Weather balloon. (NWS photo)

The National Weather Service still launches weather balloons, daily, and the Davenport office is doubling its number of launches as Hurricane Ian makes landfall in Florida.

NWS meteorologist Timothy Gunkel says they normally send up two balloons a day, but with millions of people evacuating the Gulf Coast, more data is needed on the massive storm to build computer models of its potential path.

“We are doing four every day, every six hours we are launching a balloon, just trying to give them information regarding upper air patterns to help steer the storm,” Gunkel says. “We are launching them every six hours to gather the latest information, that way the models can spit out some more accurate information for the short-term to help guide a track for the hurricane.”

The Quad Cities area is some 1,200 miles from Tampa, Florida, but Gunkel says the information being downloaded from the balloons is vital in determining where the powerful hurricane will go next. “Much of the eastern half of the United States is doing these extra launches due to the hurricane,” Gunkel says. “That way we can stitch it all together and get a much more accurate map, especially for the East Coast, we could see what the pattern will look like as it nears the coast.”

The weather balloons are filled with hydrogen and measure about six feet across when launched. As they ascend, the balloons expand, growing to perhaps 20 feet in diameter before they pop as high as 100,000 feet into the atmosphere. Gunkel says they’re carrying a small package of instruments.

“So, we’re looking at temperature, humidity, wind speed, and then pressure is determined as it rises with height,” he says. With all of the information being gathered on the hurricane, it’s assured Iowans won’t see any negative impact on our weather from it. “I don’t expect to see much of anything because, luckily, this is going to get pushed off,” Gunkel says. “There’s a trough over the east and that will push that off and keep it in our east rather than bringing it out this way.”

Keep up with the hurricane and Iowa’s forecast at weather-dot-gov.