No Denver Soundings

Feb 19, 2021
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The NWS is facing many, many issues. However, a fix for this one should have been figured out months ago.

Business as usual in Silver Spring does not cut it these days.
 
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Unless there is a huge discovery of helium (which no one seems to be expecting), this problem will only get worse. That is what I meant: the NWS should have made provisions to switch to hydrogen months ago but they seem to be paralyzed with inaction.

There is consideration over using hydrogen temporarily.

Hopefully none of the balloon folks smoke.
 

Randy Jennings

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May 18, 2013
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Given most NWS sites use hydrogen, I am not sure why Denver uses helium. I've heard that NWS sites that have lots of close neighbors use helium for safety, but the Denver one (southwest of I-70 and Havana Rd) doesn't look any more crowded than a number of NWS sites that use hydrogen.
 
Aug 9, 2012
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I don't know where Denver's NWS is located, however here in IL/IA, the only 2 sites that can launch soundings are KDVN and KILX. KLSX and KLOT (St Louis and Chicago) have offices too close to the airport, therefore they can not send up any form of weather balloons. This is what I was told by DVN anyway. If they had been sending them up and stopped, perhaps there is an issue with helium. I know a few offices in Florida switched over to using hydrogen instead. I don't see why there would be that big of time gap though as hydrogen isn't really in short supply and is **somewhat** easily accessible.

The issue with airports is the balloon material could impact an aircraft and cause a crash and/or significant damage. You'd be surprised how much damage a small piece of material can do in the blades of an aircraft at high speed. So there are a lot of places that have NWS offices that just can not legally send a balloon up due to safety issues.
 
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KLSX and KLOT (St Louis and Chicago) have offices too close to the airport, therefore they can not send up any form of weather balloons.
That is incorrect. Weldon Spring, the location of the St. Louis office, is 18 miles from Lambert. Romeoville is 29 miles from O'Hare.

The NWS spaces out its rawinsonde network offices based on climatological and upper air model initialization requirements. There was never a plan for every office to launch balloons.
 

rdale

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I'm not sure what your last line means - what NWS offices can't send balloons up due to legal issues? Are you suggesting the NWS placed the office and balloon system in an area where it wasn't legal so now can't use it?
 
Aug 9, 2012
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That is incorrect. Weldon Spring, the location of the St. Louis office, is 18 miles from Lambert. Romeoville is 29 miles from O'Hare.

The NWS spaces out its rawinsonde network offices based on climatological and upper air model initialization requirements. There was never a plan for every office to launch balloons.
This was just the information I was given. Perhaps it’s different from office to office but I know factuality that’s the reason for Chicago and Davenport. I do know even at those distances a weather balloon can cause issues at airports, especially if ground winds are very high. I’ve assisted with balloon launches where the ballon literally takes off at a 45 degree angle (usually in high winds of 50-60 mph). It’s definitely hair raising when you are even just 15 or 20 miles from the airport and the prevailing winds you can’t control
 
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And legality in the form of if the balloon went into an aircraft, causing its explosion. It’s a far stretch but it could happen.. When I first typed this, I don't think it came across right. Legal issues meaning flight zones from the FAA. I don't know what those exact restrictions are but I just cited it as a possibility. I don't work at a NWS office, I've only helped with a few balloon launches, so everything I've said is just stuff I have been told. Perhaps I'm wrong and was told wrong, I don't know. I just figured I would relay what I was told here :)
I'm not sure what your last line means - what NWS offices can't send balloons up due to legal issues? Are you suggesting the NWS placed the office and balloon system in an area where it wasn't legal so now can't use it?
 
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rdale

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Oh ok - yes, your wording is wrong. No NWS offices with launching responsibilities were located in areas they can't launch balloons at.

Not all WFOs have balloon responsibility.
 

Randy Jennings

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May 18, 2013
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I'm not sure that being close to an airport disqualifies a site from launching weather balloons. The MAF (Midland TX) and AMA (Amarillo TX) launch sites are right next to airports - although neither are the busiest airports in the country. The Denver site referred to originally isn't near an airport either, so I am still curious as to why it is a hold out using helium still.
 
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The DEN launch area used to be at Stapleton Airport, which was DEN's commercial airport. When DIA was commissioned, the sounding location stayed in its original location.

I've personally seen balloons launched while air operations were in progress at Stapleton.

There are plenty of rawinsonde locations at airports. For example, the KJAX location is on the west side of a busy airport.
 
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James K

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I found another news story on this. In there they said that they haven't switched to hydrogen in part because
"Hydrogen is a more volatile element, so the launch site would have to move out of the Central Park neighborhood where the balloons are currently housed. "
and
"NWS Boulder is also one of the few offices that does not handle their balloon launches in-house. A contractor launches their balloons"
 
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James K

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I didn't know the NWS contracted out any of the balloon launch sites.
But yep when I saw that, I was thinking it might explain things.

Maybe even something as simple as if on the rare chance a hydrogen balloon 'incident' of some sort occurred...NWS could possibly claim some form of "government immunity" while a contractor wouldn't have that option.
 
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That is what liability insurance is for. The NWS could easily require that any contractor have a $1 million or more of insurance as part of the requirement to get the contract. NWS uses helium at OUN and a couple of other places, so I doubt liability is the reason they have ceased operation at DEN.



I didn't know the NWS contracted out any of the balloon launch sites.
But yep when I saw that, I was thinking it might explain things.

Maybe even something as simple as if on the rare chance a hydrogen balloon 'incident' of some sort occurred...NWS could possibly claim some form of "government immunity" while a contractor wouldn't have that option.