Weather balloons tell us what is actually happening in our atmosphere.
Balloons record and transmit important weather information.
NWS launches two balloons a day from Nashville, one between 6 AM – 7 AM, another between 6 PM and 7 PM. Balloon data tells us what is actually happening above us. The data is also fed into weather models to improve accuracy.
Two balloons a day is sometimes not enough.
So we’re going to launch more, when most needed.
Additional Balloon Launches Improve Winter Forecasts
At 10:06 AM, January 29, 2019, snow was maybe in the forecast for the night ahead. Three models showed “some flakes” flying around. Looked meh. We did not expect interruption to travel plans or school delays. We tweeted:
At 7 PM, NWS-Nashville launched its weather balloon. It did not tell us anything about what the weather would look like just before sunrise the following morning.
All we had after that balloon launch were models.
At 8:41 PM, the HRRR model predicted snow approaching from west Tennessee early the next morning. The model suggested snow would not reach the ground here. We thought that snow would get gobbled up by dry air aloft (the Dry Air Monster).
Bus drivers reported to work before sunrise. The roads were fine, and everyone planned to get to school and work. Temps were well below freezing, wind chills were single digits, and the assumption was dry air aloft would consume the snow on the way in.
But, was there actually a Dry Air Monster aloft?
At 4 AM, we didn’t know. NWS wasn’t allowed to send up the balloon early.
At 4:49 AM, the first flakes flew in NW Davidson County.
By 5:38 AM, ground observations suggested dry air aloft was not going to save us. There was no Dry Air Monster. The snow got us. It was too late to reverse the school and work plans.
By 8 AM legit, accumulating snow was falling.
There was no Dry Air Monster. The models were wrong, and it was too late to get the balloon up there. All school districts went to school. Many, including Will Co, reversed course and sent the buses home, cancelling classes after everyone had already hit the snow-accumulating roads.
A weather balloon launched at around 2-4 AM might have prevented all this. At minimum, it would have given us more information to make a better decision.
Special Local Balloon Launches Can Also Assist Us During Severe Weather.
At 12:33 AM on March 3, 2020, the Nashville tornado began.
Hours earlier, the 7 PM balloon went up. It did not reveal a tornado supportive, unstable atmosphere. The data did not look capable of supporting a supercell that would move along I-40 for 60 miles, produce an EF-3 tornado and baseball sized hail, then produce another tornado in Putnam County rated EF-4.
What happened? A warm front crossed north of I-40 after the balloon was launched. The atmosphere went from tepid to dangerous, and, again, all we had were models and radar and an east moving supercell in the middle of the night.
There was no observed data. The Storm Prediction Center, NWS-Nashville, local meteorologists, and the local weather community could have used another balloon launch.
A balloon launched at 10 PM would not have prevented the tornado, but it could have, and probably would have, been invaluable to improving the messaging. A balloon would have been observational data, not model extrapolation and assumption. Observations beat models.
We need more data.
No one else was going to do it. So we talked to the research community and did our due diligence. We bought radiosondes, balloons, helium, software, antennas, receivers, the whole thing. Three tests later, we smoothed out the wrinkles, and produced soundings (a sounding is how weather balloon data is displayed). These soundings have been quality controlled by NWS-Nashville.
We launched one August 11 at 10:29 PM, just to be sure no shenanigans were possible as a line of strong winds moved through.
So, we’re going to launch balloons at 2 AM on a cold morning to assist forecasters, media, emergency management, superintendents, and families wondering if there is a Dry Air Monster aloft.
We’re going to launch balloons after warm fronts come by and we need more observational data for severe weather.
All the data — and we mean all of it — will be shared without charge to anyone and everyone who wants it. We’ll tweet it. This is all paid for by you, our community, through Patreon.
We spend every dollar you donate every month on trying to make our community the most prepared and responsive it can be.
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