In DepthMETEOROLOGY

Obsolescence looms for balloon data

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Science  15 Apr 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6283, pp. 281-282
DOI: 10.1126/science.352.6283.281

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Summary

The United States has fallen behind Europe in adopting a modern weather balloon system. Twice a day, hundreds of hydrogen- or helium-filled balloons lift off from stations around the world, carrying temperature, pressure, and humidity sensors that provide crucial information for weather forecast models. But for more than three-quarters of the world's 800 balloon stations, the information is streamed in an antiquated alphanumeric format; these stations have failed to meet a 2014 deadline to upgrade to a new, more powerful binary format. Moreover, many forecasters who use balloon data have also failed to switch over, and are now facing data gaps as nations turn off the old, alphanumeric streams. The U.S. Global Forecast System, for example, does not incorporate the new, binary data.