October 26, 2012

Spokane weather service launching balloons to help predict Hurricane Sandy

By The Spokesman-Review
Jesse Tinsley photo

Meteorologist Ty Judd of the National Weather Service releases a weather balloon while holding the payload, an electronic weather sensor, at the weather station on the West Plains Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012. The sensor hangs approximately 60 feet below the balloon on its way to the upper atmosphere, which only takes a few minutes. Spokane weather forecasters are launching extra balloons to find out how local weather will affect Hurricane Sandy, which now threatens the East Coast.
(Full-size photo)

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Meteorologists on Spokane’s West Plains are taking part in a nationwide effort to better predict the strength and location of a massive storm approaching the East Coast.

The National Hurricane Center is enlisting the help of weather stations in 48 states for the first time to collect the best prediction data possible. Spokane’s station is included in that list and is releasing extra weather balloons to study the current atmosphere.

The extra launch of balloons started on Thursday, said Steven Van Horn, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Spokane. Typically balloons are launched twice a day, but the weather service will unleash an additional two a day until Saturday to improve weather data for the widespread observation.

“We’re trying to get some better consistency and put out a better forecast for that hurricane,” Van Horn said. “It’ll improve our confidence on the strength of the hurricane and where it might make landfall.”

The weather balloons, launched at the same time across the country, relay electronic data for temperature, wind speed and atmospheric pressure. Local balloons will track weather conditions in the Pacific Northwest that could potentially affect Hurricane Sandy, which is expected to meet up with two other storm systems on the East Coast early next week.

The National Hurricane Center is checking on a short wave of cold air in the Inland Northwest that’s expected to move across the country, said spokesman Dennis Feltgen.

“Turns out the extra energy in the atmosphere will be getting stronger as it catches up with Sandy,” Feltgen said.

Feltgen calls it a butterfly effect, since the atmosphere moves from west to east. The cold air will possibly give the hurricane more energy to work with.

The hurricane’s speed is expected to increase on Saturday and move toward the Northeast. The Category 1 storm is expected to sustain winds that could weaken during the next day or so, but bring heavy rain to the Eastern coastal regions of the United States.

The hurricane has already killed at least 40 people when it blew through the Caribbean this week.

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