Weather Lesson with Ashley Gann: Atmospheric Soundings

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Have you ever wondered what types of tools we use when you we forecast weather?

In today’s Weather Lesson, you will learn about one of the most valuable tools we have, and that is an Atmospheric Sounding. Essentially, an atmospheric sounding is a profile of the atmosphere. We are study this because weather isn’t just what happens on earth’s surface but it’s a measure of what happens all around us too. Weather is 3 dimensional.

Soundings give us valuable insight as to what is happening in the atmosphere which help us make better forecasts. We measure things like temperature, pressure, wind speed, wind direction, and much more. These measurements are generally taken from weather balloons.

Weather balloons are launched twice a day from our local National Weather Service Offices. These are released and can rise as high as 60,000-100,000 ft. Wow! The weather balloon as a radiosonde located at the bottom of the “string”, if you will. This radiosonde is constantly sending back measurements as it climbs and climbs and climbs.

Once the radiosonde captures the profile of that section of the atmosphere the data gets converted to map with a lot of lines. This is called a Skew-T, or the atmospheric profile. We are literally able to look at a cross section of the atmosphere above us.

These soundings, or Skew-Ts, help meteorologist determine how stable or unstable the air is. The more unstable it is, the better chance of thunderstorms, and possibly tornadoes. Soundings are a critical tool when we are forecasting winter weather too. the shapes the lines make give meteorologists clues as to where there might be snow, sleet or freezing rain.

So, atmospheric soundings are a necessary part of our tool box. They help me understand our atmosphere. You see, the better I understand what is going on above us, the better I can understand what is going on right here where we stand.


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