Weather balloons: slow and steady still wins the race for severe weather research!

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MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — The National Weather Service in Mobile and the University of South Alabama (USA) have partnered to conduct research with weather balloons to look at the atmosphere ahead of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. This project is sponsored by COMET in Boulder, Colo.

News 5’s Caroline Carithers spoke with both organizations about what weather balloons are and how they are being used in this research.

Weather balloons are balloons that have an instrument package attached to them that measures temperature, relative humidity, pressure, wind direction and wind speed. Weather balloons are the best tool to use to collect weather data in the vertical because they move so slow. This allows frequent and large amounts of data to be collected that cannot be gathered by a satellite.

The point of this project is to look at the atmosphere ahead of severe thunderstorms and tornados to see if there is a pattern of similar conditions. The University of South Alabama is in charge of launching the balloons while the National Weather Service in Mobile tells the students when severe weather is probable and in what time frame they should release the balloons.

Undergraduate students at the University of South Alabama will then go to three separate locations (Dauphin Island, USA Campus, and Mount Vernon to release two different kinds of balloons.

Dr. John Lanicci, a professor in meteorology at the University of South Alabama, explains, “So we will basically have a sample from the shoreline, into Mobile, and then further in the Delta to get a sampling of the lower atmosphere.”

For more details and a visual explanation, check out the video!

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