The Detroit Post
Monday, 29 November, 2021

Do Weather Balloons Use Hydrogen

Elaine Sutton
• Wednesday, 02 December, 2020
• 11 min read

This includes 92 released by the National Weather Service in the US and its territories. Weather balloons, which are made of latex or synthetic rubber (neoprene), are filled with either hydrogen or helium.

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The balloons, which start out measuring about 6 ft. wide before release, expand as they rise to about 20 ft. in diameter! An instrument called a radiosonde is attached to the balloon to measure pressure, temperature and relative humidity as it ascends up into the atmosphere.

These instruments will often endure temperatures as cold as -139 °F (-95 °C), relative humidifies from 0% to 100%, air pressures only a few thousandths of what is found on the Earth's surface, ice, rain, thunderstorms, and wind speeds of almost 200 mph! A transmitter on the radiosonde sends the data back to tracking equipment on the ground every one to two seconds.

Balloons meant to stay at a constant altitude for long periods of time are known as transponder. Weather balloons that do not carry an instrument pack are used to determine upper-level winds and the height of cloud layers.

Transponder, weather balloons with instrumentation meant to stay at a constant altitude for long periods of time to help diagnose radioactive debris from atomic fallout, were experimented with in 1958. The balloon itself produces the lift, and is usually made of a highly flexible latex material, though Chloroquine may also be used.

The unit that performs the actual measurements and radio transmissions hangs at the lower end of the string, and is called a radiosonde. Weather balloons may reach altitudes of 40 km (25 mi) or more, limited by diminishing pressures causing the balloon to expand to such a degree (typically by a 100:1 factor) that it disintegrates.


A hydrogen filled balloon at Cambridge Bay Upper Air station, Nunavut, Canada Weather balloons are launched around the world for observations used to diagnose current conditions as well as by human forecasters and computer models for weather forecasting. Some facilities will also do occasional supplementary “special” releases when meteorologists determine there is a need for additional data between the 12-hour routine launches in which time much can change in the atmosphere.

Specialized uses also exist, such as for aviation interests, pollution monitoring, photography or videography and research. Field research programs often use mobile launchers from land vehicles as well as ships and aircraft (usually dropsondes in this case).

The weather balloon was also used to create the fictional entity 'Rover' during production of the 1960s TV series The Prisoner in Permeation, Gwyneth, North Wales, UK in September 1966. It consists of a radiosonde attached to a balloon that measures temperature, humidity, air pressure, wind, and other data, which are sent back to a base station on Earth for analysis.

Although thousands of these “mobile weather stations” are launched every month across the world, not that much is known about exactly what they are and how they work. During the introduction, this article already provided a concise and cryptic of what a weather balloon is.

One need a more elaborate explanation though, before exploring its characteristics and operation in more detail. This data is transmitted back to earth via a device called a radiosonde, which is used by meteorologists to analyze current and forecast future weather conditions.

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It can be anything from 6 to 8 feet (1.40 to 2.40 meters) in diameter, depending on the weight of the instrumentation and the height the balloon needs to reach. Made of a highly flexible and tough latex material, weather balloons normally have a white or transparent color.

(Although they can also be obtained in red, blue, yellow, or normal latex tan.) The shape and size of a weather balloon largely depend on its altitude.

But meteorologists know it will rapidly expand as it gains altitude and doesn't want it to burst too early in its ascent. At the bottom, an array of weather instruments called a radiosonde is connected to the balloon.

The latex material is normally filled with either hydrogen or helium to lift the balloon to the desired height required by the meteorologists. Weather balloons are capable of reaching heights of 100 000 feet (30 480 meters) within an hour after being launched from the surface.

The weather balloon's (radiosonde) payload starts falling to the ground, but a small orange parachute attached between the radiosonde and balloon gently guides it down back to Earth. Yet, you have to take into consideration the fact that the onboard instruments start sending back precious data from the moment the balloon is launched all the way until it reaches a height of 100 000 feet an hour later.

