Weather Wonders: Weather Balloons

Weather Wonders: Weather Balloons

Happy Weather Wonders Wednesday! This week's question comes from 4th grader, Colby Houston.

He asked, "How can a balloon help you predict weather?"

The balloons used to gather information from the upper atmosphere aren't your typical party balloons. Weather balloons are filled with helium, until they are about 5 feet in diameter. Attached to the balloon is a parachute, and a shoe-boxed size radiosonde, which carries all the important sensors to gather readings in the upper atmosphere. There are two launches a day, at 1200 UTC and again at 0000 UTC. The balloons are released into the atmosphere, where they continue to expand as air pressure decreases. Some may even reach 20 to 30 feet in diameter, before popping!

The balloons travel about 100,000 feet, or 20 miles into the atmosphere, reaching the stratosphere. After the balloon pops, a parachute will help glide the weather sensors safely back to Earth.

So what do the radiosondes do? The purpose of a radiosonde is to gather real-time information about the atmosphere. They collect temperatures, relative humidity (or moisture levels), and pressure as the balloon rises. It is also capable of indirectly measuring wind speed and direction based on the time and position of the readings.

All of this data is sent back, and allows meteorologists to assess and predict changes in the atmosphere. Here's is the latest sounding information courtesy of the Storm Prediction Center, from the radiosonde launch at 6 p.m. CST on Tuesday night, showing how dry the atmosphere is in Shreveport.

If you have any Weather Wonders, make sure you send them my way!

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