Due to a supply chain disruption of helium and a temporary issue with the hydrogen supply as of August 9, 2022, four of the 12 sites that still use helium to inflate weather balloons including Albany, NY (ALY), Tallahassee, FL (TAE), New York, NY (OKX), and the upper air site at the Denver CO Airport (KDNR) will be suspended until mid-October.
To mitigate adverse effects on forecasts, affected sites will begin to conserve helium for critical weather days where possible, when balloon launches resume to support weather forecasts and warnings. To mitigate the data gap, these sites benefit from data collected by balloons launched from neighboring upper air sites. In addition, redundancy in the observing system allows for the use of direct, in situ data collected from commercial aircraft in weather forecast models.
Because of the vital importance of upper air data collected by weather balloons, the NWS has been doing everything possible to resolve helium supply issues. Additionally, they are actively working to convert more helium sites to hydrogen, where locations, leases and safe operations allow, and as funding becomes available. The other radiosonde launch sites that still use helium include: Caribou, ME; Upton, NY; Wallops Island, VA; Greensboro, NC; Charleston, SC; Key West, FL; Salt Lake City, UT; Las Vegas, NV; and Tucson, AZ. All the other U.S. upper air sites have been converted to hydrogen, which is a less expensive and more reliable option.
Radiosondes are instruments attached to weather balloons that send back a wide range of upper atmospheric data to support weather forecasts, including temperature, dew point, relative humidity, barometric pressure, wind speed, wind direction. Radiosondes are one of many technologies that collect earth observation data for use in weather modeling and forecasting. Data is also collected from instruments aboard commercial aircraft, surface observing stations, satellites, radars, and buoys.
Most pilots are weatherwise, but some are otherwise™
Dr. Scott Dennstaedt
Weather Systems Engineer
CFI & former NWS meteorologist