ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – A global shortage in helium is having an impact in the Capital Region, with the National Weather Service Albany Office announcing it has temporarily suspended the launch of weather balloons. The important weather forecasting tool is grounded until at least March.
“The balloon goes up in the atmosphere and the package measures temperature, winds and humidity. This is the backbone and monitoring the weather,” said Christopher Thorncroft, Director of the Atmospheric Science Center at UAlbany.
The reasoning is in part because of a global shortage of helium, with the NWS searching for alternatives to its supply. The Albany office is also waiting for helium infrastructure to be completed in the spring at the ETEC Building, where they’re located.
Albany is one of 12 NWS stations across the country that still uses helium for its weather balloons, with other sites converted to hydrogen. The National Weather Service stresses that even without the utilization of weather balloons in Albany, forecasts and warnings won’t be impacted.
Instead, meteorologists can continue to utilize other forecasting tools, including continuing their collaboration with the New York State Mesonet, located at UAlbany, “The National Weather Service uses our data routinely to support their efforts,” Thorncroft explained.
Even with the absence of balloons, the Mesonet collects similar data from profiler data, something Thorncroft says can be a gamechanger in weather forecasting. The technology sends a laser into the atmosphere, collecting similar data to the traditional weather balloons.
“We can retrieve the temperature and the humidity profiles every two minutes. The radio, most times it’s just launched twice daily, but that’s continuously,” said June Wang, Interim Program Manager for NYS Mesonet.
Weather forecasting is the latest field to be impacted by the constraints of the squeezing market of helium, one that’s been strained over the past several years due to multiple factors.
“Production has gone down, they’ve limited plants, they had anticipated plants coming online in Qatar and Russia, obviously for many different reasons those haven’t come online,” said Christian Card, Vice President of Sales for Noble Gas Solutions in Albany, noting that demand has stayed high because of the use of helium in several industries.
While several NWS stations have been able to convert to hydrogen, the office in Albany is ineligible due to its location on the roof at UAlbany. NWS will continue to explore ways to limit its dependence on helium.