WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

N.C. State students go storm chasing

Posted May 2, 2010 12:02 p.m. EDT
Updated May 3, 2010 2:57 p.m. EDT

A group of North Carolina State University students are going a storm-chasing trip called Vortex2. They are getting a close look at the often unglamorous, real-world science of weather. Student Casey Letkewicz is blogging about the team's experiences in Norman, Oklahoma.

Today the rest of the team finally made it to Norman, so once we finished loading and updating all the necessary software on our computers, we went through balloon training to prep for the start of the project (tomorrow!). While the procedure is pretty familiar to me, it was nice to have the refresher and also help out the newbies.

One of the first steps Tim Lim (sounding guru from the National Center for Atmospheric Research) shows us is how to use a computer program to set up a balloon launch.

Once the computer program is all set up, next we prep the instrument to be launched. One of the things that has to be done is placing the sonde in an aspirator, which is essentially a fan that blows air on the instrument to help acclimate it to the environment (particularly useful after after sitting in a hot truck for a few hours).

At this point, we also need to do some quality control to the data and make sure the sensors are reading reasonable values. We use a hand held instrument to check the temperature, relative humidity, etc. and make sure the numbers are similar to what the sonde is measuring.

If the sonde appears to be measuring reasonably, then it's time to fill the balloon!

The last step (once we double check that the data is coming in) is to attach the sonde to the balloon and launch it:

The project officially kicks off May 1, but it's not 100% clear whether we will actually chase and deploy the instruments. The weather pattern for the next few days isn't too great, so it's possible that we'll be sitting in Oklahoma and waiting for the atmosphere to recharge. Here's hoping we'll get some great storms (and soon) so we can make use of our training!