New satellite to keep sharper, quicker tabs on Singapore skies

Its features are especially suited to predicting type of storm common here

Want better and more frequent forecasts and alerts about the weather in Singapore? You are in luck, and it could happen well before the end of this year.

The Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS) will be getting data from a new and improved Japanese weather satellite called the Himawari-8 after it becomes fully operational later this year.

Launched in October last year, it will orbit Earth at an altitude of 36,000km above the Equator. The satellite will provide snapshots of the planet and its weather, including developing storm clouds, every 10 minutes.

This is a marked improvement over the information provided by the Japanese MTSAT satellite currently used by the MSS, as the MTSAT can give updates only once every half-hour.

The Japan Meteorological Agency plans to switch its operations from MTSAT to the Himawari-8 in the middle of this year.

An MSS spokesman told The Straits Times: "With more frequent observations and a higher spatial resolution, (the Himawari-8) can detect weather systems, as well as smoke haze, at more frequent intervals."

Experts said the satellite's features are especially suited to predicting the type of storm that is common in the tropics, including in Singapore.

Weather scientist Koh Tieh Yong said: "Most of the storms here are convective storms, which are caused by the rising of hot air and the sinking of cold air.

"The time-scale for such rising and sinking is in the order of 10 minutes, so the satellite's frequent observation is a good improvement in terms of observing this phenomenon of convective weather."

Dr Koh, a professor at Nanyang Technological University and a principal investigator at the Earth Observatory of Singapore, noted that the Himawari-8 is able to provide greater detail about temperatures and humidity at various heights.

This information, plugged into weather-modelling computer systems, would allow forecasters to better predict the likelihood of storms over the ensuing four hours.

Even so, Dr Koh added, the horizontal resolution of the Himawari-8 images might not be high enough to capture isolated clouds or small clusters of clouds that could bring showers to Singapore.

"The resolution is already fantastic for most countries, but Singapore is very small, so we will always need better data," he said.

Dr Santo Salinas, a senior research scientist at the National University of Singapore's Centre for Remote Imaging, Sensing and Processing, said the satellite could help the authorities monitor forest fires and smoke haze more effectively.

However, he said, it might not be able to detect small fires or fires that burn underground, which are common in the region.

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