Coastal erosion forces closure of Chatham weather balloon launch site

The last weather balloon will be sent up March 31, before the site closes permanently and the building is torn down

By: Tim Studebaker

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NORTON, MASS. (WLNE) –It’s a critical part of the process of bringing you the weather forecast.  Meteorologists gather data like temperature, humidity, air pressure, wind speed, and wind direction.  This doesn’t only happen at ground level, but also way up into atmosphere, up to around 100,000 feet above the ground.  Andy Nash is the Meteorologist in Charge at the National Weather Service office in Norton.

Nash says, “That information then gets fed into all the computer weather models.  It’s used by meteorologists to help diagnose ‘is there a chance for severe weather at the current time, is it more likely to be rain or snow or sleet that’s going to fall.’”

To get that upper air data, meteorologists all over the world release a piece of equipment called a radiosonde, suspended underneath a weather balloon, twice a day, all at the same time worldwide.  One of the launch sites is in Chatham on Cape Cod, but not for much longer.

Nash says, “We’ll miss it, but we’ve got other data that will help out.”

The site is shutting down because of coastal erosion that’s been picking up speed, putting the building in danger of falling into the ocean.

Nash says, “What caught everyone by surprise, really starting the latter half of last year, is the erosion just started going faster than we all imagined.  One to two feet a week on average.”

The final weather balloon will be sent up from Chatham at 8am on March 31st.

The building will be demolished in April.  For now, meteorologists in southern New England will have to rely on data from other launch sites in New York and Maine when preparing a forecast.

The National Weather Service is actively looking to set up another site nearby, to eventually begin sending up weather balloons in that area again.  For now, they’re focused on dismantling the current site in Chatham before erosion gets any worse.

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