By: Jacob Murphey | WCTV Eyewitness News
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) – To get the most vital information about approaching storm systems, meteorologists with the National Weather Service turn to the skies.
Twice each day, NWS staff launch balloons from the top of their Tallahassee headquarters on Florida State's campus. Friday evening, NWS welcomed WCTV to watch the process in action.
"This is the real data that helps validate what we see from the computers," said meteorologist Kelly Godsey.
Godsey said it takes about 30 minutes to prepare each balloon for launch. An advanced sensor goes along for the ride. Ninety minutes and many miles later, the balloon pops and the biodegradable material falls back to earth.
By that point, invaluable data is already shaping tomorrow's forecast.
"The key to a good forecast is the most amount of data as possible," said Meteorologist Federico Di Catarina.
Scientists have used balloons to learn about the atmosphere for centuries. But even today, balloons are still the perfect choice.
"It's a smooth ride...it generally maintains equal ascension rates throughout the atmosphere," Di Catarina. "You don't want the balloon going up really quickly"
Tallahassee's set up is a bit unique. According to Godsey, it's one of just two NWS stations to launch balloons from the roof. Most others opt for the ground launch.
For the experts who do this daily, it's a treat not taken for granted.
"This is the way we get our hands into the science and participate in the forecast process."