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Agency hopes new weather satellite will produce more accurate long-range forecasts

April 3, 2017 Updated: April 3, 2017 at 7:15 pm
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Looking for a more accurate weather forecast, especially after last week's major storms predicted for the Colorado Springs area fizzled? A new satellite scheduled for launch in September is expected to help.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expects the new satellite to be in operation by year's end and help the agency's National Weather Service unit produce more accurate midrange forecasts, said Stephen Volz, the agency's assistant director for its satellite and information service.

The first operation of the Joint Polar Satellite System will be to collect weather, climate and other data by year's end and allow forecasters to generate more accurate and timely forecasts of severe weather three to seven days beforehand, Volz said while in the Springs for the 33rd annual Space Symposium, a four-day gathering of space industry officials at The Broadmoor hotel that attracts more than 11,000 people.

"While there have been flying polar satellites for 40 years, this is the first major generation upgrade since the early 1990s," Volz said. "Every instrument on this satellite has been upgraded from the previous generation of satellites and is designed to give us better-resolution images in terms of color, spatial and other measurements and will even allow us to do cloud mapping at night, which is something we have never been able to do. It will also give us higher-precision measurements of temperature and atmospheric pressure that measure smaller areas."

A research-and-development version of the satellite was launched in 2011 by NOAA, the Air Force and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and has been providing data and images for about five years. The new satellite, built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, is the first of four that are scheduled to be launched during the next 14 years and will orbit the earth from to pole-to-pole 14 times daily, providing global coverage every 12 hours. The fleet of satellites are expected to cost $20 billion during the 30-year life of the program.

The new satellites replace a fleet that is still operating but is beyond its designed life span. They will allow the agency to identify wildfires sooner and track illegal fishing at night as well as produce more accurate forecasts from more detailed data and images they generate, Volz said.

"I can't say your weather forecast will be better tomorrow, but the models we are providing are generating increasing better forecasts and will continue to improve," Volz said. "However the variability in weather systems has increased and severe storms have become more frequent as the atmosphere gets warmer, causing more evaporation and more moisture in the atmosphere. The fact that more severe storms will occur is a virtual certainty, but predicting where they will occur is much more difficult. Weather may be global, but the impacts are local."

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Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234

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