Students Launch a Weather Balloon in Charlottesville

By: Myles Henderson Email
By: Myles Henderson Email

July 29, 2008

Several times each day, weather balloons are launched from 80 to 100 locations across the country. Tuesday, middle and high school students from the UVa Summer Enrichment Program launched one of their own, right here in Charlottesville.

These students are enrolled in two week summer course called "Ask a Meteorologist Weather or Not". The students are exploring the science behind the atmosphere and relating it to everyday weather.

"I'm trying to relate what they are measuring to what they actually feel, what they sensed playing sports or anything like that," said Luke Sitka, a University of Virginia graduate student.

Tuesday morning the students gathered at St. Anne's Belfield School, and after a bit of technical difficulty and much anticipation, they filled the balloon with helium and prepared for launch. As the balloon rises it measures several atmospheric variables which are key to making a forecast.

"We get temperature, humidity, pressure, and elevation based on GPS, and from that there is a plot that they are going to learn how to use today. You can can plot the actual vertical profile of the atmosphere," said Sitka.

Knowing the current condition of the atmosphere above you, can give you information about what can be expected back at ground level.

"The plan was to use the balloon today to actually say, hey the possibility of rain is this, because there are indicies that you can calculate from that," said Sitka.

In addition to the weather balloon launch Tuesday, the students have made some of their own hand held instruments and conducted a field study across the campus.

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