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The TIROS and Nimbus series of metsats were initiated by NASA (mainly at the Goddard Space Flight Center). The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration began developing and flying its own series, NOAA-6 through NOAA-15, as its mission made it the responsible agency for operational civilian meteorological satellites. Several TIROS satellites were dove-tailed with the NOAA program. Most of the NOAA series carry a version of the AVHRR sensor, usually with three bands in the Vis-NIR and two in the thermal region. Several hurricane images typify these NOAA products.

The NOAA Series

The present-day series of operational metsats can trace its inception to the launch of TIROS-M on January 23, 1970. Also called ITOS (for Improved TIROS Operational System), it included several vidicon cameras and an IR radiometer sensing between 3.4-4.2 µm. The first of the NOAA series (TIROS 2 to 5) followed this initial satellite. Here is a typical image, showing the eastern U.S., made by the NOAA-4 Very High Resolution Radiometer (VHRR), operating in the near-IR region.

NOAA-4 VHRR image of the eastern U.S.

A new series in this generation began with the launch of TIROS-N on October 13, 1978. This satellite was the first in that series to carry the AVHRR (described on page 14-2), along with the first sounder, TIROS Operational Vertical Sounder (TOVS), designed to profile temperature and water vapor. The TOVS is actually a three instrument complex: the High Resolution IR Sounder (HIRS-2), with 20 channels; the Stratospheric Sounding Unit (SSU), with three channels near 15 µm, and the Microwave Sounding Unit (MSU), a passive scanning microwave spectrometer with four channels in the 5.5 µm interval.

These instruments are the mainstays of the subsequent NOAA-6 (launched on June 27, 1979) through NOAA-15 (May 1998) metsats. The SBUV is also part of NOAA-9 and NOAA-11. Even-numbered NOAA metsats have North to South equatorial crossing times near 7:30 A.M. and have orbital repeat periods (re-occupy approximately the same paths) of four to five days. The odd-numbered ones cross the equator from North to South at night (2:30 A.M.) and have eight-nine day repeat periods. NOAA strives to keep as many as four satellites in this series operational at any one time.

The thermal bands on AVHRR can generate temperature "maps" of water bodies, both oceans and lakes. Here is a thermal image of the temperature in early Fall in the five U.S. Great Lakes:

Temperature variations in the Great Lakes (reds are warm; blues cold) imaged by a NOAA AVHRR thermal band.

Here is a NOAA-9 AVHRR image in the visible region of Hurricane Gloria, as it neared the East Coast on September 27, 1997:

NOAA-9 AVHRR image of Hurricane Gloria, September 27 1997.

Next, a NOAA-6 IR image, in which lighter tones are color-enhanced to bring out details, of Super Typhoon Angela in the western Pacific, shows its status on November 11, 1995:

Colorized NOAA-6 IR image of Super Typhoon Angela, November 11 1995.

Like most multi-channel systems, we can combine different AVHRR-band images into color composites, as demonstrated by this NOAA-14 rendition of Hurricane Fran on September 4, 1996:

Three band color composite of AVHRR images of Hurricane Fran,  September 4, 1996

14-15: This is a classic portrayal of a hurricane's appearance. Deduce from the directions of motion implied by the swirls in the hurricane's spiral pattern which way the circulation (clockwise or counterclockwise) of the winds is taking place. ANSWER

The NOAA daily images are compiled and displayed in different formats. Here is a NOAA-14 image taken on June 26, 2000 that covers European Russian eastward into Siberia.

NOAA-14 AVHRR image showing clouds superposed on a color base that includes European Russia, the Ukraine, Scandinavia,  part of the Balkans, and the western portion of Siberia; June 26, 2000.

The latest in the NOAA group, NOAA-15, has these instruments: AVHRR/3; AMSU A & B (sounders); HIRS (an infrared sounder); SEN (Space Environmental Monitor); SAR (Search and Rescue); and DCS (Data Collection System. Its AVHRR now has a sixth band, at 1.6 µm. The AMSU-A is capable of producing temperature profiles, as exemplified by this cross-section through Hurricane Bonnie.

A color-coded cross-sectional profile (abscissa = longitude; ordinate = height in feet) through Hurricane Bonnie, showing the internal temperature distribution (purple is hottest at >25 degrees centigrade).

The former Soviet Union/CIS has launched more than 25 polar-orbiting metsats in its three Meteor Series, starting in March of 1969, and continuing through 1994. Other metsats were part of their Kosmos series

China, too, is now in the metsat field. Here is an image of the "wayward province", Taiwan, imaged by its polar-orbiting Fengyun (FY-1C) satellite on May 10, 1999.

Image of Taiwan (Formosa) made by the Chinese metsat FY-1C.

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Primary Author: Nicholas M. Short, Sr. email: