On April 1, 1960, TIROS 1, the first true weather satellite, was launched. With each succeeding generation of satellites, remote sensing instruments became increasingly sophisticated and generated finer spectral and spatial resolution imagery.
The Television and Infrared Observation Satellite
(TIROS) carried special television cameras that viewed Earth's cloud cover from
a 450 mile orbit. By 1965, nine more TIROS satellites were launched. They
had progressively longer operational times, carried infrared radiometers to
study Earth's heat distribution, and several were placed in polar orbits to
increase coverage over the first TIROS in its near-equatorial "polar" orbit.
TIROS 8 had the first Automatic Picture Transmission (APT) equipment that allowed pictures to be sent back right after they were taken instead of having to be stored for later transmission. Eventually, APT pictures could be received on fairly simple ground stations anywhere in the world, even in high school classrooms.
TIROS 9 and 10 were test satellites of improved configurations for the Tiros Operational Satellite (TOS) system. (When it became part of another acronym, TIROS was written Tiros.)
Operational use started in 1966. In orbit, the TOS satellites were called ESSA for the Environmental Sciences Services Administration, the government agency that financed and operated them. TOS satellites were placed in Sun-synchronous orbits, so they passed over the same position on Earth's surface at exactly the same time each day; this allowed meteorologists to view local cloud changes on a 24-hour basis.
Several ITOS (for Improved TOS satellites) have been launched since 1970 and are the workhorses of the meteorologists. In orbit they are called NOAA for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration which is responsible for their operation.
View from the Space
These two pictures show Hurricane Andrew - 400 mph winds at the wall of the eye. In 1992 this storm caused widespread damage in the Bahamas, Florida, and Louisiana. If you've never had the chance to experience winds higher than 100mph, this picture gives you an impression of the force, Plywood Through the Middle of a Palm Tree, and the damage caused, Residential Rubble.