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By Alyssa Erdley
Observer Staff 

Another Victim of Supply Chain Woes: Weather Balloons

National Weather Service says 9% of their upper air sites are affected by a gas shortage and contract issues

 

April 17, 2022

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Weather balloon launched by the Royal Australian Navy

April 12, 2022 - The National Weather Service says they have been forced to cut back on the number of their weather balloon launches because of global supply chain issues and an allegedly temporary problem with one hydrogen supplier.

Normally, the NWS launches the weather diagnostic balloons from 101 "upper-air" sites, 92 in the United States and 9 in the Caribbean. The balloons carry radiosondes. Battery-powered radiosondes, instruments slightly bigger than a cell phone, can measure altitude, pressure, temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and direction, and cosmic rays, all while aware of its geographical position. This data, radioed back in real time, is used in forecast models by meteorologists around the U.S. and to promote aviation safety.

The weather balloons that carry the radiosondes are inflated with either helium or hydrogen. While hydrogen is lighter and cheaper, it is flammable. Therefore, at certain launch sites in populated areas, only helium can be used.

WCNC in North Carolina reports that the NWS says 9% of their upper air sites are affected by a gas shortage and contract issues. Five of the sites use helium balloons and four use hydrogen. They are reducing launches or suspending them during calm weather days to ensure they have gas available for launches when the weather bodes hazardous.

According to WCNC, this is the Full impacted site list

Helium sites:

Wikipedia

Radiosondes

• WFO Greensboro (GSO) has reduced its flights to once daily.

• WFO Albany (ALY) has reduced its flights to once daily.

• WFO Tallahassee (TAE) has suspended its routine upper air flights.

• WFO New York (OKX) has suspended its routine upper air flights.

• WFO Charleston (CHS) has suspended its routine upper air flights.

Hydrogen sites:

• WFO Pittsburgh (PBZ) has reduced its flights to once daily.

• WFO Buffalo (BUF) has reduced its flights to once daily.

• WFO Baltimore-Washington (LWX) has suspended its routine upper air flights.

• WFO Blacksburg (RNK) has suspended its routine upper air flights.

 

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