Back in June, we had the pleasure of finding a weather balloon. It was part of a test flight of several weather balloons released in Wyoming in preparation for their deployment over Africa to follow weather currents and track the very beginnings of hurricanes. Excited researchers drove all the way from Boulder, CO to retrieve the balloon they thought they had lost and the $250 check they gave us for retrieving it was very nice on our vacation.
Now the little unit, called a driftsonde (weather balloon, gondola and instruments combined) is ready for release. The team has set up a station in Paris, France and the first balloon was launched August 28 in Zinder, Niger.
Weak weather systems, called easterly waves, move across Africa into the ocean at about 10 and 20 degrees north. These serve as seedlings of hurricanes since some develop into tropical storms and hurricanes, some of which reach the United States every year. The Eastern Tropical Atlantic is out of range for our air craft which studies hurricanes and our researchers are inexperienced at predicting which African systems will produce hurricanes as they move out into the ocean. The research team from The National Center of Aeronatical Research (NCAR) hopes their driftsonde equipment will improve our understanding of the formation of hurricanes from the earliest stages and make prediction easier and more reliable in the future.
As the driftsondes float across Africa and the ocean toward the Carribean, they will release two dropsondes per day. These instruments fall slowly toward the ocean, sending information back to the researchers in their lab in Paris. If conditions look promising, they can direct the driftsonde to release more…up to once per hour.
Now if only they tracked them over the internet for the public to watch…that would be cool.
More information on this project can be found in this press release. More about weather balloons can be found here, although that is not at all what our balloon looked like. And here is a run down on information on hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons.