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Weather balloon: Why Houston doesn't have one

HOUSTON – The National Weather Service in Houston is missing a device some believe would lead to more accurate forecasting, Channel 2 News has learned.

“When The Weather Service went through their modernization program in the 90s, they tried to space the upper air observations 250 to 300 miles apart,” Lance Wood, with the National Weather Service in Houston, said.

The net effect is that the National Weather Service in Houston does not maintain a weather balloon program, while Longview, Corpus Christi, and Lake Charles do.

Modern weather balloons provide an additional layer of data to help build more accurate forecasts.

“So we know this kind of potential is there that's an easy one. Exactly where the setup will be, where the trigger points will be, the catastrophic rainfall, that's hard to know exactly,” Channel 2 chief meteorologist Frank Billingsley said.

Billingsley believes weather balloons do provide a helpful metric, because more data points lead to more accurate forecasts.

“Weather balloons in every city would be ideal, but it’s expensive, so they basically try to triangulate areas all over the United States,” Billingsley said.

The University of Houston has partnered with a company called StormGeo to launch weather balloons at critical times and forward the information to the National Weather Service in Houston.

“Whenever we feel there could be value added to the forecast, where maybe we believe the models are underdoing something or overdoing it, where we want to get kind of like that what’s actually happening,” Matt

Haworth, a forecaster at StormGeo, said.

The National Weather Service does not appear to have any immediate plans to add its own weather balloon fleet to Houston. Instead, they’re concentrating on next a generation satellite to be deployed in about two years.

Billingsley said when that technology comes online, it will make a big difference in forecast accuracy.

“We’re going to get satellite pictures every one minute. Right now, we're at every 30,” Billingsley said.