October 30, 2012

Weather Satellites Revolutionized Weather Forecasting & Save Lives

Credit NASA
The worlds first weather satellite was invented by NOAA and NASA in America and launched on April 1, 1960, ushering in the modern era of weather prediction.

TIROS-1 showed a typhoon near Australia, cloud patterns over the US, and allowed for the first time meteorologists to view storms from space and track their motion.  

Previously, storms over the ocean might go entirely unnoticed except for chance reports by ships, and powerful storms could come as a total surprise when they reached land, resulting in far higher deaths and injuries than today.

In spite of the terrible damage from Hurricane Sandy, we should be thankful for the space program which developed life-saving weather satellites, and allowed early warning of Sandy's path and destructive force. There would have been far greater loss of life in previous decades. As an example, thousands died in the 1900 Galveston Hurricane as evacuation in advance was not possible as it would be today.

Hurricane Sandy from ISS, in the Bahamas
 off east coast of Florida. Credit: NASA TV
It may be difficult for those who grew up with satellite-based forecasting to imagine life with poor or no forecasting. Weather forecasters today get picked on for appearing to not get it right at times, but when we look at their record, they are right far more than not, and every decade offers considerably greater accuracy and yet earlier warnings.

Today's weather satellites provide far greater resolution and data than the first, and can monitor tsunamis and even receive broadcasts from emergency beacons. Astronauts on the International Space Station frequently photograph storms and other phenomena such as aurora.

Completing the picture are weather apps for smart phones as well as emergency alert apps. Anyone care to forecast what's next on the horizon?

More weather satellite history at: www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2010/20100401_tiros.html

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