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A weather eye for risk: Possibilities soar with GOES-16 satellite launch

By Neil Spector May 11, 2017
The Moon from geostationary orbit
GOES-16 captured this view of the moon as it looked across the surface of the Earth. Photo courtesy of NOAA/NASA.

Visualize is pleased to present a recurring discussion series of timely topics written by Neil Spector, President of Underwriting Solutions for Verisk Insurance Solutions.

Sometimes the best way to look at the weather is from 22,000 miles up. With the new GOES-16 satellite, launched November 19, 2016, that will be the case more than ever for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)—with an assist from Verisk’s Atmospheric and Environmental Research (AER) subsidiary. AER participated in various aspects of the program for well over a decade leading up to the launch.

Converting raw measurements

AER was the science and engineering subcontractor to the GOES-R Ground System prime contractor, Harris Corporation (Melbourne, Florida). AER developed and tested the operational software that converts raw instrument measurements into geophysical parameters, including cloud cover, lightning, and sea surface temperature maps; characterization of wildfires; atmospheric temperature and humidity profiles; and space weather measurements such as the effect of solar X-ray flares.

Check out GOES-16 imagery of severe storm activity. Video courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Joins NOAA’s satellites in orbit

The AER team worked closely with government and academic scientists to ensure accurate transformation of state-of-the-art science algorithms into reliable software. AER and Harris integrated and optimized the software into the operational Product Generation System, targeting uptime better than 99.99 percent for a satellite that records 60 times more data every day than its predecessor. An innovative software product, the AER Algorithm Workbench, was used throughout this work as an efficient framework to facilitate the large software development and test effort.

Named GOES-R before launch, the satellite became GOES-16 after successful initial on-orbit checkout when it joined NOAA’s constellation of weather satellites in geostationary orbit. Example image products have since been released to the media.

GOES-16 carries vastly upgraded hardware and software that improves forecasting capabilities for all kinds of weather, from the mundane to the extreme. But there are more applications for the satellite’s unprecedented capabilities, including potential aids for insurers to better understand their risks, stay on top of developing events, and respond more quickly to customers’ needs.

The capacity for near-real-time data in ongoing events is among the many upgrades provided by GOES-16, the first satellite from the fifth generation of GOES spacecraft. It will provide imagery at much higher resolution and across a far wider range of the infrared and near-infrared spectrum, with the ability in some cases to refresh images at 30-second intervals.

Tracking lightning strikes

When severe thunderstorms rage, GOES-16 will bring greater capacity to track lightning strikes and locate areas of greatest intensity to better safeguard against risks such as power outages and damage to sensitive electronics. It will supplement existing ground-based systems for lightning detection, yielding a more complete picture of the quantity and nature of lightning strikes, such as cloud-to-ground or cloud-to-cloud (the latter often being a precursor to tornadoes).

Observing wildfires in near real-time

If lightning—or any cause—touches off a wildfire, GOES-16 will enhance capabilities to observe, model, and track the spread of such fires. Insurers may be able to learn the projected path of a fire or even follow it in near-real time.

Hurricane forecast models will also benefit, as well as monitoring of precipitation and flooding, both inland and coastal. All of that can help insurers better prepare for and respond to events as they unfold, positioning and directing resources such as claims personnel and supplies where they’re most needed.

There are several areas where the enhanced temporal and spatial resolution of the GOES-16 instruments is of interest for AER and Verisk-wide initiatives. Some of this data may be put to use later in 2017 when the system becomes officially operational.

GOES-16 reached its final orbit in January and captured its first image on January 15. It will undergo testing and calibration for several months before coming online as part of NOAA’s operational satellite fleet. By November 2017, it will be assigned as either GOES East or GOES West, replacing one of the aging satellites covering the Americas and Atlantic or Pacific Ocean regions.


Neil Spector

Neil Spector is president of Underwriting Solutions for Verisk Insurance Solutions. He is focused on helping property/casualty insurers manage and improve underwriting performance throughout the policy lifecycle. You can reach Neil at NSpector@verisk.com.