Supply chain issues impacting weather balloon launches


Pandemic-induced supply chain shortages have now reached the world of meteorology and weather forecasting.

The National Weather Service announced earlier this week that due to a helium shortage, weather balloon launches will be restricted at sites across the country.

Normally, weather balloons are sent skyward twice a day to 101 locations in the United States and the Caribbean. Due to the shortage, some sites are reducing to one launch per day or even suspended all together on calm weather days. About 10% of the country’s launch sites are affected.

Weather balloons are vital for meteorologists as they collect data throughout the lower atmosphere. Using a device attached to the balloon called a radiosonde, data such as temperature, dew point and pressure can be recorded as the balloon rises.

The data collected by the balloons is then made available to meteorologists to get a snapshot of what the atmosphere is like at the moment, but this data is also incorporated into computer models providing guidance to meteorologists when establishing of forecasts.

Limited amount of data available for computer models comes from aircraft and satellites

So far, there is no evidence that the lack of data has affected the forecast.

The National Weather Service is working to switch from helium for launching balloons to hydrogen, which is a more reliable and less expensive gas.