Automating Weather Balloons

Automating Weather Balloons

By: Marina Kobasiuk

Weather prediction depends on getting the newest and most accurate data possible, and with satellites around to help, it’s sometimes easy to forget how important local conditions are. This is why the National Weather Service still launches weather balloons on a regular schedule, twice a day, or more if severe conditions are on the way. As the balloons travel with their radiosondes up through the atmosphere they track temperature, humidity, air pressure, and other variables, which all get transmitted back to the ground. 

Doing this across the country allows the full vertical profile of the atmosphere to be observed at specific times. These current conditions inform predictions and future research so it’s vital for a NWS office to perform this well so any changes can be tracked. Wherever the local office is for your region you can bet they do their launches daily, and some offer tours of the experience so anyone from the public can see what this part of weather research entails!

But, human error happens, and many offices where balloons are supposed to be launched from are not pleasant locations to reside in for the long term. Alaska is home to a number of these more remote stations so NOAA is working on an improvement by automating the weather balloon releases. These autolaunchers are being put into place all across Alaska’s stations so they’ll only need to be restocked with materials every twelve days or so, depending on if extra balloons are used to analyse major weather events. Automation is intended to improve the data set Alaska provides to the NWS since fewer launches will be missed and all of them will be timed preciscely by computers, which takes human issues out of the equation. More reliable data will also hopefully lead to more accurate predictions nation wide as systems move inland from the west coast.

For more detailed discussion on the financial and career benefits of this change, NOAA has a full press release on the program, as well as an additional article on 6 benefits to the automation.

Summary: The National weather service is starting to implement automated weather balloon launches in Alaska. It’s a great look into the long term goals of improving data collection!