On Friday, meteorologists at the National Weather Service office in Blacksburg began using a new and improved radiosonde, or weather instrument package, that is sent up with the weather balloons each day.
The new radiosonde will have more accurate humidity readings and also use dry cell batteries which are more efficient and better for the environment, since very few are recovered.
The radiosondes are also lighter which will cut down on how much helium is used to launch the balloons. This is extremely important given the ongoing helium shortage.
To understand the significance, you must first understand the importance of the device. The radiosonde is a computer that is attached to a weather balloon and sent into the air to measure everything from temperature and humidity, to wind speed and direction. Since the atmosphere has many layers, it's important to know the "vital signs" of what's happening above our heads.
For example, snowflakes often fall from the clouds, but then melt in a warm layer of air and never reach the ground. As meteorologists, we'd never know that warm layer existed if it weren't for the weather balloons and radiosondes.
The balloon launches take place two times per day from National Weather Service offices across the U.S., with the closest being in Blacksburg, VA.
Below is a video to see how weather balloon launches take place. A similar process takes place at the National Weather Service location in Blacksburg.