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NWS releases extra weather balloons for Hurricane Irma

Weather balloons were launched from the National Weather Service in Ashwaubenon to help determine the path of Hurricane Irma as it approaches Florida, September 6, 2017. (WLUK)

ASHWAUBENON (WLUK) -- If you happened to be near Austin Straubel International airport on Wednesday just after noon, you might have noticed a balloon flying up through the sky.

That was a special launch of a weather balloon and not something you'd normally see around that time.

"Usually during daylight time our launches are at 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. These supplemental launches are at noon and midnight," explained Green Bay National Weather Service meteorologist, Jeff Last.

The Green Bay NWS, along with four dozen other offices in the central, southern, and eastern U.S., are launching two additional balloons every day to help better predict where Hurricane Irma will go.

But what does our weather have to do with a hurricane two thousand miles away?

The biggest challenge right now is predicting when and where Hurricane Irma takes this sharp turn to the right, and head north.

What's going to influence that right-hand turn to the north is a large, broad area of upper-level low pressure and its accompanying upper-level winds, which is right now near the Midwest.

And as this big upper-level low moves from our area to the east this weekend, the circulation around it could pick up Irma and steer where it goes.

So it's important to examine these connections as thoroughly as possible.

And that's what these extra balloon launches will accomplish.

More data hopefully means better forecasts.

These weather balloons and their attached instruments, called radiosondes, are also important for where they sample the atmosphere.

"At the ground level we have observation points at every airport, just about, across the country. But there are only 70 upper air stations in the continental U.S., so the extra data that we can provide will help those models be more accurate," Last said.

And as long as Irma threatens the United States, the NWS and all of its sister agencies pledge to do everything they can provide the most accurate forecasts possible.

The Green Bay NWS expects the extra launches to continue at through the end of the week.

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