NASA, NOAA team up for satellite to increase tornado warning times
This image, from the GOES-13 satellite, shows a massive storm system moving across the eastern U.S. on Wednesday.
March 1st, 2012
11:58 AM ET

NASA, NOAA team up for satellite to increase tornado warning times

After this week's massive storm system, which spawned tornadoes that killed 12 people, you might appreciate this: NASA and NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) have teamed up to launch a new GOES weather monitoring satellite: the GOES-R series, which will help warn people about severe weather sooner.

GOES stands for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite. As they orbit Earth, the satellites monitor atmospheric conditions. They're basically fixed in place over a single spot on the planet, with a wide-angle view, collecting data around the clock. This lets meteorologists identify triggers for severe weather like hurricanes, flash floods, hailstorms and tornadoes.

GOES-R series satellites will be loaded with state-of-the-art instrumentation, and the launch of the first is expected in 2015, according to a NASA news release. The satellite will be able to better monitor conditions that are often precursors to tornadoes, like changes in lightning. And with the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM), NASA and NOAA will be able to monitor and map lightning in real time across the Western Hemisphere.

Other on-board instruments, like the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI), will provide such a richness of data that meteorologists will better be able to monitor and predict tornado-spawning storms, on very short time intervals: every 30 to 60 seconds, compared with the current seven-and-a-half-minute intervals between conditions updates, the NASA release said.

In the end, GOES-R's capabilities are expected to improve warning times for severe weather. The GLM, for instance, is expected to add seven full minutes to current warning times. That's seven more minutes for people to get to shelter, invaluable time in the face of a deadly storm.

Follow @CNNWeather for weather updates and @CNNLightyears for more space and science.

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Filed under: In Space • News • Severe Weather
soundoff (34 Responses)
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    April 7, 2012 at 2:06 am |
  2. Orly

    The idea that these satellites can assist in issuing tornado warnings is ridiculous and unfounded, at best. Like the article stated, changes in lightning can indeed be indicative of changes within a given storm, however, there's still a lot of research that needs to be done in that area. Tornadoes occur in the LOWEST level of the atmosphere, the boundary layer, which is actually the layer that we know the LEAST about. A satellite floating in space will not be able to help meteorologists issue warnings on a vortex that's at the surface. Meteorologists look at velocity, both base and storm relative, and use that data (along with reflectivity) and YEARS of experience and hours and hours of on the job training to make the call to warn/not warn. Not to say that the new satellite is a BAD idea – it's actually quite good to have new eyes in the sky once in awhile. There's also a lot that the satellites can do. However, the "facts" in this story about tornado/severe warnings are simply NOT one of those things, and not factual at all. A more important question to pose to NOAA should be about their position on NWS HQ's plan to eliminate positions from each and every NWS office across the country this October, further reducing staffing at already understaffed offices.

    March 2, 2012 at 12:39 am |
  3. wxnut

    What a total load of BS! Geostationary satellites may provide extra benefits only in areas that have poor radar coverage. A satellite orbiting over 20,000 miles over the earth is not going to be able to detect a tornado vortex that is less than a half a mile wide. The NASA scientists involved are likely those wanting to siphon off funds from the NWS into other NOAA projects. The author of this article has been fed a line of propaganda that borders on the criminal. Talk to any REAL meteorologist, and they will say the same.

    March 2, 2012 at 12:11 am |
    • JayTee

      Wxnut,

      I am a real meteorologist. This is not BS. The data from GLS will supplement the data from NEXRAD. The lightning data that will visible from GEOS-R has already been shown to be another important indicator of the severity of the storm cell. Remember that the satellite is looning down on the storm cell, so much of the lightning will be visble to the sensor. It is estimated that GLS will be able to detect up to 90% of the lightning in cells.

      Studies are showing that trends in lightning flash rate are important in determining when cells are just about to go severe. The data from the satellite will stream in near real time to the weather forecast offices, an improvement on the 5 minute update rate of NEXRAD radar.

      All these data will be used together (NEXRAD, GOES-R, models, observations) and need to be interpreted by skilled meteorologists for maximum benefit – timely and accurate warnings to the public.

