Weather Sats
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LAST UPDATED: 20th December 2016

Weather Satellite images can be downloaded directly from the POES (Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellite) NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) satellites on the 137MHz VHF band. With the advent of modern technology, the kit required to do this is now cheaper than ever. You could set yourself up to receive the weather images for about 40, or less if you make the antenna yourself.

I have been downloading images for some time now, and have been pleasantly surprised by the quality of images. Not every image is good, and some are just noise. This is due to the location and type of antenna etc, and also the position of the satellite in relation to the antenna. Some passes produce great images, while some, particularly those that are only a few degrees above the horizon are quite often unusable. Below are some images captured from my location. You can download images like these from the internet, but where is the fun and challenge in that?

So, how do you go about capturing the images from these tiny boxes orbiting at 800+km above the earth? You need a few things, you need an antenna, of the correct type and polarisation; you need a receiver capable of tuning to 137MHz in wide FM mode (a ‘normal’ scanner will work, but will give poor results due to the lack of necessary bandwidth. You need a receiver that has an FM bandwidth of between 40 and 50kHz. Next you need a way of getting the audio from your FM receiver into the computer software. Usually, this is via the computer soundcard (preferably using the ‘line in’ socket, or ‘mic in’ if that is not possible). To complete the picture, you need some software. All the images I have shown were produced using the free version of ‘WX2img’, a fantastic program that does all the hard work for you. When the images are downloaded, they are just a raw image file (as shown below). The software processes the telemetry and image data to generate a number of different images, depending on the settings. One of the very useful things the software does is to take account of the ‘Doppler shift’ - that is the change in frequency that occurs from an object as it approaches, and the recedes from you. As you can see, the raw image looks rather different to the processed image.

raw image
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Artists impression of a NOAA POES satellite (courtesy of www.noaanews.noaa.gov)

The NOAA weather satellite telemetry has a very distinctive sound. Click HERE to listen to / download a sample of the NOAA telemetry, as recorded at my location.

There are many permutations of equipment that can be used for receiving weather satellites. I will describe my own, very modest, system, and give examples of alternatives that can be used if you have the inclination, time and money to invest.

For more information on the NOAA satellite programme, visit: http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/

So my own setup for receiving these ‘birds’, as they are known is as follows:

Receiver: Funcube Dongle Pro plus or RTL R820T2 type dongle (widely available on the internet for just a few pounds) - there are two main types, the standard Mk1 version, or the enhanced and improved MK2 version. I have both and they both equally usable for this task. However, you may experience more interference issues as they do not have the same quality of filtering that is present on teh Funcube Pro+.

Antenna: 2 element ‘Turnstile’ mounted in my attic

Software: For Satellite imagery: WX2img (available from http://www.wxtoimg.com/ in both free and enhanced, “paid for”, versions - I use the free version); For signal capture etc: SDR Console V2 (http://v2.sdr-radio.com/). There are many other software packages about, such as SDR Sharp, HDSDR etc. but my preference is SDR Console. It supports my receivers, is highly configurable, runs on most systems (low CPU use) and is full of features.

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FCD
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Image from the NOAA19 1240UTC  pass on 19 March 2015. This is an Infra Red False Colour image (MCIR, for short).

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Image from the NOAA19 1240UTC  pass on 19 March 2015. This is a Multi Spectrum Analysis False Colour image (MSA for short).

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Image from the NOAA19 1240UTC  pass on 19 March 2015. This is a False Colour image showing potential precipitation, the  moisture content is denoted by colours, ranging from blue at the lowest end (that is, clouds with the least moisture content), through green to yellow, red, then black and, finally, white (which clouds have the most moisture content and, therefore, the greatest chance of yielding precipitation).

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Image from the NOAA18 1552UTC  pass on 18 March 2015. This is an Infra Red False Colour image.

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Image from the NOAA18 1604UTC  pass on 17 March 2015. Particularly good pass, favouring the South.

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Image from the NOAA18 1509UTC  pass on 13 March 2015. A good pass, favouring the East. Image shows East as far as the Black Sea and parts of Ukraine, Turkey and the Baltic States, plus a part of European Russia. Weather satellites show weather systems, fronts, cyclones, Anti cyclones and even hurricanes (depending on where you happen to be). I have captured images of some of the bad weather systems that affected the UK since the start of 2015. I had others from 2013/14, but cannot locate them.

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Dreadful weather over Ireland and heading towards the UK. We had some extremely high winds and torrential rain, back in early January 2015, thanks to this weather system. Below are some images captured after I moved the turnstile and replaced the feeder. I can see further to the North now, as the chimney isn’t blocking to much of the signal.

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noaa-18-06291438-mcir
noaa-15-06301658-mcir
noaa-15-06281608-msa
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