satellite can detect relatively small and isolated supercells up to large storm complexes in great detail. This satellite is locked in orbit above the same part of the Earth, so it always looks at the same slice of the planet, no matter where it is in its orbit. This is why it is also called a “geostationary” satellite! I spoke with Dr. Fuqing Zhang, professor of meteorology at Penn State University and leader of this research project, about how this satellite could possibly help increase the time between a tornado warning and a real tornado:

Cloud irradiance refers to the electromagnetic radiation emitted by certain types of clouds. Different types of clouds emit different amounts of radiation, including visible light. A weather model could use this information to come up with a better and more detailed forecast of when a tornado will form. This will give forecasters and meteorologists watching for a potential tornado supercell, plus a warning about where a potential tornado is and when. Then this information can be immediately released to the public so that everyone can get to safety. Dr. Zhang also told me that this project is in its early stages, but shows great promise for adding more warning time:

A link to more details on the project and operation of the GOES-16 satellite can be found here:


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