Amidst Spy Balloon Controversy, WMO Highlights Importance of Weather Balloons

Amidst Spy Balloon Controversy, WMO Highlights Importance of Weather Balloons

Even as alleged spy balloon controversy sparked tension between China and the United States, the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO ) highlighted the importance of weather balloons in providing vital information for climate monitoring and forecasters.

Canada and the United States recently shot down several flying objects, including an alleged Chinese ‘spy balloon’, inside their borders.


The WMO said that weather balloons are of great importance even though they provide just a tiny fraction of the millions of observations gathered worldwide daily.

More than 50 satellites collect information from space, and about 400 aircraft operated by some 40 commercial aircraft companies gather input from the skies, notes WMO.

About 400 moored buoys, 1,250 drifting buoys, and 7,300 ships help from the seas in addition to 10,000 automated and land-based observing stations across the planet.


The WMO noted that free-rising weatherballoons are released simultaneously from almost 900 locations worldwide every day. Nearly 1,000 balloons gather daily observations that provide input in real-time.

The valuable information gathered contributes to computer forecast models, local data for meteorologists to make forecasts and predict storms, climate monitoring and data for research to better understand weather and climate processes.

Computer forecast models that use weather balloon data are used by all forecasters worldwide, WMO said.

Equipped with battery-operated radiosondes that capture observations, the floating information collectors are airborne for around two hours.


They measure pressure, wind velocity, temperature and humidity from just above ground, to heights of up to 35 kilometres, sustaining temperatures as cold as -95°C (-139°F), before bursting and falling back to Earth under a parachute.

Playing a key role as part of the world’s global observing network for decades, they are the primary source of above-ground data. More than two thirds of weather balloon stations make observations twice a day and another 100 and 200 report daily.

Their valuable input feeds the Global Observing System, among the most ambitious and successful instances of international collaboration of the last 60 years, WMO said.

The system consists of individual surface and space-based observing systems owned and operated by a plethora of national and international agencies.


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