One of the main satellites meteorologists use for the eastern part of the United States and the tropical Atlantic Ocean failed late Tuesday, May 21, 2013, EDT.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) operating geostationary satellite, known as GOES-East (GOES-13 and GOES-N), experienced trouble with its imaging equipment.
Engineers were working on repairing the imager, via software updates, but were unsuccessful as of Wednesday midday.
As an immediate, but marginal solution to the problem, a satellite based over the Pacific Ocean, GOES-15, which also is the main satellite for the western U.S. will take full-disc images of the Earth.
The satellite coverage from GOES-15 results in distorted images of the eastern U.S. and the western Atlantic and would be a significant concern for forecasters and the public at large going into the Atlantic hurricane season.
NOAA is activating another satellite, GOES-14. Officials expect the new craft to be available early on Thursday, May 23, 2013.
During September 2012, when GOES-13 experienced a similar problem, GOES 14 was activated and data was retransmitted over GOES-13.
According to AccuWeather.com Computer Programmer Jason Guthrie, "This meant that government and private sector users of the satellite data did not have to adjust their receivers (dishes)."
Impact on computer models, which use the data from GOES-13, should also be short-lived, due to the anticipated retransmission of data.
A greater concern would be if GOES-14 should experience a problem, since there would be a much more limited choice of options, possibly extending to foreign satellite coverage.
The geostationary satellites orbit the Earth at the same speed of the Earth's rotation which allows them to stay in one position over the globe.
"Computer model data relies more on polar-orbiting satellites, and impact on the models would likely be slight," Guthrie stated.
However, these polar-orbiting satellites only pass over the tropics at brief intervals and there is the potential for some loss of data should the GOES-13 imager be out permanently and GOES-14 experiences problems.
According to NOAA's Office of Satellite and Product Operations, GOES satellites constantly monitor severe thunderstorms, flooding rainfall and hurricanes and are key instruments for meteorologists to provide watches and warnings for these dangerous weather phenomena.
GOES-13, the first of three new generation satellites, experienced multiple failed launch attempts during the middle of the last decade. The craft was successfully put into orbit on May 24, 2006, and was designed to be in operation for 10 years.