NOAA 2000-R300
Contact: Delores Clark


All around the world at the same time twice a day, weather balloons are released
into the atmosphere to send back temperature, humidity and wind data, which are
incorporated into sophisticated computer models, used to forecast weather. In Hawaii,
staff at NOAA's National Weather Service Data Collection Office in Hilo perform this task at 2 a.m. and 2 p.m. each day. To recognize their exemplary performance, the Hilo team
has received the Isaac Cline Award for having the top ten ranking score out of 92 upper
air stations in the U.S. for a 12 month period.

The Isaac Cline Awards are presented to individuals or groups that have made significant contributions in support of National Weather Service strategic and operational plans.

Led by official-in-charge, Richard K. Mitsutani, members of the group include Wilfred J. LaPlante, Robert E. Coleman, Lawrence Pendleton, and Stephen T. Butler. "It gives me great pleasure to congratulate the Hilo team for their hard work and dedication to the upper air program. Receiving accurate data on time is a critical part of calculating extended weather forecasts," said retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Jack Kelly, director of the National Weather Service, Silver Spring, Md.

Hilo is one of two upper air stations in Hawaii and one of 900 in the world. The hydrogen-filled balloon carries an instrumentation package known as a radiosonde which sends back measurements of temperature, moisture, pressure, and wind direction and speed to a ground station. Observations are routinely tracked to altitudes of 20 miles or more.

Data from the radiosondes are transmitted to the National Center for Environmental Prediction located near Washington, D.C. At NCEP, the data are fed into super computers which generate models of the atmosphere. These models aid the National Weather Service in producing forecasts out to several days in advance. One of the more practical uses of the data is to predict winds, temperatures, icing, and turbulence for aviation.

Weather balloons have been mistaken for flying saucers and other alien matter. But the fact is, the balloons rarely last more than two hours before they burst and the radiosonde descends to the earth in a parachute which slows the descent and minimizes damage to lives and property. Only about 20 percent of the approximately 75,000 radiosondes released by the National Weather Service each year are found and returned for reconditioning. These rebuilt radiosondes are used again, saving the NWS the cost of a new instrument. The public is encouraged to return the instrument, if found, by following the directions written on the side.