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Satellite Zooms In On Weather Meteorologists Say New Sensors Will Improve Region’s Forecasts

The National Weather Service got a new pair of glasses on Sunday.

A $200 million high-technology weather satellite over the Pacific Ocean went into operation last weekend, replacing a 9-year-old outdated version.

Sensors on the new satellite are twice as sensitive as those it replaces. Computer images are detailed enough to show the snowy crests of Cascade Range volcanoes.

Meteorologists in Spokane and elsewhere said the information will improve their forecasts.

“It’s going to give us a more accurate picture of what’s going on,” said John Livingston, who heads the National Weather Service bureau in Spokane.

The new satellite is part of a $4 billion modernization of the weather service, which includes the installation of Doppler weather radar in Spokane.

Data from the satellite will be used with Doppler images to give a sharper focus on the weather, officials said.

The satellite, launched last May, was tested for several months before being maneuvered to its stationary position 22,000 miles above the equator southeast of Hawaii.

That’s high enough for the satellite to see about one-third of the Earth’s surface. Its range stretches from Alaska to Florida to New Zealand and the western Pacific.

For the public, probably the most important feature is the satellite’s ability to identify storms as they form over the North Pacific, said Lou Uccellini, director of the office of meteorology of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

In recent years, the weather service has improved its ability to predict major storms three to five days in advance. The new satellite should aid predictions of moderate episodes of fog, snow, rain, thunder and wind.

The satellite gathers and relays data from weather buoys in the ocean. It also can help predict floods and heavy runoffs because of its ability to measure snowpacks in remote mountains.

The spacecraft is officially known as Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-9, or GOES-9.

GOES-9 will be teamed up with another weather satellite, GOES-8, which is stationed over the equator south of Florida. GOES-8 can see most of North America and as far east as Africa.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: What weather satellite tracks