Weather Forecasting Through the Ages

Modern Tools of the Trade
Modern technology, particularly computers and weather satellites, and the availability of data provided by coordinated meteorological observing networks, has resulted in enormous improvements in the accuracy of weather forecasting. Satellites, in particular, have given forecasters routine access to observations and data from remote areas of the globe. On April 1, 1960, the polar-orbiting satellite TIROS 1 (the first in the series of Television and Infrared Observation Satellites) was launched. Although the spacecraft operated for only 78 days, meteorologists worldwide were ecstatic over the pictures of the Earth and its cloud cover that TIROS relayed back to the ground.

First TIROS image
The first picture of Earth from a weather satellite, taken by the TIROS-1 satellite on April 1, 1960. Although primitive in comparison with the images we now receive from satellites, this first picture was a major advance.

Over the past 40 years, satellite sensor technology has advanced enormously. In addition to providing visual images, satellites can also provide data that allow calculation of atmospheric temperature and moisture profiles and other environmental variables. This is done using a variety of instruments, among them atmospheric sounders, which measure quantities at various levels in atmospheric columns. The data retrieved from sounder measurements taken from a satellite can be made similar to radiosonde observations, with the major advantage that the satellite data are more complete spatially, filling in gaps between weather ground stations, which often are hundreds or even thousands of kilometers apart.

GOES image
Full-disk GOES-8 water vapor image from September 5, 1995. (Courtesy of Marit Jentoft-Nilsen.)



Weather Forecasting Through the Ages
Early History
Towards Numerical Prediction
Modern Tools of the Trade
The Aqua Spacecraft
Benefits to Society

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