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Even more so, you will now realize what an important role weather balloons play in the meteorological field and how vital they are to gather very important data needed by meteorologists to understand current weather conditions and forecast future weather events. This data or information is used by scientists to help make weather predictions and forecasts.

You should fill the balloons indoor to protect it from the wind and prevent the material from tearing. Remember that the radiosonde is used to collect all the data you require while the weather balloon is in flight.

After attaching the radiosonde, tether the balloon with a wire or sturdy line. You are required to install the tether according to the height of the weather balloon’s flight.

You will want to make sure that the location you send the weather balloon does not have any power lines, telephone wires, electrical grids or other obstructions. How to Prepare Your Voice for Your American Idol Audition Married in Manhattan: Where Modern Young Couples Go to Tie the Knot The Transformation of Civic A.

Weather balloons are a type of high altitude balloon specifically used for transporting scientific payloads into our upper atmosphere. They can carry their payloads as high as 40,000 m ~ 130,000 ft. Every day approximately 800 meteorological weather balloons are released at 00:00 and again at 12:00 GMT at locations around the world.

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In the early 1900s, a meteorologist and geophysicist by the name of Alfred Wegener used weather balloons (image right courtesy of to perform experiments which led him to discover his Continental Drift Theory. Once the latex is naturally extracted, it is spun in a mold in the shape of the balloon and cured.

Each balloon is then inflated and inspected for leaks and defects before being shipped out to distributors and customers. A larger mold required more latex and therefore the final cured balloon will weigh more.

They are a lot more forgiving to work with on the ground and are still capable of taking our Eagle Pro Kit to an altitude of 90,000 ft or more. A larger balloon also requires a lot more helium just to compensate for its own weight which will significantly increase the cost of your launch.

Joseph is demonstrating this with a leaf blower we hooked up to the same balloon he was holding in the previous image. As long as we can track our payload, we can recover it along with its recorded scientific data and flight video.

Helium is a byproduct of the radioactive decay of uranium and there are no practical known ways of manufacturing helium… short of creating your own miniature sun. Luckily for us, our earth has large reserves of helium in the North American natural gas fields.

Ferdinand Van Zeppelin never designed the Hindenburg to be flown with hydrogen as its lifting gas. If Congress had allowed the export of helium to Germany, airships would probably be far more common today.

Investors shied away from Zeppelin's technology after the Hindenburg disaster (image left courtesy of The Empire State Building in New York stands as a reminder of a time when lighter-than-air ships were more common.

The spire of the Empire State Building was originally designed as a mooring mast for dirigibles. At an isolated weather station in the central United States, a technician emerges from a small brick shed grasping a balloon.

It's not just any birthday party balloon, mind you, but a massive, white sphere more than 5 feet (1.5 meters) in diameter. In the other hand, the scientist grasps a radiosonde, a lightweight cardboard box filled with scientific instruments that's tied to the bottom of the balloon.

As the balloon hurtles away from the Earth, the radiosonde is already hard at work, beaming atmospheric information back to data centers. It may have started out modestly, but now, at almost 18 miles (29 kilometers) high, the balloon has swelled to the size of a moving truck.

Stretched to its limit, the balloon's thin synthetic rubber bursts and sends the tiny radiosonde plummeting back toward Earth. Within seconds, the wind catches a small, orange parachute and slows the device's descent.

Hours later -- and hundreds of miles from where it first lifted off -- the weather balloon touches the ground. More than 70 years after scientists sent up the first experimental weather balloon, they remain the workhorses of modern meteorological forecasts.

Whether it's a tornado warning or the weather report on the 6 o'clock news, weather balloons are what keep people on the ground tuned in to the meteorological workings of the upper atmosphere. Tagging along for the ride was John Jeffries, an American physician known for dabbling in weather observation.

In the skies above Northern Europe, Jeffries hoped to record some first-ever measurements of the upper atmosphere. When the balloon came dangerously close to crashing into the English Channel, however, Jeffries was forced to toss his equipment overboard to lighten the load.

