Update: It appears that the problem has been identified and can be fixed. Satellite might be back online by Friday.
Yesterday the National Weather Service GOES-West (GOES-15) geostationary weather satellite failed. In a geostationary orbit that allows it to stay above the same location in time, GOES-W is positioned over the equator at 135W at around 36,000 km above the surface.
The folks at the National Weather Service are trying to bring it back, but right now there is no information on how long this will take or whether they will succeed.
In the meantime, we are getting images from the other U.S. geostationary satellite (GOES-E) positioned over the equator at 75W, but that results in distorted images over the Northwest, with coverage rapidly fading/smearing out over the Pacific (see two samples of images this morning...the first infrared, the second visible).
In addition to the geostationary weather satellites, the U.S. has several polar orbiting satellites that circle the earth at a much lower altitude (about 800 km) and view the earth in relatively narrow swaths (about 2000 km wide). The trouble is that this coverage is not continuous, but at least we get a view everywhere at regular intervals.
The weather satellite systems are hugely expensive, and their costs are now squeezing out other functions of the National Weather Service. But their value is also substantial, and much of the credit for the improvement of weather prediction goes to the availability of huge amounts of satellite data everywhere over the planet.
Of course we have our coastal radar painting out approach weather along the Washington coast! As you can see below, a line of showers is approaching us Thursday AM...