Enlarge /. Image taken on April 1, 1960 by TIROS 1. This was the first television image of the earth from space.
Sixty years ago, on that day, April 1st, a Thor-Able rocket launched a small satellite weighing 122.5 kg into orbit about 650 km above the earth's surface. In fact, this launch from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station marked the beginning of the era of modern weather forecasting.
The Television InfraRed Observation Satellite [TIROS-1] was designed by the Radio Corporation of America and launched by NASA. It was the country's first weather satellite. During its 78 days of operation, TIROS-1 successfully monitored the earth's cloud cover and weather patterns from space.
This was a strong moment in the field of meteorology. For the first time, scientists were able to combine space-based observations with physical models of the atmosphere that were just being carried out on supercomputers.
After World War II, mathematician John von Neumann developed a computer to crack a series of equations put together by Jule Charney and other scientists. In the mid-1950s, Charney's group began to make numerical forecasts on a regular basis.
Suddenly, meteorologists had two incredibly useful tools on hand. Of course, it would take some time for more powerful computers to make higher-resolution predictions, and it would take decades for the sensor technology introduced on satellites to improve so far that spacecraft could collect data for temperature, humidity, and other environmental variables at different levels in the world The atmosphere.
Around 1980, the tools for satellite observation and numerical models that could process this data began to mature. Scientists had global satellite coverage 24 hours a day, and forecasts began to improve dramatically. Today, the fifth day of a five-day forecast in the app on your phone is about as accurate as the next day's forecast in 1980.
The predictive power in today's forecast underpins much of our daily life. And it's not just these warnings about an upcoming hurricane or the surf forecast this weekend. Data-driven decisions are everywhere. For example, employees in the local target business are automatically informed of winds above a certain threshold and sent to pull in the wagons before they blow away. This high density of information can be traced back to the beginning of the space age. So happy birthday, modern meteorology.