This past Monday afternoon (9th), I was fortunate enough to visit the National Weather Service office in Topeka. In my 20-plus years in broadcast TV, including 3 1/2 years in Topeka, I had never seen or participated in a weather balloon launch in person.
In case you didn't know, the NWS releases upper air balloons twice daily from 92 sites around the U.S. Two of those sites are in Kansas: Dodge City and the aforementioned Topeka site. The goal is to collect temperature, humidity, pressure and wind data as the balloon ascends through the atmosphere. This information is critical for weather models and for severe weather forecasting, just to name a few of the applications. Go here for an excellent page to learn much more about this process.
I watched as Jenifer, one of the meteorologists at the Topeka office, assembled the balloon and the cargo. She first inflated the balloon with hydrogen, tied on a parachute, calibrated the weather instrument package and then tied it to the end of a roughly 100 foot piece of string. She was nice enough to let yours truly release the balloon into the air and begin the data collection process. It was a cool experience, one that I won't soon forget.
For the video, check out my Facebook page.