NOAA’s jack-of-all-trades satellite, GOES-16, keeps constant tabs of large portions of the Western Hemisphere from nearly 22,300 miles above the surface. Armed with the first lightning detector in a geostationary orbit, the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM), GOES-16 can see the first signs of a storm becoming severe.

The video below shows lightning flashing in severe thunderstorms in East Texas this past Valentine’s Day. GLM is so sensitive it can distinguish single lightning strikes within each flash.

While GOES-16 was observing the lightning flashes, the storm cell in the center of the frame was creating a tornado according to NOAA.

The GLM also detects in-cloud lightning, which typically fires off 10 minutes or more before cloud-to-ground strikes. With this new tech, forecasters may be able to issue warnings sooner – giving the public more time to act.

NOAA describes how the GLM data can be used during heavy rain events by telling forecasters if a thunderstorm has stalled or it’s still strengthening. Combine the revolutionary GLM data with other satellite data and radar, and forecasters could be able to issue flood and flash flood warnings sooner. Which could ultimately save lives.

GOES-16 can also make the lives of folks far away from land easier. Land-based radar can’t detect lightning and thunderstorms over the oceans. But GOES-16 can see it all. The data gathered by GLM and other instruments will help support forecasts given to mariners and aviators.

But the new NOAA satellite isn’t just good for watching storms and rain. It can also help forecasters keep tabs of dry areas in the western U.S. and where wildfires might be sparked by lightning.

While GOES-16 is great for watching the weather on Earth, it also comes packed with instruments watching weather much further away. The Solar Ultraviolet Imager (SUVI) watches the sun for signs of solar eruptions. Once a solar flare is spotted that is heading our way, NOAA can issue warnings to electric power companies, satellite operators and others.

With enough warning, power companies could prevent disruptions. A week ago, NOAA showed us the first images of the sun from GOES-16.

SUVI captures the sun in six different wavelengths, each one used to identify different solar phenomena – such as flares and coronal mass ejections.

NOAA’s describes GOES-16 (the first of four satellites in the new series) as a game changer. It’ll improve hurricane track and intensity forecasts, air quality warnings, solar flare warnings and more. How about winter storm forecasts for the deep south? Yeah, no satellite is that good.


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