No matter what the current presidential administration wants you to think, the climate is changing. Storms have become more powerful, and natural weather disasters are more common than ever. Today’s meteorological infrastructure, however, is having trouble keeping up with the sheer size and scope of these changes — until now. The GOES-S Satellite, launched by the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA) in March 2018, plans to fill in those gaps, changing how we look at weather forecasting in many ways.

GOES stands for Geostationary Operational Environment Satellites. These satellites, once launched, are placed in what is known as a geostationary orbit — they circle the Earth at the same speed as the planet’s rotation, allowing the satellites to effectively stay in one place. Because they sit over a specific target area and take pictures as often as every 30 seconds, the satellites enable disaster trackers to see problem areas as they’re developing — instead of after they’ve already become a problem.

This feature can be essential for things like wildfire tracking — in some cases, the satellites have spotted potential wildfires before people on the ground even reported the fires. The satellites can also detect hurricanes or typhoons in their infancy, allowing people in the storm’s path more time to prepare.

Meteorology and disaster prediction may never become an exact science, especially with the changes happening to the climate worldwide, but GOES can give meteorologists and researchers a leg up when it comes to preparing for whatever the world’s brewing.

These satellites are also changing the way meteorologists look at weather forecasting. Instead of warning people after the storm forms, GOES allow meteorologists to watch the storms as they’re building. Areas that could develop severe weather are spotted much earlier and, as a result, residents receive notification sooner. Even if a tornado doesn’t touch down, those at risk will receive more time to prepare and react—two of the most important strategies for surviving many natural disasters.

Related: New satellite paves the way for full-color, full-motion video from space

GOES, including GOES-S, are not perfect prediction tools — many variables still make meteorology an educated guessing game. Meteorologists may never be able to tell you exactly where a hurricane is going to make landfall or where a wildfire is going to spread, but with tools like GOES, weather teams can make much more accurate predictions and, in doing so, help residents deal with extreme weather throughout the United States.


Images via NOAA on Flickr