Introducing Florida’s Newest Eye in the Sky

Oct 4, 2017

Florida's Newest Eye in the Sky (GOES-16)

Weather forecasters could do nothing to stop Hurricane Irma as it approached Florida and became the first major hurricane to make landfall in the state since Wilma in 2005. They did, however, have a new powerful tool to help track the storm and its potential for destructive winds, flooding rains, and embedded tornadoes.

As Irma tracked across the Caribbean and set its sights on Florida, NOAA’s GOES-16 satellite provided forecasters with updated imagery every minute, in some cases every 30 seconds, helping to locate the exact center of circulation and closely monitor intensification of the storm. In fact, in its first hurricane season on orbit, GOES-16 has watched three category 4 or 5 storms—Irma, Harvey, and Maria—make landfall in U.S. territory for the first time on record.


The GOES-16 Advanced Baseline Imager captured this infrared imagery of Category 5 Hurricane Irma churning toward the Caribbean on September 5, 2017. (Credit: NASA SPoRT)

GOES-16 and Florida have a very special connection. Not only was the satellite launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on November 19, 2016, but the satellite’s camera—the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI)—was designed and built by Melbourne-based Harris Corporation, as was the state-of-the-art ground system that can process more than 16 terabytes of data per day.

Although not yet operational, GOES-16 has provided vital information during this unusually active hurricane season. Forecasters have utilized the improvements over previous GOES satellites—including more spectral channels, higher spatial resolution, and faster refresh—in direct support of their mission to protect life and property.

The GOES-16 ABI has captured unprecedented real-time views of Irma and other hurricanes in motion, revealing important details about the structure of the eye and eyewall. For example, the National Hurricane Center noted the following in its forecast discussion on September 5, 2017: “Irma is an extremely impressive hurricane in both infrared and visible satellite images. Experimental GOES-16 one-minute visible satellite pictures show a distinct 25-30 [nautical mile] wide eye with several mesovortices rotating within [the] eye.”


Category 5 Hurricane Irma as seen by GOES-16 (left) and GOES-13 (right), on the morning of September 5, 2017. The animation on the left shows the improved resolution and faster refresh rate of the GOES-16 ABI, with a new image every minute. (Credit: NOAA/CIMSS)

GOES-16 is also increasing the accuracy and lead time of warnings for severe thunderstorms, flash flooding, and tornadoes, whether spawned by hurricanes or otherwise. When the outer rain bands of Irma reached Florida, for example, forecasters used ABI one-minute imagery in combination with traditional radar data, which updates approximately every five minutes, to anticipate where heavy rains were heading next:

“Radar and GOES-16 1-minute...visible imagery depicts recent strong rain band [moving through] Miami-Dade County expanding SW and West across the Everglades,” stated a National Weather Service forecast discussion on September 9, 2017.

While weather and hurricanes have gotten the most headlines, GOES-16 has also proven valuable for wildfire monitoring during one of Florida’s worst wildfire season in years. In particular, ABI’s better resolution and faster refresh improves the detection of wildfire initiation, behavior, and intensity.


Comparison of GOES-16 ABI and GOES-13 imagery shows grass fires burning near Lake Okeechobee in southern Florida on February 20, 2017. ABI’s 30-second updates provide earlier, more detailed, and more accurate detection of wildfires, while several brief fires are not detected at all in the 15-30 minute update intervals of GOES-13. (Credit: NOAA/NASA)

With GOES-16 expected to become operational in November 2017, users of its data are only beginning to realize the full potential of ABI to improve weather forecasting and environmental monitoring. Called GOES-R before launch, GOES-16 is the first in NOAA’s GOES-R Series of next-generation geostationary weather satellites. GOES-S, GOES-T and GOES-U, scheduled to launch from 2018 through 2025, will also carry Harris ABIs, with data processed by the Harris GOES-R ground system.

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