SEATTLE - It's not used for forecasting yet, but that doesn't mean meteorologists with the National Weather Service aren't already appreciating the big technology leap in the new GOES-16 satellite launched in November.
This week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released cloud and water vapor imagery of the big snowstorm expected to hit the northeastern part of the U.S.
The images are much higher in resolution that what forecasters have been looking at from two satellites they've relied on for many years, known as GOES-East and GOES-West.
They will now have more data in those images, which come in a minute after they're taken, rather than the current 15-minute delay.
Multiple layers of moisture data are now available, rather than just one, which means forecasters will be better able to determine just how much rain is in storm clouds.
For the first time, a weather satellite will provide a look at lightning. Lightning can help forecast the intensity of storms. Before, lightning data was only available through ground-based detectors.
Western states, in particular, could benefit from forest fire detection, capable of seeing fires while they're still relatively small, about 15 acres, using shortwave infrared technology, and better able to see details from storms as they come across the ocean and before they are within range of coastal radar facilities.
GOES 16 is still in a shakedown phase, which is one reason why its data should not yet be relied on for forecasting. But the images are very real. It's also not clear yet over which half of the continental U.S. the first of these new technology satellites it will be parked over until the next one is launched.