National Weather Service office impacted by hydrogen supplier

The local NWS office that forecasts for our viewing area will be impacted
Published: Mar. 30, 2022 at 5:49 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

BLACKSBURG, VA - Effective March 29, 2022, the National Weather Service (NWS) offices are reducing the frequency of weather balloon launches for some of the NWS offices due to “a global supply chain disruption of helium and a temporary issue with the contract of one hydrogen supplier.” This is forecast to be a temporary issue, but will remain active until further notice. The Blacksburg NWS office is one of the select few impacted.

National Weather Service offices across the country perform two weather balloon launches a day. Attached to the balloon is a device called a radiosonde. This instrument is used for weather models and forecasting, since it gathers information about the atmosphere to see what is going on way above our heads. It measures a variety of weather data including: altitude, temperature, dew point, relative humidity, wind speed, wind direction and barometric pressure.

Attached to a weather balloon is a radiosonde. This measures many elements in the upper...
Attached to a weather balloon is a radiosonde. This measures many elements in the upper atmosphere.(WDBJ7)

Out of the 101 upper air sites in the United States and the Caribbean, 12 of those sites use helium to inflate the balloons. The remaining sites use hydrogen because it is more cost effective. Impacted are five of the twelve helium sites and four of the hydrogen sites. These launches are crucial especially during severe weather events. To make sure there is enough gas on hand for the balloon launches, the NWS offices impacted will reduce their two launches a day to one or even none. So, on calm weather days no balloon launch will be scheduled. Vance Joyner, Meteorologist at the Blacksburg National Weather Service office, mentioned that depending on severe weather the office will decide if one or two launches is needed on a case-by-case basis.

We do have a chance for severe weather tomorrow. Joyner commented that tomorrow would be known as a candidate day in determining if one launch will be enough to gather data on the strong cold front moving in or if two launces will be needed. They do believe that the temporary adjustment to the launches will not impact weather forecasts or how they issue warnings. They are able to still gather data from neighboring upper air sites, commercial aircrafts, surface stations, buoys, etc.

Weather balloons are a great tool for modelling and forecasting, but there are other ways to...
Weather balloons are a great tool for modelling and forecasting, but there are other ways to gather data to be able to forecast.(WDBJ7)

Roughly 9% of the offices who conduct upper air soundings are impacted by both the gas shortage and the contract issue with the supplier.

Offices impacted are:

  • WFO Greensboro (GSO) has reduced its flights to once daily.
  • WFO Albany (ALY) has reduced its flights to once daily.
  • WFO Tallahassee (TAE) has suspended its routine upper air flights.
  • WFO New York (OKX) has suspended its routine upper air flights.
  • WFO Charleston (CHS) has suspended its routine upper air flights.
  • WFO Pittsburgh (PBZ) has reduced its flights to once daily. (Hydrogen Site)
  • WFO Buffalo (BUF) has reduced its flights to once daily. (Hydrogen Site)
  • WFO Baltimore-Washington (LWX) has suspended its routine upper air flights. (Hydrogen Site)
  • WFO Blacksburg (RNK) has suspended its routine upper air flights. -- This is our local NWS office. (Hydrogen Site)

*WFO is an abbreviation for Weather Forecast Office.

Copyright 2022 WDBJ. All rights reserved.