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Launching balloons

An automatic weather balloon launcher, near Fairbanks

I’ve been out at Poker Flats, which is outside Fairbanks, on several occasions when they were launching weather balloons. These days, most weather balloons are filled and launched by robotic launchers called autosondes, which takes some of the romance out of weather balloons, but that’s not the purpose of this post.

In the United States alone, there are 92 sites that launch two balloons every day of the year. There are over 800 locations worldwide doing the exact same thing. Here in Alaska, we have 13 sites that launch weather balloons twice a day, every day, and always at the same time: Midnight and noon Greenwich Mean Time.

A small collection of weather instruments, called a radiosonde is attached to the balloon which collects data and transmits that data back to the NWS as it rises. A weather balloon makes it to roughly 100,000 feet before it pops and falls back to earth. These days, radio balloons are highly biodegradable.

The first weather balloon with a radiosonde launched from Fairbanks in 1933. They started launching two balloons a day in 1941. I’ll let you do the math, but no matter how you figure it, that’s a lot of balloons.