Real-Time User Satellite Data: Partly to Mostly Available

By the AMS Committee on Satellite Meteorology, Oceanography, and Climatology
Accurate forecasting and creation of weather products require large amounts of input data. Satellite data and imagery provide a large percentage of that time-critical information, including the basis of timely warnings of tornadoes and hurricanes, solar storm-induced electric currents, and the spread and concentration of volcanic ash clouds.
But the role of satellites in saving lives and preventing havoc from atmospheric events is not limited to originating essential data and imagery. Satellites make possible reliable and continuous transmission of data to the meteorologists who issue warnings, watches, and forecasts. For example, warning and water-management data from remotely located, geographically diverse terrestrial sensors in streams, rivers, lakes, and coastal areas are transmitted via the GOES Data Collection System. Thanks to satellites, these data get to first-responders and disaster managers anywhere in the country via the Emergency Managers Weather Information Network (EMWIN).
Many government agencies and the private sector have partnered on an NWS initiative called “StormReady®,” which requires multiple methods—including satellite transmissions—to receive NWS and hydrometeorological monitoring of data. Rapid and reliable communications leading to life- and property‐saving responses have never been better.
Unfortunately, the improvements made by the NWS StormReady® initiative may be threatened by recent and future radio‐frequency spectrum auctions prompted by the growing demand to share federal spectrum. Sharing between commercial broadband and sensitive satellite ground stations may be a source of radio frequency interference, which will disrupt weather product dissemination. For the first time, there is a real threat of these warnings not being received by first-responders because of potential interference caused by commercial broadband providers who will now share the same bands as StormReady® participants.
Private sector and federal users receive the imagery and science data from GOES/GOES-R satellites to guarantee data availability with rapid receipt time. If terrestrial infrastructure is degraded, the direct broadcast guarantees continuation of data.
As AMS Fellow Michael Steinburg put it at a recent webinar (see link at the end of this post): “On the one hand . . . we recognize the continued need to evaluate and optimize federal radio spectrum assignments and allocations as consumer electronics, mobile technology, and the Internet of Things experience explosive growth–sector growth that in fact results in significant growth for America’s weather industry, as new devices and platforms arise all over the world. On the other hand . . . this growth cannot put in jeopardy the core delivery methods that are used by governments and America’s weather industry to reliably collect, aggregate, and deliver foundational weather data because what those do is they provide mission-critical, lifesaving weather products. We cannot–as a Weather Enterprise united in our common goals of saving lives and improving the quality of lives for the world’s citizens–allow this to occur.”
The products developed from these satellites lead to the answers for the following questions:

  • “How many miles of coastal population should we evacuate ahead of landfall for a tropical storm or hurricane?”
  • “When does a severe storm forecast need to alter operations for the energy production or generation industry in a region under imminent threat for severe weather?”
  • “How does a mariner obtain the best possible data to enable ocean freight to safely arrive at our ports?”
  • “At what point do volcanic ash clouds, severe turbulence, or near-Earth radiation demand changes in the heading, altitude, and direction of a commercial or private aircraft to protect the safety of passengers and crew?”

Based on the results of the recent auction, which generated more than $40 billion in revenue, the temptation of government officials to focus more exclusively on the enormous revenue these auctions can create will be great. We, who provide the American people with reliable and accurate weather forecasting and warnings, along with the state and local disaster managers who rely on this information, must make our voices heard.
We urge you to be vigilant as recommendations are made for radio spectrum auctions, which may be shared between the nation’s weather satellites and commercial use. Your input to the Federal Communications Commission on the importance of meteorological products to industry segments will be necessary in the next few months to communicate the importance this spectrum plays in weather forecasting. Comments to the FCC Office of Engineering and Technology can be directed to [email protected].
Two recent AMS-sponsored events discuss this situation in considerable detail. See and