NSSL Podcast

Flight of the Weather Balloons

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Text Transcript

It's time for yet another podcast of “That Weather Show,” brought to you by the NOAA Weather Partners. I'm Angelyn Kolodziej.

“If it ain't broke, don't fix it”.

That saying certainly fits weather balloons. Today, the NOAA National Weather Service relies on the same principles established over two centuries ago. Here are the basics: A balloon uses gas to rise to a high altitude. Attached to the balloon is a data-gathering device. While rising, it measures things like temperature, pressure, and humidity. The result is a three-dimensional snapshot of the atmosphere. This is essential information for weather forecasts and research. Once the balloon reaches maximum height, it bursts and descends back to Earth.

This isn't to say that things haven't improved over the years. When the French pioneered the technology in the late eighteen hundreds, scientists had to actually track down the fallen device to collect data. This might not seem that bad… except that during the balloon's rise, it can drift more than a hundred miles away. You can imagine how difficult it was to find those things.

In the nineteen thirties, a solution arrived. A radiosonde – equipped with a transmitter – now made it possible to have instant data feedback.

Even with all our advanced technology – weather balloons are still the best tool for the job. Understanding the atmosphere above is crucial for forecasting the weather below.

Today there are nearly nine hundred ballooning stations worldwide – ninety-two by the National Weather Service. The balloons are typically launched at the same time twice a day. The data have many uses – from aviation and marine forecasts to climate research.

Call it an “oldie but goodie”… a “classic that never dies”… one thing's for sure, weather ballooning is here to stay.

Thanks for listening to another podcast of “That Weather Show,” brought to you by the NOAA Weather Partners.