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      NWS offices launch weather balloons to gather data

      Twice each day, the Quad Cities National Weather Service office launches a weather balloon.

      The balloon gathers valuable weather data.

      Tim Gross, a meteorologist, with the National Weather Service in the Quad Cities launches a weather balloon at 5 p.m. each weekday afternoon.

      "There's approximately seventy (offices) in the lower forty eight states that actually launch weather balloons twice a day at the same time and what this does, it helps us give a vertical representation of what the atmosphere is doing above your certain location and then all that information gets put into forecast models that are run at least twice a day sometimes even more than that," Gross said.

      Attached to the balloon is a radiosonde instrument. It takes temperature, humidity, pressure, wind speed and directional readings every second.

      Hydrogen allows the balloon to rise vertically through the atmosphere.

      Once the balloon is finished inflating and is ready for flight ... the balloon sends its information electronically back to an information center located in the weather office.

      Gross added, "It's also being tracked by a GPS receiver and so we know its location every second."

      A super computer in Silver Spring, Maryland ingests all of the upper air and surface data from all of the airports.

      Meteorologists all across the world access the computer forecast model to get an idea of developing weather patterns. That allows meteorologists to tell you what to expect.

      So just how far does the balloon travel?

      "It depends on how fast the winds are aloft, how far it goes. It may go anywhere from eighty to one hundred and twenty kilometers away from the office or it may only go thirty, forty kilometers away from the office. It just depends on what the winds aloft are doing," Gross stated.

      And sooner or later what goes up, must come down!

      "Typically, the balloon takes about an hour and forty five minutes to reach its height where it actually pops, and once it pops, it will fall back to the ground. There is a parachute included with the instrument that will make it safely to the ground," Gross explained.

      Twelve hours later the process begins all over again.

      Mailing instructions are attached to the balloon so if someone finds the balloon, they can send it back to the NWS to be reconditioned. About 25 to 30 percent of the balloons are returned according to the NWS.