One of my Facebook friends, Jamie, from up north found something interesting while hunting. Sitting in the dirt was a little device called a radiosonde. He picked it up and noticed it had an address, prepaid envelope, and request to mail it in, if ever found. Looking like a relic of 1950s weather experiments, Jamie did not mail it right away. But what he found is something still used twice daily, and is vital to weather predictions.
A radiosonde is a small, lightweight instrument attached to a weather balloon. It measures temperature, pressure, dewpoint, wind speed/direction, and more. Nearly 100 locations in the U.S. and 800 worldwide launch radiosondes at the same time twice per day. For the nearest launch location, Green Bay, 6am and 6pm are the lift off times, rain or shine (7am and 7pm during daylight savings). As the balloon and radiosonde pierce the atmosphere it takes measurements and relays the info to the ground. The balloon can reach altitudes of 100,000 ft but eventually grows so big (due to lack of air pressure) it pops and the radiosonde drifts back to earth thanks to a parachute.
(Below: NWS Meteorologist launching a weather balloon)
The info gathered is quickly inserted into sophisticated computer models that use the snapshot taken by the 800 balloons. This provides an excellent starting point for the models to begin their forecasts.
So why was I lobbying Jamie to send it back to the National Weather Service? Because each refurbished radiosonde can fly again and save taxpayers $100-$150.