Ten years of GOES-12 weather satellite imagery in 3 minutes

This is perhaps the most unimpressive yet awesome terrestrial video you may ever see.

“Big deal,” you might say, unless you’re paying attention to the Gulf of Mexico and the eastern Atlantic, as well as the way the shadows come and go at the poles. “It’s just weather. Seen it hundreds of times before.”

People have been saying, “It’s just weather, deal with it,” for millennia. Then something too big to deal with comes along – like the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 – and people die because they didn’t see it coming.

Weather satellites like GOES-12 have improved our long-distance vision tremendously. They have other life-saving uses, too.

Summer and Winter

Notice how the Earth view doesn’t change in that video, except for some intermittent shadows coming and going at the top and bottom of the planet?  That’s because of the G, as in “geostationary,” in GOES.

A couple of rocket scientists came up with the idea for geosynchronous satellites, but the notion didn’t gain ground until two science fiction writers, George O. Smith, and especially, Arthur C. Clarke covered it.

It takes a lot of science to make the dreams of writers a reality, even for something apparently as simple as this:

Two geostationary satellites, over Africa (the white track) and Singapore (the red track)  Source:  Wikipedia/

Two geostationary satellites, over Africa (the white track) and Singapore (the red track) Source: Wikipedia

For most of us, though, science is hard to understand – a picture is worth a thousand words, especially when there are words like “axial tilt.”

Watch how the shadows come and go at the poles in that GOES-12 video. What you are seeing are summer (light) and winter (shadow) coming and going.  Few humans have ever seen that!

US Navy 050828-O-0000X-001 GOES-12 Satellite I...

GOES-12 satellite Image of Hurricane Katrina (Wikipedia)


Also of special interest to me are those white blurbs that circle into the Gulf of Mexico and, to a lesser extent, the central and eastern Atlantic.

I’m interested in those hurricanes not only because I was in the American Southeast during 2004 and 2005 – seriously, just look at those two years there – but also because I’ve read two books, Thomas Knowles’ Category 5: The 1935 Labor Day Hurricane (2009) and Nancy Mathis’ Storm Warning: The Story of a Killer Tornado (2007), which is generally about the 1999 Oklahoma tornado outbreak, and specifically about the F5 that hit parts of Oklahoma City then.

Disclosure: I’m not associated with either writer and just bought the books a while back because they interested me, so think of this as a book review lite.

One of several tornadoes observed by the VORTE...

One of several tornadoes observed by the VORTEX-99 team on May 3, 1999, in central Oklahoma. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I read Mathis’ book first, which is also about how weather forecast technology was established and helped save lives during the May 1999 outbreak.

Then, when reading Knowles’ book, something was missing – there was little technical information about the storm.

Sure, Knowles did interviews with many survivors and made them the primary focus of his book, but I think also there just wasn’t a whole lot of information available about hurricane formation, tracking and forecasts in 1935.

Certainly the reports of survivors on the Florida Keys indicate that they didn’t know what was about to hit them.

If you’re familiar with that Labor Day Hurricane, and especially if you know the human stories behind what is still recognizable, particularly the train and the hospital, this video is very poignant:

Things Have Changed

Now think about this.

More than 400 people died when a very powerful but also very small hurricane hit the Florida Keys – population around 1,000 plus about 700 veterans camped there in 1935.

In 2012, a very powerful and also very big “superstorm” hit the New York metropolitan area, which includes the most populous city in the United States, as well as Long Island and the lower Hudson Valley in New York State; the six largest cities in New Jersey; six of the seven largest cities in Connecticut; and Pike County, Pennsylvania (population over 56,800).

There were 72 US deaths directly from Superstorm Sandy, and 82 indirectly. Not only does that – while still very tragic – compared favorably with the toll from the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane, Sandy was also the deadliest hurricane to hit the US mainland since Katrina in 2005 and the deadliest hurricane to hit the East Coast since Hurricane Agnes in 1972.

In other words, while there is still far to go, we’ve come a long way since 1935, in large part thanks to geosynchronous satellite coverage.

Thank you for many years of service, GOES-12!

Categories: Space, Weather

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