Hurricane Sandy sparks a spike in weather balloon launches across continental USA


The National Weather Service Office (USA) in Springfield along with all other offices equipped with the Upper Air Program around the county will be releasing additional weather balloons during the next several days to help track Hurricane Sandy and the evolution of this potentially dangerous storm affecting the East Coast. Starting today, offices will release four weather balloons per day instead of two. The extra balloons will help computer models develop a consensus on the eventual track and fine tune the forecast of the storm that may strike the northeastern United States early next week. The Springfield NWS office normally releases balloons each day at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. The additional balloons will be released daily at 12 p.m. and 12 a.m. through at least Tuesday. Below is a picture of the first special release at noon Thursday conducted by our Electronic Technician, Quay Kendrick and our IT Specialist, Mike Sutton.

Weather balloon launch in Springfield to monitor Hurricane Sandy

Review of payload sensors now available

To continue the theme of highlighting of the shelf devises ‘ready to go’ for your payload, I’ve now included some sensors that don’t need any circuitry to run. For more sensors, read more..

USB barametric pressure sensor. Ideal if you don’t want to wire in sensors.

The lengths we go to, to recover our payload – the Siren

Back in April 2012, The Lyons twins launched a weather balloon from their university in New Zealand (Launch site co-ordinates : -37.783115, 175.314520). I was fascinated to read what they included in their payload to aid recovery. First the twins describe their payload


1x Canon A560 – Still capture, programmed with CHDK to capture images every 5 seconds.

1x Fujifilm A170 – Video, only for the launch and hour of flight time.


1x SPOT Personal Tracker – Send updates via satellite every 10 mins, limited to 60,000ft (secondary).

Constructed a gimbal system to orientate the tracker with the sky.

1x TrackIt Personal Tracker – Very fortunate to have received sponsorship from TrackIt. A NZ based company that specializes in GPS tracking. Very lucky to have them on board!


1x Barometric sensor – kindly donated to us by a US company, Gulf Coast Data Concepts.

Can record down to what we need, and records temperature at programmable intervals.


1x Pizeo Siren system – Running off an Arduino board as a countdown device to turn the siren on to help with location once landed. Huge thanks to Gillzy for his patience, help and Arduino board. He’s a pretty top notch bloke

The siren in the payload

Here are exerts of their blog to describe the flight and THE SIREN.

T minus: a few days

We have had some great weather over the country in the past week. Initially we looked at launching on the 22nd, but we were unable to source the gas. We knew that the high over the North Island was moving eastward, so our window of opportunity was  limited. After running a few prediction through Cambridge University’s balloon prediction software (extremely handy!) we settled for the 26th, Thursday.

T minus:14 hours

On the eve on the launch, as I was rigging the parachute and other lines, Zac had a bit of a mare with the siren. The thing wasn’t working properly. He checked his coding, and his electronics, but alas no solution. He figured that the Ardunio board drained the batteries. The brand new 9V lithiums (cost an arm and a leg). The launch was not going to be postponed by a small hiccup like this, so Zac decided a major refit was in need. He ripped out the siren electronics and hard-wired a semi-fresh lithium to the siren, this meant that there was no timer, just full on wailing from take off to touch down. Problem solved.

The final checks were done,  batteries replaced/charged and the gear list checked off. We checked the predictor again, but it still hadn’t changed much, putting impact southeast of Matamata very close to the treeline of the ranges. Nothing ventured, nothing gained right? It was on.

I asked the twins how the siren faired. Zac said, “We tracked the unit with a SPOT satellite tracker as our secondary and another GPS unit that we source locally. We didnt want to jump into amateur radio, so we knew that the tracking units we had would have an altitude limit, but we were fine with this, hoping that it would start again as it descends.

We lost the balloon at 17km, (we knew this) and lost it for about 40 mins! we had a rough idea where is was going to land, and 40 mins later the GPS units updates and directed us straight to it! The siren was temperamental, the electronics failed the night before the launch so we were sceptical whether the battery would last the entire flight, which it didnt! but the GPS located it no problem!”

For the full story of their launch adventure go to

HABHUB update in the pipeline for high altitude balloonists

The valuable HABHUB tools including burst calculator, Launch predictor, and tracker. A replacement radio tracking system is also in the pipeline for amateur radio beacon enthusiasts. Here is there recent posting:

habhub will serve as the new home for       the tracker,      the predictor and      the burst-calculator    and we plan to add even cooler new features, such as       a flight archive,      a couchdb tracker server for easy replication between a chase car on intermittent internet and      perhaps other neat things that we think of in the meantime!

Those clever guys and girls at UKHAS can be contacted at