When Vanguard 2 was launched on February 17, 1959 it became our first orbiting “eye” on Earth’s weather. Although the satellite was unsuccessful in the long run, it paved the way for TIROS-1 about a year later. This in turn opened the avenue for the Nimbus program – the forerunner for today’s NASA and NOAA’s space-based weather observatories. Although our current climate spectators have proven to be not only efficacious, but enduring, the recent economy may spell an end to future pursuits.
With what appears to be crazy changes to our weather in recent times, they may not produce opportunities for climatologists to take advantage of data produced by satellite imaging. However, leaders in all fields of study are emphasizing the importance of continuing the weather satellite programs. “The stakes are high and the challenge is great,” said Earth Science Director Michael Freilich, at a briefing at the Forum on Earth Observation.
The importance of weather prediction affects our world population in more ways than just grabbing an umbrella or getting out your winter coat. Radical ramifications can disrupt logistics and threaten lives. This realization has prompted support from everyone from US President Obama to National Weather Service director Jack Hayes As the director explained, the “what if” synopsis could be very ugly when it comes to above average snowfall, powerful hurricanes or deadly tornadoes. The geostationary satellites portray global weather from a high level standpoint – but the lower, polar orbiters collect far more detailed data in a three to five day window that’s needed to make forecasting by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration possible.
“People tend to talk about forecasts in terms of extreme weather, but it’s also important to collect and study data over the long term to see how things are changing in certain areas and to anticipate the future.” said John Townshend of the University of Maryland. “We’ve got to recognize that climate change is occurring, whether or not you believe in global warming. Climate changes from year-to-year.”
And so do budgets…