It may be sunny and quiet at sea level, but at 18,000 feet (5,486 meters), a weak storm system could soon turn into something more dangerous. By sending up regular squadrons of balloons to measure the conditions of the upper atmosphere, meteorologists can keep tabs on brewing storms.

With such a limited data set, the best meteorologists can do is predict the weather a few hours into the future. High-altitude weather data is critical for predicting oncoming natural disasters like tornadoes, thunderstorms or flash floods.

Thanks to weather balloons, officials can scramble supplies and emergency personnel to an affected area hours before a weather disaster strikes. In 2009, Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientists Oliver Yes and Justin Lee used a weather balloon, a cooler, a cell phone and a digital camera to take a high altitude photograph of the Earth for less than $150.

Of course, Yes and Lee warn that launching things into the stratosphere can be dangerous . If it's not equipped with proper parachutes, an amateur weather balloon can become a deadly projectile if it falls in an urban area.

The balloons could also provoke a disaster by getting sucked into the jet engines of a passing airliner. During a meteor shower, a high-altitude balloon can collect cosmic dust emitted by the passing space rocks.

Occasionally, an American homeowner wakes up to find a spent weather balloon in his or her backyard. It's a strange sight: tattered strips of neoprene, tangled cords, a crumpled parachute and a small cardboard box.

The core component of the whole assembly is the radiosonde, a shoebox-sized cardboard box packed with three basic atmospheric instruments: The slide is coated with film of lithium chloride (ICL), the electrical resistance of which changes based on the surrounding humidity.

As the air pressure around it decreases at higher altitudes, the canister expands, triggering a sensor. The radiosonde also has a low-powered radio transmitter to relay data from all three instruments back to receivers on the ground.

The advantage of a radiosonde is that scientists don't need to retrieve the device to obtain weather data. Holding the whole assembly aloft is a large balloon made of neoprene, a synthetic rubber.

The balloons are filled either with helium or hydrogen depending on the preferences of the individual launch station. However, hydrogen is also very flammable -- a fact that has prompted many explosion-shy weather stations to adopt helium instead.

Altogether, a complete weather balloon assembly costs about a few hundred dollars. In an isolated field in the middle of Australia, NASA officials slowly inflated a massive helium balloon that would carry a $2 million gamma ray telescope into the upper atmosphere.

Crew members ran for their lives as the telescope smashed into a nearby SUV and ripped through a fence before crumpling into a heap more than 492 feet (150 meters) away. Of the many things that can go wrong during a balloon launch, leaving a trail of destruction is obviously one of the worst.

In the United States, weather stations will typically have an onsite shed built especially for the purpose of balloon inflation. As it fills, he tests the radiosonde's battery, tunes the radio equipment and attaches the whole assembly together with a length of nylon cord.

Once the balloon has inflated to about the size of a yoga ball, the technician ties it off and ushers it outside. Walking the balloon a short distance clear of trees, power lines and other obstacles, he'll simply give it a gentle push upward.

As soon as the balloon begins to float, the radiosonde gets to work, beaming data to weather computers on the ground. By noting the sideways movement of the ascending balloon, they can calculate wind speed and direction at different altitudes.

With less air pressure to rein it in, the gas inside the balloon expands as its altitude rises. The balloon can only expand so much, however, and it will typically burst at altitudes above 15 miles (24.1 kilometers) -- about three times higher than Mount Everest.

If the radiosonde was simply allowed to plummet to earth, it could wreak deadly havoc on human settlements below. As the balloon ascends, the parachute remains folded by the downward rush of air.

When the assembly starts to descend, however, the parachute is blown open, slowing the balloon to a manageable 22 miles per hour (9.8 meters per second). If balloons catch a particularly strong gust of wind, they can travel several hundred miles -- touching down anywhere from a marshy bog to the snowy peaks of the Rocky Mountains.

Sending helicopters to pick up almost 200 weather balloons launched in the United States each day simply isn't in the budget.

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