NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The National Weather Service in Nashville is one of nearly 50 offices launching double the normal amount of weather balloons each day to provide more accurate data for weather models as Hurricane Ian approaches Florida.

Krissy Hurley, the Meteorologist In Charge at the NWS Office in Nashville, says that this is common when dangerous weather systems approach. “When there’s something brewing in the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean that could be threatening the United States land, we often do what’s called special releases, where we do weather balloon launches four times a day, so every six hours.”

So what happens during a launch? “The balloon goes up about 20 miles up in the sky, and it gets as big as a two-story house before it pops,” said Hurley. “So it will be up in the air for about two hours, while we’re getting all kinds of weather data.”

Hurley says that the data the balloon observes gets put to good use. “The temperature, the humidity, the pressure, the wind speed, wind direction. And all of that information goes into the supercomputer models to try to make accurate predictions for the hurricane and the weather that’s happening.”

These special releases increase the accuracy of our weather models, something that’s very important when a major hurricane is bearing down on the US. “Weather moves west to east generally, so what’s over the northwest United States is going to eventually impact where Hurricane Ian moves,” said Hurley. “So that’s why that data is very critical and putting it into the models, so that way we know exactly where Hurricane Ian, not only is going to make landfall, but where it’s going to go after that.”

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Special releases are happening all across the US, including as far west as Medford, Oregon, and Spokane, Washington.