Weather balloons bringing the fight to the sky in forecasting

RAPID CITY, S.D. – You can’t find balloons this big just anywhere. If you work for the Rapid City National Weather Service, you’ll see these behemoths twice a day. But why do they do this, other than the fact that it’s pretty cool to launch giant balloons into the sky?

Matthew Bunkers, science and operations officer at NWS Rapid City, had some insight. “[Weather Balloons] give us an idea of how the atmosphere has changed and how it may be supporting more storms than we thought or even less storms than we thought.

“We launch weather balloons twice a day," Bunkers continued. "In the summer it’s 5 a.m. and 5 p.m. On days when there could be some severe weather or little bit more severe weather than usual, we will launch a weather balloon around the middle of the day, anywhere between noon and 1 o’clock.”

As the weather balloon climbs, it carries an important piece of equipment to take measurements that help forecasters.

The balloon can grow as big as a two-story house due to pressure changes before finally exploding. The lightweight equipment parachutes to Earth, hopefully being picked up and mailed back home to the National Weather Service where it can be used again.

Melissa Smith, service hydrologist for the NWS in Rapid City, talked about the importance everyday people can make in keeping themselves and the public safe.

“We use the radar, but having the actual … eyes really helps out for looking at storms,” Melissa stated. “Twitter is one of the easiest ways for us to get the information for a lot of people to send it to us. We really appreciate any information on storms that people can send to us.”

With a camera and a good set of eyes, you could help keep the community safe.

Categories: Local News