Using party balloons to sample supercells

Discussion in 'Weather In The News' started by Jeff Duda, Nov 28, 2017.

  1. Jeff Duda

    Jeff Duda Resident meteorological expert
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    Well-known tornado researchers Paul Markowski and Yvette Richardson, along with help from others at Penn State University, have developed a "stupidly simple" method for probing supercells...party balloons. Yep, they developed an instrument package light enought to be able to be lofted by two small helium-filled party balloons and a tech system that enables them to track multiple signals (from multiple probes) simultaneously, thus enabling their team to fully sample an entire cumulonimbus cloud while requiring little time to prepare and launch the probes, and without needing giant trucks to carry around the large baloons and tanks.

    See http://www.post-gazette.com/news/sc...advance-tornado-research/stories/201710050181 for a full article.

    The probes are also explained here (video also embedded in the article):
     
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  2. Jonathan Beeson

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    This is actually something done at UAH in Huntsville, Alabama as well and was used extensively during the VORTEX-SE Field Campaign this past spring. It's what we call a "windsonde". It is much faster and easier to deploy and can be launched very quickly in close vicinity of a supercell, but isn't quite as good as getting up into the upper levels of the troposphere as the standard balloons are, at least in my own personal observations.
     
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  3. Jeff Duda

    Jeff Duda Resident meteorological expert
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    I fail. I can't remember the physics that explain why that is. I'm pretty sure it has something to do with the mass of helium in the balloon, such that a smaller balloon (less helium mass) results in a weaker buoyancy force and thus less ability to promote a smaller balloon to the same terminal height as a larger balloon. But at the same time, my physics intuition says that if two balloons have the same intenal density then they should essentially rise to the same terminal height regardless of volume. Maybe it has to do with compression of the balloons as they cool as they rise?
     
  4. StephenHenry

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    I'd think the simplest way to think about it is that buoyant force is driven by the mass of the medium being displaced. So a larger balloon displaces more air mass and has a much larger buoyant force than a smaller one. There's a little more gravitational force on the larger balloon, but in net, gravity and buoyancy come into balance at a higher altitude (lower density) for the larger balloon.
     
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  5. StephenHenry

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    Also this is a super cool, super simple idea! Is there anywhere online you can look at some of the results of these experiments?
     
  6. Jeff Duda

    Jeff Duda Resident meteorological expert
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    Thanks for responding to my previous post.

    I suspect the data are kept internally and will only be released in the form of scientific journal papers or conferences. Perhaps you could email Paul or Yvette personally, though. They may be willing to send you some data.
     

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