How Texas forecasters are helping track Hurricane Dorian


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Every day, twice a day, forecasters release weather balloons at about 900 locations around the world, 92 of which are at the National Weather Service offices here in the United States. Forecasters use data collected by weather balloons to evaluate atmospheric conditions above ground, and some offices in Texas are releasing more balloons than normal to get more information that could help track Hurricane Dorian.

Tracking Hurricane Dorian

Due to the potential for Hurricane Dorian to have major impacts on Florida, meteorologists at the National Weather Service in Brownsville, Texas are helping track the storm by releasing weather balloons every *six hours to get a better idea of the steering winds (or upper level winds). This data will give forecasters a better picture of the factors influencing Dorian and in turn, provide a more accurate forecast.

What is a weather balloon and how do forecasters use it?

This balloon is no average party balloon as it made of latex and filled with helium or hydrogen to allow it to float. It measures more than 6 feet across at initial launch. Attached to the balloon is an instrument called a “radiosonde,” used to gather temperature, pressure and humidity data. Using a tracking device, they can also measure the wind speed and direction. As the balloon rises, a transmitter on the radiosonde sends back weather data every couple of seconds. When rising, the balloon can expand up to 20 feet across before it pops.

What happens when it pops?

The radiosonde (with an attached parachute) slowly falls back down to the ground. The radiosonde has a return address stamped on it which forecasters hope the public uses to find & return the device. but only 20% of those launched actually get found and returned.

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