NOAA sends balloons aloft to collect data for renewable wind energy project

September 8, 2011

Area residents may see some big balloons in the air in the next few days as NOAA collects atmospheric information to assist wind farms produce energy.

NOAA’s Air Resources Laboratory (ARL) plans to launch weather balloons carrying small instruments that collect and transmit wind speed, wind direction, temperature, and relative humidity data Sept. 12-20 from the Duke Energy Ocotillo Wind Farm located near Forsan, Texas.

“We want to get a better picture of what the vertical atmosphere looks like near a wind farm,” said Will Pendergrass, a physical scientist at NOAA’s ARL Atmospheric Turbulence and Diffusion Division in Oak Ridge, Tenn. “The information we collect will be used by the weather forecast models to help wind farms estimate how much power they can produce and when they can schedule maintenance.”

The balloons, the same type launched daily by the National Weather Service, are slated to be launched every two hours between 4 a.m. and 8 p.m. People may see the balloon instrument package and especially the bright orange parachutes attached as the balloon rises. The balloons will rise to about 30,000 to 35,000 feet before bursting and falling to the earth generally within 50 miles of the launch site.

If people find the instrument package they can be returned to ARL; contact information is on the radiosonde.

“There’s no reward to the finder for returning the instrument, but NOAA can return the radiosondes for repair and recalibration to save money,” Pendergrass said.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on Facebook, Twitter and our other social media channels.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Media can film balloon launches and talk to the scientists from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 12, at the Duke Energy Octotillo Wind Farm near Forsan. Media will need to arrange admittance to the property with Stuart Gibson of Duke at 513-287-8471 or Stuart.Gibson@duke-energy.com