Weather balloons in India may need to seek unemployment benefits, as the country is studying the viability of replacing the hydrogen-filled balloons with drones to collect atmospheric data.
Currently, weather balloons carry sensors embedded in a radiosonde—a telemetry instrument—to record atmospheric pressure, temperature, and wind direction and speed.
But data collection is not the reason weather balloons may be out of a job.
It's that tradition weather balloons—as well as those radiosondes—drift very far from the weather stations that release them, and are therefore unretrievable. The India Meteorological Department (IMD)—which gathers weather data from 550 locations across the country—loses approximately 100 radiosondes per day, as they are lost after doing their job.
“We are now exploring the possibility of using drones to gather this atmospheric data which is crucial for weather forecasting,” said M Ravichandran, Secretary, Ministry of Earth Sciences.
Various studies suggest that specialized drones could be efficient successors to traditional weather balloons—especially as drones can be controlled and guided to fly at low as well as high altitudes, and, even better, can fly back to the weather station.
“It is expected that drones should be capable, economically feasible, easily deployable, and recoverable, and should be technically comparable or superior to currently deployed radiosondes for upper air observations up to the boundary layer of upper air atmosphere,” stated IMD.