GEMA/HS Dispatch December 2017 Edition - Page 5

D uring a weather emergency, forecasts provided by the National Weather Service can mean the difference between life and death for Georgians and citizens across the nation. With the potential for winter weather in the coming months, the staff of NWS Peachtree City is hard at work, ensuring people have the best information and maximum time to prepare and respond when the weather outside is frightful. It might be surprising that an important tool in weather prediction is still the weather balloon, despite all of the computer models and high- tech equipment now available to NWS. According to Kyle Thiem, a meteorologist with NWS, weather balloons bring an added dimension to weather forecasting that can’t be obtained any other way. “We have a number of different observation systems here at NWS, but one thing the weather balloons give us that others don’t is a snapshot of the upper levels of the atmosphere,” he said. “Without an initial snapshot of the atmosphere at a given point in time, the computer models that we have would essentially be useless and be like guessing.” Upper level atmospheric measurements are important because they allow meteorologists to gauge the stability of the atmosphere. Atmospheric stability indicates the likelihood that air will rise and form clouds and precipitation, including snow and ice. The more unstable the atmosphere, the more likely there will be bad weather. Each balloon is fitted with an instrumentation package known as a radiosonde that sends back readings on winds, temperature, humidity and pressure. As the balloons rise through the atmosphere, they continually transmit data to their launch center until the balloon eventually bursts. All of the data is compiled and factored into the different computerized weather models to allow for more accurate weather prediction. Using weather balloons takes a synchronized effort, not just in Peachtree City, but around the world. In the United States alone, there are more than 100 locations that send up weather balloons each day. “There are close to 900 sites that send up these weather balloons around the world twice a day, every day, at the same time,” said Thiem. “It’s really a worldwide effort to collect these initial conditions in the atmosphere, which takes some pretty impressive coordination.” Weather prediction is a round-the-clock effort for NWS staff. The Peachtree City office is the only forecasting office in Georgia and operates 24/7 in concert with their counterparts at weather offices in the U.S. and across the global community. As part of that effort, they are always looking for ways to refine their processes to give more accurate forecasts and advance warnings in the event of severe weather. “The hope in providing accurate weather forecasts is that we give people the information they need to really prepare in the event of weather emergencies,” said Thiem. “The more accurate we are and the faster we can get information to people, the more time they have to make plans and take steps to ensure their safety.” global effort to gather weather data, the meteorologists at NWS will continue to use weather balloons to monitor conditions on a daily basis, giving government agencies and Georgians the best information to make decisions about their response to winter weather. DISPATCH