TTU Lightning Research Group using weather balloons for research

TTU Lightning Research Group using weather balloons for research
(Source: Dr. Eric Bruning)
(Source: Dr. Eric Bruning)

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - One research group from Texas Tech followed the path of the weather Monday to study the lightning produced by these storms.

It's something these Texas Tech atmospheric science students and their professor do anytime there is a potential for thunderstorms, as they work on a five-year project sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

We caught up with the Texas Tech lightning research group out in Crosbyton Monday, where they launched the second weather balloon of the week.

We got a first-hand look at how that works, and what exactly these weather balloons are used for.

"We have to be near the storms with our radars in order to be able to measure them. So that involves storm chasing," Associate Professor of Atmospheric Science, Dr. Eric Bruning said.

When severe weather hits West Texas, many people prefer to know they can watch the storms develop from the comfort and safety of their own home.

But for this lightning research group at Texas Tech, there's something exciting about when the blue skies turn grey.

"I love it. It's great because it gives us a chance to gout and do lots of hands on work," research assistant Samantha Berkseth said.

Even while the sun is still shining, the team heads out to launch the weather balloons before the storms hit.

So what do these balloons do as they float away from sight?

"That balloon measures temperature, pressure and humidity as it rises into the atmosphere and it has a GPS tracker that gives us the winds as well," Dr. Bruning said.

Dr. Bruning says the balloons reach heights of close to 100 thousand feet.

A radio transmitter inside the balloon sends important lightning measurements back to the group.

"When it's finished, we can use that information to create plots and get an idea of the kind of environment in which the storms are forming," Berkseth said.

"Better understanding of how lightning works in clouds eventually leads to some benefits for the national weather service and some other users of the data," Dr. Bruning said.

Other users like our very own KCBD Meteorologists.

Samantha says knowing this information will eventually lead to even more precise storm warnings, is something she is proud to be a part of.

"To be able to go out and really get an up close look at the storms while being a scientist and collecting the data at the same time is really kind of thrilling," She said.

Now if you're wondering what happens to these balloons in the long run, Dr. Bruning says they eventually pop once they reach a certain height and fall back to the ground.

He says they are typically in the air for 45 minutes to an hour.

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