Why are weather balloons important? Green Bay to resume launches next week

Beyond The Forecast

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Weather balloon launches have been halted by the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Green Bay since late July due to maintenance. Normally balloons are launched from the office twice a day, in both the morning and evening. The new site is roughly 200 yards from the old location. The reason for the move according to Rebecca Hykin, a meteorologist at NWS Green Bay, is “that the lease was expiring” on the old property the previous was located on.

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On August 11, the office conducted the first test run of the weather balloons from the new location. NWS Green Bay will plan to begin launches again starting early next week. No upgrades were made to the actual weather balloons themselves.

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Weather balloon data is crucial in providing meteorologists a vertical view of the atmosphere directly above the location. This gives scientists an idea of what the air is like at the surface all the way to the upper levels of the atmosphere in one location.

The weather balloon data is often produced in a data set known to meteorologists as a Skew-T. For example, here are some observed Skew T’s:

As the weather balloon travels upwards it records information on the air above the location such as temperature (red), dew point (green), and wind direction. The bottom of the plot is the surface and going up the y-axis you increase in the height above the surface. Putting together these factors, meteorologists can determine how high up clouds are likely to form, or if there is a chance of severe weather. In the winter, these products become more useful it determining if precipitation is rain, sleet or snow based on the vertical profile.

Here are some other facts about Skew-T’s:

  • The closer the dew point is to the temperature (within 5 degrees Celsius), the more likely a cloud will form
  • Temperatures warmer at 1 km up from the ground than the actual surface creates a greater chance for low clouds or fog
  • The y-axis of pressure goes up in a logarithmic scale to replicate the linear progression in height from the surface – both units are plotted on the y-axis
  • The physical weather balloon pops around 19 miles above the surface according to Rebecca Hykin

All this information is critical in giving computer models another data point in understanding what is going on in the air above us. Although surface observations and satellite can be helpful, the weather balloon data provides meteorologists the physical observations that can verify our understanding of the current atmosphere.

It is good news in predictability for meteorologists that weather balloons will be back for launches in Green Bay next week! NWS Green Bay radar is expected to return soon as well.

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