It's not every day Alaska and Hawaii get special treatment, and while this particular bit of news pertains to much of the western hemisphere, it's hard not to feel special as a resident of the 49th state.

A new, high resolution, satellite gives scientists a closer look at fog, ice, fire, volcanic ash, and more. Chief meteorologist Melissa Frey expressed her joy in a tweet Tuesday, comparing the images from the old satellite to the new GOES west or GOES-17.


The GOES satellites are a big upgrade to what weather forecasters used in the past. The previous satellites were relatively low-resolution and images were updated infrequently. An accurate comparison of the old satellites to the new ones would be comparing black and white television on a giant tube television to a modern HD television hanging on the wall. It seems like a stark contrast, but that is exactly what this is. 

For starters, the image quality is night and day. The higher resolution imagery now shows fog, clouds, smoke, volcanic ash, clouds and more in real time. This is something that was not previously possible. 

The images also refresh more frequently. In the past, satellite imagery came in throughout the day in a choppy array of blurry images. Now, the pair of GOES satellites can transmit images in real-time. They're even able to track lightning strikes in a developing thunderstorm — something that has been linked to convection and strength of a storm. 


Now operational GOES-17 becomes GOES West, joining GOES East in mapping "more than half the globe — from the west coast of Africa to New Zealand, and from near the Arctic Circle to the Antarctic Circle," according to NOAA. This means that, in Alaska, we will not only have high resolution imagery, but we will also have it in places that have been blind up to this point. 

The area these satellites map covers just about all of the locations storms can affect the U.S. From the waves (storms) coming out of western Africa that can develop into Atlantic basin hurricanes, to Pacific storms impacting Hawaii, Alaska, and the west coast. This includes tropical cyclones like the one that hit Hawaii this past summer or atmospheric river events like the ones delivering flooding rain and travel-halting snow to parts of California — not to mention tracking deadly wildfires in real time, even mapping heat signatures of the uncontained blazes. 


The biggest implications of the now operational GOES West are probably for Alaska. For starters, the images are staggering. The satellite is high resolution enough to capture the shadow of Denali cast upon the ground as the sun skimmed the southern sky.

This loop from November 16, 2018 shows the shadow of America's highest peak cast upon the ground below.

It's hard to believe that a satellite some 22,000 miles above earth's surface captured these images, but that is just the start. 

The old satellite imagery didn't even cover a good portion of the state. In a state with minimal radar and buoy coverage, additional satellite coverage is a big deal. Forecasters can use the satellite in ways not possible before.

"Multispectral imagery" deciphers between clouds, snow, ground, sea ice and more. This means that during the dark winter months, scientists can use images around the clock to know exactly what is happening all over the state. For instance, the recent fog was picked up by GOES-17 in the dark areas scientists previously relied on ground observations or visible satellite imagery to see. 

Even volcanic eruptions are noticeable in the imagery. Take a look at this loop from November 21, 2019.

The black streak in the center of the image is the volcanic ash emitted from Veniamin. By filtering out sulfur dioxide, scientists can differentiate the ash plume from the surrounding clouds (the lighter spots in the loop). This small difference will help the National Weather Service, Volcanic Observatory, and even pilots predict and prepare for ash movement from ongoing eruptions. 

This week's news isn't just great for scientists. Very soon, you will notice the difference in reporting and forecasting weather all around our state.

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