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Evolution of Weather Satellites

By Justin Povick
September 3, 2013; 5:18 AM ET

Over the last 50 years, weather forecasting tools have grown leaps and bounds. The evolution and improvement of weather satellites has played a huge role in the success.

The first satellite launch was over 50 years ago on Feb. 17, 1959. The name of the satellite was Vanguard Two and the mission was not considered a success. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) launched the world's first weather satellite into space on April 1, 1960. It was called the TIROS I.

At the time of these first satellite launches, the concept of measuring air pressure from a satellite was new territory. With the reality of measuring additional parameters, such as cloud cover and temperature, weather forecasts vastly improved.

Early satellite images were very rough and showed little detail. Today, satellites show great detail and can be used both for short-term forecasting and long-term forecasting as well as research. NOAA's operational satellite, data and information service runs the GOES and POES satellites, which bring back very detailed, useful information for all types of weather forecasting.

NOAA's National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS) in Suitland, Md., maintains all operations of environmental satellites.

There are two types of satellites in orbit today that supply meteorologists with an abundance of global weather information. Geostationary operational environmental satellites (GOES) are used for "national, regional, short-range warning and ‘now-casting,'" according to NOAA. The other type of satellites is polar-orbiting environmental satellites (POES) for "global, long-term forecasting and environmental monitoring."

Satellites are pivotal in gathering an overall picture of the weather pattern as well as local weather information. They are important for tracking hurricanes and typhoons, and estimating cloud heights that can give meteorologists information on the severity of thunderstorms.

Content contributed by AccuWeather meteorologist Meghan Evans.

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