Upper Air Equipment Installed at NWS Albuquerque


Upper air observations are obtained using weather balloons that lift instrument packages called radiosondes up through the atmosphere. For many years, observations have been obtained using a set of instruments that can directly measure pressure, temperature and humidity, and gather wind information by tracking the position of the balloon at specific altitudes. Radiosondes are launched twice each day at nearly 100 sites in the United States, including Albuquerque, and around 1000 locations across the globe. These data are used to determine the state of the atmosphere and also to provide input essential to running sophisticated computer forecast models. Equipment used to track the radiosondes is housed in the building shown in the photo below.

During the week of April 29th, 2008, equipment used to track the radiosondes was replaced with a new tracking system. The equipment removed from our upper air dome was 1950's vintage.

The dome of our upper air building houses our tracking system. A key component of the system is a receiver antenna, with the old antenna shown front and back.

A crane was used to remove the old antenna and lift the new antenna of the Radiosonde Replacement System, or RRS, into the dome.

The antenna of the new RRS system has a greater vertical and horizontal range. With the old system, tracking a balloon that was directly overhead was not possible. The RRS antenna will track overhead with ease.


The antenna locks onto the signal emitted from the radiosonde and then tracks the radiosonde as it ascends. Atmospheric data transmitted from the radiosonde is received by the antenna.

New radiosondes will be used with the RRS system. The instrument package is smaller than the radiosonde previously used. While pressure, temperature, humidity and winds are measured by both instruments, the use of GPS in the RRS system produces atmospheric soundings with a higher vertical resolution, resulting in more accurate and complete wind, temperature and relative humidity profiles.
Within a day of installation of the new RRS system, test flights were being conducted and measurements were being received. Official soundings with the new RRS equipment started on May 5, 2008.
Over the past few years, the National Weather Service has been replacing the old ground systems and associated radiosondes with new GPS-based Radiosonde Replacement Systems. The first GPS-based radiosonde system was installed in Sterling, VA, in August of 2005.

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