Watch CBS News

Field researchers use giant balloons to make forecasting atmospheric rivers a breeze

Weather balloons used to make forecasting atmospheric rivers easier
Weather balloons used to make forecasting atmospheric rivers easier 02:39

It may sound a little simplistic, maybe even inflated, but Jeri Wilcox and Ross Beaudette are taking meteorology to new heights.

For days, they've been coming to this little hilltop near Bodega Bay to release huge silicon balloons from the same spot every three hours. 

Field researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Wilcox and Beaudette are storm chasers who investigate a weather phenomenon called atmospheric rivers.

"When we send [the weather balloons] up we're able to gather a lot of information about what's really going on in the atmosphere during these atmospheric rivers," Wilcox said. 

Known as A.Rs, they're essentially rivers in the sky that can stretch more than 1,000 miles and can cause intense flooding. Last time, they ended California's drought but also created billions of dollars in damages. 

These balloons are attached to a device called a radiosonde, which measures temperature, pressure, relative humidity and wind speed and direction.

"We're essentially dissecting from the surface all the way to the upper troposphere," said Chad Hecht, a meteorologist with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. 

According to Hecht, these atmospheric rivers are expected to get even stronger as climate change intensifies. 

"When you live in a place like California where it's sunny most of the time, water translates into the new gold, where we have to operate the reservoirs as best as possible, and the prediction of the weather is at the forefront of that," he added. 

For Wilcox and Beaudette, it's about using the simplicity of a balloon to make weather forecasting a breeze.

"We have multitudes of different instruments," Beaudette said. "But, the balloons are the only ones that do it in real time."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.