Balloons may improve hurricane forecasting

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

BAY ST. LOUIS, MS (WLOX) - A team of graduate students from Mississippi State University helped launch a weather monitoring balloon in Bay St. Louis Tuesday afternoon.

The balloon launch is part of a NOAA-funded project that's designed to help improve future hurricane forecasting.

"You're going to want to know that this thing was recently calibrated and has a fresh battery," said the instructor, as he prompted grad students about setting up the weather balloon.

Their mobile weather lab is the back of a U-Haul trailer truck.  Mississippi State meteorology graduate students are helping prepare a weather monitoring balloon.

This is a test run, but next month they'll be launching balloons that will collect valuable wind information in advance of approaching hurricanes.

"They're going to be feeding this information into the models. And the models are going to be creating this better forecast we can look at and even fine tune from there," said grad student Diedra Boyd.

"So then we know more about the environment and hopefully we can better predict where the hurricane is going to go by getting more information in that environment," added fellow student Lynnsey Myers.

"Holding the red fill line coupling, activate the pressure switch," a student read from the instruction manual, as they helped assemble the balloon device.

A precise amount of helium and attached weight will put the balloons and their monitoring devices at the proper altitude.

Justyna Nicinska is the project director for NOAA, which is funding this program.

"They're coupled with small electronics, GPS tags and pressure sensors that can relay wind data to us and enable us to include wind measurements from poorly observed areas, areas where we currently don't have much data," she said, explaining the balloons.

The balloon itself looks like a big plastic bag. Filled with helium then equipped with its mobile monitoring device, the balloon is ready to be activated.

"In September and October, we'll start putting the data in the models and comparing them to the model outputs that didn't have the data and then seeing if it did improve the models," said Mike Carron, a scientist with the Northern Gulf Institute.

This test balloon floated up and away over St. Stanislaus.  The team will launch more balloons next month, in advance of approaching storms.

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