A weather balloon took to the skies above Mobile Monday. Attached to the balloon was a package called a sonde that can measure temperature, moisture, pressure, and winds as it climbs through the atmosphere. It was a special launch done through a NOAA program called VortexSE, to get more data as a vigorous cold front moves into the southeast.

Weather balloon launch

Dr. Systke Kimball is the head of the meteorology department at South Alabama told us, “We’re doing launches every six hours in advance of that system so we can really see what the weather conditions are ahead of that system.”

The University of South Alabama’s Meteorology Department just recently joined the Vortex program and this is their first system of launches.

“Doing it here locally gives us much more accurate information about what’s going on right above this location here,” Dr. Kimball said.

Weather balloons not generally launched in Mobile

Normally the closest weather balloons launched to Mobile is 150 miles away in Slidel, Louisiana; 260 miles away in Birmingham; and 260 miles away in Tallahassee. Mobile is in a big wide open area where there where forecasters never get a true vertical profile of the atmosphere. That’s why the launches in Mobile and around the southeast through VortexSE are so important.

Low-tech balloon; great data…

Close-up of sonde

Close-up of sonde

No radar, no satellite can provide the same kind of information a low-tech weather balloon can.

“It collects data every 20 to 25 meters. There’s no remote sensing instrument that can do that. This is in in-situ sensor and measures as it goes up. It measures the actual atmosphere around it,” Dr. Kimball said.


This is a sounding. A graphical representation of the data collected.

That data gets plotted into a complex graph called a sounding. You can see a photo of Monday afternoon’s included with this article. Soundings give forecasters a 3D view of what’s happening at all levels of the atmosphere. In the weather business there is no such thing as too much information.

The launches will continue every six hours through Tuesday evening.

All content © 2018, WALA; Mobile, AL. (A Meredith Corporation Station). All Rights Reserved. 


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