Fri. May 20th, 2022

The US plans to deploy a set of small satellites to close a major gap in the ability to predict precipitation threats, such as the deluge that hit Northeastern cities at the beginning of September. The US Air Force signed a roughly $20 million deal with Tomorrow.io to create and deploy a network of small satellites with enhanced radar to analyze precipitation from space.

“This satellite constellation collaboration with Tomorrow.io will complete critical weather sensing gaps and provide Air Force Weather operators with a vastly improved understanding of current and predicted mission-limiting weather conditions,” John Dreher, who serves as the chief of weather systems branch at the Hanscom Air Force Base situated in Massachusetts, said.

Currently, out of the over 3,000 active satellites orbiting Earth, just one is equipped with that capability. A NASA official informed CNN, “This is a concern.” “It’s a high-dollar undertaking, and the agencies have so far been unwilling to go further.”

In February 2014, NASA and JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) launched the Global Precipitation Measurement Core Observatory satellite into orbit. The observatory, which cost over a billion dollars and is the size of a school bus, can perform tasks that no other satellite can. Unlike conventional weather satellites, which can only view the storm’s outer layer, the GPM spacecraft can “see” inside the clouds, allowing it to anticipate when, where, and how much snow or rain will fall with greater precision. The satellite also combines data from a collection of current satellites operated by a collaboration of international partners that measures precipitation.

This type of information is essential for forecasting extreme weather occurrences. When Hurricane Ida’s remnants rushed into the Northeast, killing nearly 52 individuals from Maryland to Connecticut, National Weather Service issued a 24-hour advance warning of “high rainfall and potentially major flash, urban, and river flooding.” However, the unprecedented amount of rain that poured in New York City – more than 3 inches in less than an hour — surprising city and state officials.

“We had no idea that between 8:50 – 9:50 p.m. yesterday night, the heavens would actually open up and send Niagara Falls water level to streets of New York,” remarked New York Governor Kathy Hochul following the tragedy.

The more precipitation radars in space, the more precise the forecast on Earth will be. The United States has a network of precipitation radars on the ground. However, many portions of the earth, such as the two-thirds of Earth’s surface occupied by oceans, are not. Those places, as well as large expanses of China, Russia, and Africa, are largely unaffected by the terrestrial precipitation radars, as well as the US military is interested in them.

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