The last time you checked the weather conditions, you probably looked at the temperature and whether or not it was sunny. But when meteorologists look at the weather, they look at the conditions high up in the atmosphere as well. It’s very important for meteorologists to know what’s going on in the whole atmosphere to make a good forecast. After all, with the exception of fog, clouds usually don’t form at the ground. The problem is, there are no weather stations sitting up there to take readings. In order to get this valuable data, weather balloons are launched across the country (and the world) everyday. Below is a map of weather balloon launch sites across the United States:
A weather balloon is exactly what is sounds like, it is a balloon that is released and carries weather instruments high into the atmosphere. These instruments are called radiosondes. Weather balloons travel very high into the atmosphere, reaching heights of about 100,000 feet, or about 19 miles high! The balloons have diameters of 6 to 8 feet at the surface, and they can reach diameters of 20 feet before exploding near the top of the atmosphere. After exploding, the blown balloon and instruments fall back to the ground, sometimes landing far from the launch site.
The data collected by weather balloons are called upper air data. This data is extremely useful to meteorologists, and can be mapped with other upper air data so meteorologists can recognize patterns. This data includes wind, temperature, pressure, and moisture data. While this may seem like only a few parameters, the data are crucial and can help meteorologists understand the conditions throughout the layers of the atmosphere. This data can be specifically helpful in forecasting severe weather since thunderstorms involve air rising to very high altitudes. Strong thunderstorms can reach heights of 40 to 60 thousand feet. Knowing the conditions at these places can help meteorologists determine if the conditions are favorable for thunderstorm formation.
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