After a series of delays, the most recent of which were caused by the weather, officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA cheered as the Joint Polar Satellite System-1 (JPSS-1), the first in a series of four highly advanced NOAA polar-orbiting satellites designed to improve the accuracy of weather forecasts out to seven day. launched. JPSS-1 launched at 1:47am PT on Saturday, November 18 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
The Delta II rocket carrying the JPSS-1 satellite has seen its fair share of delays over the past week or so. The launch was set to occur in the early morning hours on Friday, November 10th but due to a battery issue with the rocket, it was scrubbed well in advance of that day. It was then rescheduled to Tuesday November 14th. On that date, at T-4 minutes to the launch, a technical alarm went off at approximately the same time as wayward boat went into a restricted area in the nearby Pacific Ocean. As a result, the launch was scrubbed again. Twenty four hours later, the winds high in the atmosphere were too strong and the flight of the JPSS-1 on the Delta II rocket had to be delayed yet again. This time, there were several days where the window to launch was closed and there was no attempt to launch due to high altitude winds. Finally, the Delta II rocket launched with the JPSS-1 on-board in early morning hours of Saturday the 18th of November.
In a few months, after the data is quality checked and verified, JPSS-1 will use the most advanced data acquisition technology NOAA has ever experienced in a polar-orbiting satellite to capture the most accurate and detailed observations of our atmosphere, land and waters. It will provide meteorologists and other scientists with a wide variety of data, including atmospheric temperature and moisture, sea-surface temperature, ocean color, sea ice cover, volcanic ash and and even fire detection. For meteorologists, the advancements in data acquisition from all levels of the atmosphere are expected to lead to improved mid-range weather forecasts of 3-7 days out.
Now that the wait is over and the JPSS-1 is in orbit, meteorologists wait for the new data to be fed into computer models so we can see what improvements the improved data makes. The hope is that better forecasts will lead to more advance warning time for all kinds of weather emergencies and that lives will be saved as a result.
According to Steve Volz, director of NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service, “The better and more accurate the data that will be fed into NOAA’s and other governments around the world’s computer weather models is, the better the product that will come out of them. We have seen a mathematical correlation over the past 50 years or so of computerized weather forecasts that better data coming in to computer models leads to more accurate model results coming out.” Mr. Volz continued, “Just as 40 years or so ago when 7 day forecasts were held in contempt, we have a goal that the accuracy of 3-7 day forecasts will soon be as good as our current 12-24 hour day forecasts are. I and the rest of the JPSS team believe this is not a pie in the sky goal but one that JPSS series of satellites can accomplish.”
More accurate 3-7 day forecasts are one of the primary goals of the JPSS series of satellites. Mid-range weather forecasts of 3-7 days are vitally important when preparing for natural disasters, such as hurricanes. Having enough preparation time to start the complicated emergency action process needed in advance of weather emergencies is of key importance. Joe Pica, director of NOAA’s National Weather Service Office of Observations said, “As we have seen in the numerous hurricanes that impacted millions of people earlier this year, that days, or even hours, of advanced warning allows evacuation orders to be given far enough in advance to allow the public to both receive the warnings and act on them.”
“The hope is that our forecasts accuracy will continue to improve enough that hurricane warnings and watches can be issued earlier than they are now,”,continued Mr. Pica, “and the cone of certainty of the paths of tropical systems can stay on the path of being narrowed. The hope is that not only will the public see the improvements in the forecasts and thus act according when watches and warning are issued; that decision makers, both on the federal as well as local government levels, will as well. When both the general public and public officials see the improved forecasts, the hope is that they will wholeheartedly believe and act on these warning and lives will be saved as a result.”