Old-school balloons weather changes

Tayler NealeAlbany Advertiser

Every day just before 7am, Bureau of Meteorology Albany station manager Jason Balhorn spends about half an hour preparing a balloon to set off into the atmosphere.

It may sound childish but the balloon swells to the size of a house, reaches a height of 30km and travels about 150km east, all while transmitting a range of important weather data back to the Albany station.

Aptly named a weather balloon, BOM has been using the device for more than 100 years to measure weather conditions across the country.

An instrument known as a radiosonde is attached underneath the balloon, which transmits the information back to the station via radio.

Mr Balhorn said the use of balloons was essential to BOM’s day-to-day work.

“Balloon-based technology is a key component of the bureau’s operations, as balloons provide us with critical weather and climate-related measurements of the upper atmosphere,” he said

“Each flight gives a precise vertical profile of key variables, including temperature, pressure, humidity, wind speed and wind directions.

“So it gives us a profile of what the atmosphere actually looks like.”

Before the balloon has been released, it is filled with hydrogen gas to allow it to follow a specified rate of ascent.

“The assumed ascent rate is roughly 300m a minute,” Mr Balhorn said.

“If the balloon goes up at close enough to that rate, you can be sure that the sampling that it provides as it goes up is pretty consistent.”

With weather balloons released from nearly 1300 locations around the world each day, BOM launches about 65 a day across Australia.

Mr Balhorn ensures all the data collected makes its way to Perth for forecasting.

“You can see the data coming in once you’ve released the balloon and I get a graphical representation of what that data is analysing,” he said.

“Then I create a message so then all that data is represented in a code and that goes to Perth to go into the models to increase the forecasting accuracy.”

Despite improvements in technology, the balloons remain relevant, according to Mr Balhorn.

“Although complementary technologies such as satellites and wind profilers are increasingly used by the bureau, weather balloons remain a critical component of our observation network and will continue to play an important role during the next decade and beyond,” he said.

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