Bad Bulbs Limit Forecasters' Hurricane-Watching Ability

AS hurricane season begins, burned-out light bulbs have forced storm specialists to rely on only one of two high-orbit satellites for the fifth time in seven years. The lone satellite, GOES 7, can't give a full picture of the Atlantic Ocean's hurricane breeding grounds. The trouble involves $1,000 light bulbs, which make the photographic images used to watch weather systems. Only one satellite completed its five-year design life before its bulbs burned out.

Because efforts to keep two satellites going have failed, the one being nudged into hurricane-season position - at a mere 1/4 m.p.h. to save fuel - will have to get through the 1991 season alone.

The $50 million GOES 7 satellite is one of the best tools for monitoring everything from hurricanes threatening the East Coast to typhoons off Hawaii. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says it is the sturdiest of its series; three predecessors have failed.

GOES has a tremendous public-relations value, says an NOAA spokesman. ``All the news programs show the satellite pictures - it's such an excellent way to get people to respond to the threat.''

Next summer, NOAA plans to launch the first of a new generation of more powerful satellites called GOES Next. But that satellite won't be ready for hurricane duty until 1992.

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