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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 10/24/2008

Weather Service Celebrates, Balloons and All

By Kevin Ambrose

A weather balloon is launched during the National Weather Service Open House Saturday afternoon, Oct. 18. Click here for larger photo.

When I saw the announcement about this past weekend's National Weather Service Open House in Sterling, Va., which included a dedication for the new Baltimore/Washington forecast office, I noticed there would be hourly weather balloon launches during the two-day event. I've read about weather balloons for years, but never actually seen a launch.

When I arrived, I immediately went to the launch site and took a few photos as a balloon took flight, lifting a box of weather instruments called a radiosonde.

Keep reading for more photos from the National Weather Service Open House and additional commentary. And see our full forecast for the latest on a potentially rainy Saturday.

A weather balloon drifts upward into the sky during the Weather Service Open House. We were told that the balloon of 5-6' in diameter will expand to over 30' in diameter at 100,000 feet, before bursting. The weather instruments then float to the ground by parachute after transmitting their data by radio signals.

The radiosonde lifted by the weather balloon. It is labeled "Harmless Weather Instrument" in red letters.

I then went to a tent and watched a SKYWARN presentation, complete with storm photos and descriptions. At another tent, I watched a show called "Weather in Music and Prose." In that show, NBC4's Bob Ryan read weather poetry and a musical group played renditions of popular songs that have weather themes. It was quite enjoyable, but I'm a weather geek, so that's to be expected.

Bob Ryan reads the poem "Snow Storm" by Ralph Waldo Emerson to the attendees of the NWS Open House.

Many popular songs include weather themes. The show, "Weather in Music and Prose" included many examples of these songs, accompanied by a humorous slide show of photos and graphics.

I then toured the NWS offices and later toured the Sterling Field Support Center. See the photos below to complete the story.

The office of the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va., where our local forecasts are created and issued to the public, as well as severe weather warnings.

This is a wind meter in the Sterling Field Support Center's cold chamber that has turned into a large icicle. The temperature in the chamber was set to 18 degrees F, accompanied with a fine spray of water. Many wind meters are heated to prevent this type of ice accumulation.

The wind tunnel at the Sterling Field Support Center is capable of producing winds up to Hurricane Category 4.

During our demonstration of the wind tunnel, the maximum wind reached almost 145 mph.

A distant view of the Doppler radar located at the National Weather Service office, Sterling, Va.

By Kevin Ambrose  | October 24, 2008; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Photography  
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Glad to see you made it! I especially liked going to the control center and seeing the massive arrays of monitors and radio sets. The Doppler was also pretty neat; I likened it to a giant soccer ball standing on stilts.

Too bad I didn't stick around for the prose and poetry session; I might have seen you snapping pictures!

Posted by: KBurchfiel | October 24, 2008 3:24 PM | Report abuse


The Doppler radar tower at Sterling is pretty impressive. I have just added a photo of the Doppler tower to the end of this post. I took several shots of it while at the open house.

Posted by: Kevin-CapitalWeatherGang | October 24, 2008 5:03 PM | Report abuse

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