Learning to be a Launch Weather Officer

| October 9, 2017 @ 12:16 pm


On Thursday and Friday, I visited Pizitz Middle School in Vestavia for our third annual Weather Officer Training with the sixth-grade science classes. This will be the third weather balloon mission undertaken by the sixth grade under the direction of science teachers Diane McAliley, Tyler Tidmore, Katie Cooper, and Susan Castleberry.

The first two missions were complete successes, with the payloads and their sensors, cameras, and GPS units being recovered. Both missions reached over 16 miles in the atmosphere with outstanding video and data.

For the training, Scott Martin designed the workbook and he and Elle Murray assisted with the training of over 600 students. Sixth graders will be performing all the tasks on the mission, including engineering the payload, forecasting the weather, calculating the trajectory, notifying the FAA, filling the balloon, launching it, tracking it and recovering the payload. Other students are documenting the launch using their photography, journalistic and social media skills, including John Edwards, who penned this story for AlabamaWX.

By John Edwards
Special Correspondent

Last week, Mr. Bill Murray came and taught us about weather and how to know when to launch a weather balloon. We even got little pamphlets to keep track of the things he was teaching us. But, what are we supposed to know to launch a weather balloon?  

A weather balloon is filled with either two things: hydrogen, or helium. Hydrogen is more affordable and cheaper, but helium is , I think, the best material to use. Scientists (or, for instance, us, we are pros, so we are an exception) will gather around with the balloon, and someone will be holding it. Then, you countdown, and you let the balloon go.

It has many devices to record and photograph the journey. The balloon itself is made out a latex material, though chloroprene may also be used. Mr. Murray told us that you have to be on the look out for the amount of precipitation, relative humidity, wind speed, and vorticity. Too much of any factor could be the end of our balloon. These are all very important factors, so our weather balloon does not blow away.

You also need someone to build the contraption below the balloon, someone to predict the weather, someone to track it, and the recovery team to go out and search for the balloon. The balloon can save lives, for it can gather more info than humans can on the ground and get people to safety. But they can be dangerous, too. They have the very slim chance of going into a jet engine. Or, without the proper parachute, it can turn into a very deadly projectile from up above.   

But, you can get very impressive footage if the balloon goes into the stratosphere.

Note: A weather or sounding balloon is a balloon (specifically a type of high-altitude balloon) which carries instruments aloft to send back information on atmospheric pressure, temperature, humidity and wind speed by means of a small, expendable measuring device called a radiosonde. To obtain wind data, they can be tracked by radar, radio direction finding, or navigation systems (such as the satellite-based Global Positioning System, GPS). (Source – Wikipedia)

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About the Author ()

Bill Murray is the President of The Weather Factory. He is the site's official weather historian and a weekend forecaster. He also anchors the site's severe weather coverage. Bill Murray is the proud holder of National Weather Association Digital Seal #0001 @wxhistorian

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