      March 5, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  4. keepn it real

    Hell yes there should be sirens and whatever else that can be used to try and warn people ahead of time...You think with modern tech they could come up with a few things...But even if a siren only gave you a few seconds warning..thats enough to get to a basement...or attempt to find a secure area...

    March 1, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
  5. commonsense

    To the ones that think that we don't need sirens u obviously do not remember Joplin. If the sirens saved one life they were worth it. Joplin is my hometown and my family still lives there. Any increase in warning time would be beneficial. I live in an area that is very active and understand the boy crying wolf syndrome. We usually walk outside to check the sky but I have change my ways since I seen Joplin and now Branson as well.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
  6. Sam L

    New satellite will be great, unfortunately NWS wants to cut 98 Information Technology positions, known as ITOs. These are the people who make sure the computer systems are up and running and the data is flowing when severe weather strikes. NWS budget keeps shrinking, pretty soon, there will be staff shortages and not enough people to issue the warnings. NWS is an example of a government agency that is lean and works well, but it needs adequate funding to keep saving lives and mitigating the Billions of dollars in damage done each year by storms! Write your congressman, urge for less money overseas and more money here for our people!

    March 1, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • IggyDad

      In the Teaparty Paradise, everyone will pay for their own private weather satellites and meteorological stations, and if someone's family is destroyed by a tornado, it will be their damn fault.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
      • wxnut

        Unfortunately it is the current administration that is proposing these cuts to an agency that is bare boned as is.

        March 2, 2012 at 12:40 am |
  7. John S

    You know their are warnings. their called warnings and they are issued through Weather radio's, TV stations, Sirens.
    The trouble is people ignore the warnings. We know that too much alcohol causes crashes and fatalities on our roads.
    We warn people about drinking too much. But do a lot of them stop? Its unfortunately human nature to continue to make mistakes even though others have made them and we fail to learn from them. Or at least some of us fail to learn.
    Tornado's are not unpredictable. But they are very hard to predict exsactly where they will hit. If your in a mobile home you most likely have no real shelter against a F3 or F4 tornado. You need to install a shelter, have a shelter nearby to go to. Or make plans to go smewhere where there is shelter until its safe. As we have seen time and time again, unless your underground your at risk when a tornado comes.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • Buck

      On the same topic of learning from your mistakes, your incorrect use of "their" and "your" made me sad.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  8. TexDoc

    This is all from Global warming. We need to end the car. End air travel. Stop using any plastics. Less medicaitons. Go back to a simplier time when we lived in harmony with nature. The strong survived, many died, but the planet was healthier.

    March 1, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • Amused

      Tex – These tornados are normal, regular weather events that have been occurring for longer than recorded history. I'm not sure exactly what you are trying to claim, but global climate change is a big picture,long term trend of slight increases in average temperatures which has been happening for well over two thousand years now. Individual tornados normally occur this time of year and have absolutely NO RELATION to global climate change. There is NO meaningful connection between the two!

      March 1, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
      • Jim Tuggle

        I have been involved with storm track work for about 15 years now, both as a field spotter and as a net controller for Emergency Management. There are always going to be tornados, there will always be wind storms and there will always be those who like to find a nifty cause {global warming, fossil fuel use, nuke power, whatever} to blame it on.
        These are natural phenomenon....the best early warning system in the world is to learn about weather patterns, watch what is really going on and listen in to the spotter networks, or better yet take some classes get your radio license and come out and help. It's not too hard to figure out what the patterns on the NWS radars really mean and they are available to all for free.....

        March 1, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
  9. Karla

    All well and good, folks, but until we have tornado warning sirens, this information is of but limited use.
    Before you object, yes I do have a weather radio, but it is a device, and devices can fail.
    My cell phone and 911 have both failed me in the past; I require backup systems where my life is concerned.

    March 1, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
    • Bozobucks

      Ummm...the sirens aren't meant to alert you inside, they were meant to warn you while you are outside. People are warned days in advance that there will be a severe weather threat. Then they are placed in a watch day ofr, then warning when it is going to occur. How difficult is it to take some personal responsibility and pay attention to the surrounding weather? People have enough warning all the time but choose to ignore it, then say I didn't know it was coming. Please!

