2 Wants To Know Weather: How Weather Balloons Work

5:34 PM, Aug 29, 2013   |    comments
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GREENSBORO, NC -- The weather we experience on the ground is directly related to the atmosphere above us. One of the ways to monitor the atmosphere above us is by a weather balloon. So WFMY News 2 Meteorologist Grant Gilmore went to The Piedmont Triad International Airport and talked with Ruth Kimble, Upper Air Data Collector, who sends up weather balloons twice a day to take readings.

The process of preparing the weather balloon is lengthy and very thorough. It takes anywhere from 30-45 minutes to get this weather balloon ready for flight.

The instrument that actually collects the data is called a radiosonde. It has a temperature probe to reads the temperature, a humidity sensor that tells how moist the air is, and sensors that reads pressure. The process of tracking the the balloon's location allows for wind speed and wind direction to also be calculated.

The balloon gets filled up with 1600 to 2200 grams of helium which will help lift it into the atmosphere. The balloon will rise on average between 90,000 to 100,000 feet above the Earth's surface. This flight will last around 90 to 105 minutes.

It will climb somewhere around 1,000 feet per minute and can reach as high as 115,000 feet into the atmosphere -- that's about 20 miles above the earth's surface.

While in flight, the weather balloon can expand as wide as half of a football field. Eventually the balloon will pop and once it bursts, it's gone. The balloon itself will pretty much disintegrate and there's going to be very little if anything left. After the balloon bursts, the system shuts down and computer will stop tracking it.

The upper-air data collected during these flights is used by meteorologists to assist in making forecasts and for research. The WFMY News 2 Meteorologists greatly rely on this data especially when determining severe weather threats during active weather patterns.

The data from these weather balloons is also incorporated into computer forecast models. If a balloon launch is faulty or missed, the forecast models will not be as accurate.

Do you have a weather question? Email Grant at ggilmore@wfmy.com, Tweet him at @grant_gilmore, or post it on his facebook page: www.facebook.com/grantgilmore

WFMY News 2

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