Balloon Launch

A typical weather balloon is 5 feet in diameter at launch but may expand to 20 feet during flight.

Seems like every time someone gets caught spying from above, they try to pass it off as a weather observation. And there is some room for credibility in that excuse; after all, you were up in the sky with a package of electronic instruments. Who’s to say they aren’t studying the weather, at least partly? But the data required for upper atmospheric weather observation does not include high-resolution photography, sweeping the radio spectrum, or other go-go gadgets; just temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure will do, thank you.

Skew-T Plot

Plots like this one of weather balloon data help forecasters predict severe weather and which type of precipitation to expect.  

Before meteorologists can understand what’s going on at the surface well enough to make a forecast, first they have to understand what’s going on in the upper atmosphere. Specifically, they want to know the wind velocity, the temperature, the humidity, and the air pressure aloft. There is no better way to measure these things than by sending a package of weather instruments up in a weather balloon equipped with a radio to send the data back to you in real-time, a GPS so you can track it, and a battery to power the package.

500 mb chart

Data from multiple weather balloons can be combined to create a more complete picture of what's going on in the upper atmosphere.

radiosonde parts

A lot in a small package.

radiosonde tag

An expendable radiosonde.

Weekend Track

Tracking two weather balloons launched from Boise last weekend

long track

The winds on December 18th carried this weather balloon from Boise nearly to Idaho Falls.

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