Saturday, October 17, 2009

National Weather Service Weather Balloon


Weather is one of my favorite subjects, as I have mentioned on previous posts. It defines my style of photography where interesting weather patterns accent the landscape. Furthermore, I rely on accurate forecasts to stay out of danger and be safe on my journeys. On August 14, 2009, I experienced first hand how our weather is observed and predicted. I was invited by Jane Hollingsworth, the Meteorologist in Charge of the National Weather Service in Reno, Nevada to tour the facility.

The highlight of the tour was the weather balloon release that takes place twice a day in the AM and PM hours, every day of the year. Weather balloons are released from around 900 locations worldwide, simultaneously. The time is set to coincide with Greenwich Mean Time or Universal Time, which in Reno would be at 4Am and again at 4PM. This weather balloon was released at 4 PM.

Weather Balloons are made of latex rubber and when filled with hydrogen measure about 6 feet in diameter. Due to the flammability of hydrogen, the weather balloon was filled in a chamber next to the National Weather Service building.

A radiosonde, or instrument package, hangs below the balloon. It is equipped with battery-powered sensors to record measurements of pressure, temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and direction aloft.

Before the balloon is released into the atmosphere, a call must be made to the local airport control tower, requesting permission so that it will not interfere with any approaching aircraft.

The balloon is then taken out to an open area and released where it will ascend at approximately 1,000 feet per minute. The sensors in the radiosonde are linked to a battery powered radio transmitter that sends measurements to a sensitive ground-tracking antenna. The radio signals are converted to meteorological values and then transmitted to the NOAA National Climatic Data Center.

A weather balloon may rise to over 100,000 feet in the atmosphere and drift more than 180 miles. The journey can last for over two hours where it reaches temperatures as low as –130F and air pressure that is a few thousandths of our surface level. If it enters a strong jet stream, it may travel at speeds in excess of 250 mph. As the balloon rises, it also expands. When the diameter reaches over 20 feet, it will burst. An orange parachute attached to the end of the balloon helps to slow the fall and allows the radiosonde to get safely back to Earth. Each radiosonde comes with a mailing bag and directions on how it should be returned when found. When the radiosonde is returned, it will be repaired and reused, which assists our National Weather Service do their job more efficiently.

Weather balloons play a vital role in providing the data for accurate up-dated forecasts and storm predictions that we rely on for work and play. Thanks to our meteorologists from the National Weather Service, who are ever vigilant, and work 365 days a year, around the clock.

For more information visit these links:

What an exciting and interesting photo-adventure this day has been.  I love it when I am drawn to an area and not knowing what to expect I get treated to new experiences. 

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Photography places me in the moment where I can share that moment in time. It becomes a life story as represented by my interaction with the scene. The happiness and beauty or the sorrow and strife; how I focus leaves a lasting impression that might touch the viewer on a spiritual level.

 "Reflecting Nature's Artistry" 

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