Weather balloons provide valuable research

Weather in the Texas Panhandle is known for being â?¦ temperamental, which makes forecasting as difficult as our weather is unpredictable. So meteorologists rely heavily on data gathered by NOAA weather balloons.

â??We are mostly concerned with the weather that goes down at the surface as humans, because thatâ??s where it impacts us,â?? explains Andrew Moulson of the National Weather Service in Amarillo, â??but all the weather really starts up where the clouds form, so we need to get an understanding of what the weather is like from the surface all the way up to these balloons popping at about 18 miles in the air.â??

Twice a day, the National Weather Service sends up data recording devices called â??radiosondesâ?? attached to hydrogen balloons â?? hydrogen gas is much cheaper and more readily accessible than helium â?? that measure factors like temperature, relative humidity, dewpoints, and atmospheric pressure, to name a few.

Each radiosonde is also equipped with a GPS system that allows meteorologists to record exact locations for the most accurate possible understanding of global conditions on a day-to-day basis.

â??There are about 75 locations in the United States that do the same thing at the same time, and then about 700 to 800 places around the world that do it at the same time,â?? says Moulson. â??So basically, we can get a little snapshot of all of the measurements in the atmosphere across the world, and then what we do is we take all of that â?? tons and tons of data â?? and combine it with surface observations and satellites and other sensors and then we put it into the computer forecast models.â??

Computers then run mathematical and chemical analyses with all the compiled data so researchers can compare it to historical data and formulate the most educated projections possible. But itâ??s still next to impossible to accurately predict the weather past seven days into the future.

If you ever happen to come across a radiosonde that has finally fallen back to the earth, they all include a prepaid envelope to send it back to the NOAA station it came from â?? although Moulson tells me they generally see about a ten percent return rate.

You can see Moulsonâ??s entire explanation at the video attached to this story.