JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – What would we do without weather satellites?
Previously, before this date in 1960, forecasters were blind to hurricanes out at sea. Then came the world’s first useful weather satellite, the polar-orbiting TIROS-1, which launched April 1 from Cape Canaveral.
While the satellite only operated for 78 days, it sent the first meteorological pictures showing what clouds looked like from space.
The 270-pound weather satellite carried two television cameras and two video recorders, bringing new insight in cloud development.
Up to that point, weather understanding and our interpretation of weather phenomena had been very localized.
TIROS-1 orbited 450 miles above Earth and communicated with two command and data acquisition stations. The data captured by those stations when the satellite passed within range of a receiving station were images recorded on 35mm film.
The first image from the satellite was a fuzzy picture of thick bands and clusters of clouds over the northeastern United States.
An image captured a few days later revealed a typhoon about 1,000 miles east of Australia.
Satellite weather technology advanced significantly with modern Geostationary satellites (GOES), which can provide rapid scan snapshot images of the earth every minute.
More frequent updates with higher resolution data means more accurate predictions monitoring forest fires, dense fog, tornadic activity or hurricanes.
TIROS satellites paved the way for the Nimbus program, whose technology and findings are the heritage of most of the Earth-observing satellites NASA and NOAA have launched since then.
Since 1975, the GOES system uses satellites in geosynchronous orbits as a basic element of U.S. weather monitoring.