      March 1, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • OneVoice

      You realize that those sirens have to be set off by someone, often the local dispatch center (911) AFTER they have received official notification to do so. The information they base that activiation on is the same information you receive via your weather radio or whatever weather notification alert system you have set up on your phone. Sirens are an outdated form of notification and they cost THOUSANDS of dollars. The only time they serve any real purpose is the middle of the night when people are sleeping. However, anyone that has had a weather radio go off in the middle of the night will tell you that it is way more likely to wake you up than an external siren.

      March 1, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • yacon

      Many people receive rapid warnings through text messages, online, or cell phone services. Other receive warnings through television and radio. Very few people fall entirely through the cracks in this warning system.

      March 1, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • LarryB

      If you're on Facebook or Twitter, follow Reed Timmer. The guy seems to live for tornadoes. He posts updates constantly, warning affected areas. Trust me, give this a try and you'll see what I mean.
      There's no one foolproof solution when it comes to being warned about tornadoes....watch the Weather Channel, follow Timmer, pay attention to sirens, get information wherever you can. Every once in awhile a tornado seems to materialize out of the blue, but most often there is some advance warning available that one may occur. Good luck!

      March 1, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
    • John

      My complaint is that often issue "warnings" when conditions are only favorable instead of someone actually spotting one. After the 20th warning when no tornados are spotted, people tend to ignore them after that. A "watch" used to mean conditions are favorable and then "warning" meant one was spotted. By blending the reason for issuing a "warning" you become like the boy who cried wolf so when there is trouble, no one believes you or pays attention. The weather service people are to blame for this and need to correct that.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
  10. WeatherWatcher

    BThomas – This is already a technology that has been in the works for years, yet the media fails to report on changes until events like this bring them to light.

    March 1, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
  11. BThomas

    never mind when hundreds of southerners were killed last year... that didn't warrant finding something better just when it hits oBOWma's home state does it then matter

    March 1, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • Bozobucks

      Don't be a retard! If you want to throw politics in, then complain to your congress, esp rep, why they slashing money across the board instead of agencies that you don't get your bang for the buck and give more to those that you do. OH, that would require too much thinking and math and work.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • Doris

      To BThomas: I am afraid that's just not true. The GLM Lightning mapper for GOES-R that is referred to here was funded in the Bush era and has been under development since 2008.

      March 1, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
    • Scott

      Not true at all. The NWS has strived to increase warning times while keeping false warnings to a minimum for decades under every administration. Radars having been upgraded across the nation, research missions occur almost every year, and storm spotters are trained across the nation.

      If you really care, it wouldn't hurt to contact your Congressmen and ask them to stop making more cuts to the NWS though. If anything is occurring that will reduce warning times it's reducing the number of forecasters and forcing the remaining ones to be responsible for larger areas.

      March 1, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
      • LarryB

        Scott, don't bother trying to use a logical approach with the likes of BThomas. People like him can always twist anything into some fault of whichever politician they don't like. You'll never sway those people with facts.

        March 1, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
      • Been glo

        Haha LarryB. Your comment about persuading those people with facts is used in the vice versa situation. Except libs' facts are cherry-picked and twisted. Most conservative facts are just that- facts.

        March 1, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
  12. ForGoodOfAll

    That is wonderful news, and a critical necessity as global warming & consequentially, wild and deadly weather phenomena are quickly becoming the norm. Having the NASA scientists on board with this endeavor is smart policy!!

    March 1, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
    • yacon

      I agree that global warming is a real problem, and that is might influence the likelihood of several weather events, but most of the kinds of severe weather we observe now have always been around. The main reason for increasing costs from damage due to such events is that we have a greater population and more infrastructure in harms way. That signal would occur even without any global warming. Dealing with severe weather is a weather problem more than a climate one.

      March 1, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • Amused

      NASA along with NOAA has been involved in weather observation and research ever since the early 1960's. Their involvement is nothing new. The notion that tornados are becoming more severe or more frequent is a common myth! There has been NO increase in the severity nor frequency of tornados nor any other severe storm events. Global warming is a long term statistical analysis that shows a very slight increase in average temperatures over a very long period of time which started well over two thousand years ago. There is NO relation between this slight temperature increase and the normal occurance of tornados and severe storms.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:17 pm |

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