Armchair storm chasers take note: NOAA’s GOES satellite provides viewers with detailed views of weather throughout the country by sensing electromagnetic energy at five different wavelengths. There are two wavelengths most commonly shown on weather broadcasts: Infrared and Visible, according to the geostationary satellite server’s website.
“In the infrared (IR) channel, the satellite senses energy as heat. The earth’s surface absorbs about half of the incoming solar energy. Clouds and the atmosphere absorb a much smaller amount. The earth’s surface, clouds, and the atmosphere then re-emit part of this absorbed solar energy as heat. The infrared channel senses this re-emitted radiation. A major advantage of the IR channel is that it can sense energy at night, so this imagery is available 24 hours a day. This is a disadvantage of the visible channel, which requires daylight and cannot ‘see’ after dark,” the site explains.
Appearing as black and white photographs, visible satellite images are derived from the satellite signals. Clouds typically appear white, while land and water surfaces can be seen in shades of gray or black.
Clouds, the earth’s atmosphere, and the earth’s surface all absorb and reflect incoming solar radiation, so, since visible imagery is produced by reflected sunlight (radiation), it is only available during daylight.
Visible imagery provides a higher resolution than IR images, so smaller features can be seen.
The site enhances IR images with color to bring out details in cloud patterns. Depending on the type of enhancement, the colors are used to signify certain aspects of the data, such as cloud-top heights. This is important, according to the site, because taller clouds correlate with more active weather and can be used to assist in forecasting.
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