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Weather Jigsaw Puzzles

Jig-saw puzzle pieces, scrambled up.

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The jig-saw puzzles pictures show some of the events that have a big impact on our everyday lives—like volcanoes, hurricanes, tornadoes, snow storms, fires, lightning, floods, even storms on the sun. What these events all have in common is that a group of GOES satellites can tell us much more about them. For example, the GOES-R series of weather satellites can provide earlier and more accurate location warnings of tornados. The first satellite in the GOES-R series—now called GOES-16—was launched into orbit in late 2016.

For almost 40 years, weather satellites stationed high above Earth’s equator have been sending us images and data on Earth’s atmosphere and solar activity (space weather). These images and data become even more valuable when they are processed by computers into data products that tell researchers and forecasters everything from the temperature of the ocean’s surface to the location and extent of forest fires. Put the event jig-saw puzzles together, and read about what the GOES-R series can tell us about them.

Or, look at the pictures and read the text without doing the puzzles.

Thumbnails of all jig-saw puzzles images.

Jig-saw Puzzle Pictures

Frosty trees

Frosty trees

Images from the GOES-R series can show how much of the land is covered with snow. Snow reflects back to space some of the sunlight that would normally warm Earth’s surface. Thus snow cover affects weather and climate. Snow information can also be used to predict the amount of water that fills rivers or causes floods when it melts, and can help in managing water supplies for farms and cities.



When a volcano erupts, it can send very fine clouds of ash high into the sky, where jet planes fly. This ash is like tiny shards of broken glass. Although it is often invisible, it can severely damage the engines and other parts of planes. The GOES-R series satellites can detect even thin volcanic ash plumes in the atmosphere, so that planes can avoid them.



Energetic particles from storms on the sun can reach Earth’s environment in space. This bad “space weather” can disrupt power grids and communication and navigation systems, and it can hurt satellites and astronauts. The GOES-R series satellites have telescopes that can observe the sun for warning signs of severe solar storms. We can then predict when bad space weather is heading toward Earth so steps can be taken to protect equipment and astronauts.

Flooding, seen from space

Colorful satellite image.

The GOES-R series can predict heavy rain and flooding. The data collected can be combined with data from other satellites to show “atmospheric rivers.” These are long, narrow filaments of moisture in the atmosphere that can transport as much water as the Amazon River!



The GOES-R series can help give people more warning to prepare for tornadoes. It can detect the conditions in fair weather cumulus clouds that mean they are going to become threatening cumulonimbus clouds that could spawn tornadoes. Forecasters can use such predictions to warn people of a potential severe weather event long before any severe weather is reported.

Sea coral

Colorful sea coral.

The GOES-R series can monitor sea surface temperature. This information is important in monitoring and forecasting climate and weather. Ocean temperature data also helps in tracking sea turtles, assessing the health of coral reefs, and managing commercial fisheries.



The GOES-R series can detect lightning. This data can help severe weather forecasters identify rapidly growing thunderstorms and issue accurate and timely warnings of severe thunderstorms and tornados.


Satellite view of hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico.

The GOES-R series has advanced instruments for imaging and observing to help in forecasting hurricanes. The data can more accurately predict where the hurricane is going and how intense it will become. Thus, the National Hurricane Center can issue earlier warnings to the people in the hurricane’s likely path.

Forest fire

Forest fire.

The GOES-R series can detect the heat from even small fires. The satellites can help those responsible for monitoring air quality and controlling fires.

Rescue at sea

Helicopter rescue at sea.

The GOES-R series is part of a world-wide Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking (SARSAT) system. Aircraft, boats, and individuals (such as hikers) carry emergency beacon transmitters, which they activate in an emergency. A satellite, such as GOES-16, receives the signal and relays it to ground stations, which quickly relay the message and location information. The nearest search and rescue team is dispatched to help the people in distress. SARSAT has helped in the rescue of thousands of people around the world.


Earth from space.

The GOES-R series satellites can continuously make images and atmospheric measurements of Earth’s Western Hemisphere. It can detect and track hurricanes and severe weather. It can also help the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) do its job in monitoring water and weather, climate, commerce, and the living environment.


Colorful aurora over snowy landscape.

Sometimes electrically charged particles from storms on the sun enter Earth’s atmosphere near the North and South Poles. That’s when curtains of colorful Northern (or Southern) Lights may dance in the sky. But particles and radiation from solar storms can cause damage to satellites, electrical power utilities, and navigation systems. The GOES-R series satellites can monitor Earth’s magnetic field from the satellite’s geostationary orbit ~22,300 miles above the equator. The information it collects is important for predicting and warning of this type of danger.