September 15 – My Beautiful Balloon

Today’s factismal: The world’s first weather balloon was launched 112 years ago today.

Meteorologists in St. Louis, Missouri, have something to celebrate today. More than a century ago, they launched the very first weather balloon intended for use in weather reporting. Though scientists had been launching balloons with scientific instruments since 1896, this was the first balloon intended to be used specifically for predicting the weather. The balloon carried a recording thermometer and a pressure gauge in a small package that was recovered after the balloon burst in the stratosphere. Today, the National Weather Service launches balloons from 92 sites in the USA; they are just part of the more than 900 sites that launch twice a day (morning and evening) to get information.

Launching a weather balloon during World War II (Image courtesy NOAA)

Launching a weather balloon during World War II
(Image courtesy NOAA)

So why would they bother? Simply because we knew then as we know now that it isn’t enough to measure the temperature and pressure and other weather factors in just one place; if you want an accurate prediction of what is going to happen next, you need lots of data that goes up through the atmosphere as well as across the globe. And balloons do that! They can rise as far as 20 miles before they pop, and they will fly up to 125 miles away. Each year, some 75,000 instrument packages are sent up in weather balloons. And thanks to WiFi, we are getting more data than ever from them.

A modern weather balloon launch (Image courtesy NOAA)

A modern weather balloon launch
(Image courtesy NOAA)

But that’s still not enough to make the meteorologists happy. (That’s a meteorologist for you – always raining on our parade!) They want more data – and that’s where you come in! They have set up a group to record temperature, pressure, and (most importantly) precipitation. Known as CoCoRAHS, these folks feed valuable information to the meteorologists who use it to make better weather predictions. To learn more, float on over to:


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