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Tags: supply chain | climate change | weather | forecasts

National Weather Service Short on Helium, Hydrogen Amid Supply Woes

Weather balloon
A weather balloon is released Saturday, July 25, 2020, at the National Weather Service in Brownsville, Texas, to track data from Hurricane Hanna. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald via AP)

By    |   Wednesday, 06 April 2022 12:13 PM EDT

The Biden administration's supply disruptions are even impacting the coverage of the weather.

The National Weather Service (NWS) is facing a helium shortage for weather balloons as spring tornado season kicks up, according to a March 29 bulletin.

"Effective March 29 and until further notice, the National Weather Service is reducing the frequency of weather balloon launches at several upper air locations in the United States due to a global supply chain disruption of helium and a temporary issue with the contract of one hydrogen supplier," the bulletin read. "The National Weather Service launches weather balloons from 101 upper air sites throughout the United States and the Caribbean, using helium to inflate the balloons at 12 of these sites.

"The agency converted the remaining sites to hydrogen because it is cost effective and a more reliable gas option."

Weather balloons are launched twice per day at around 100 nationwide locations to aid the NWS warnings for extreme weather, including thunderstorms, lightning, and tornadoes, but a shortage of helium and a contract dispute with a hydrogen gas supplier have cut back on those deployments, according to the report.

Ultimately, the issue will be about getting more money to the NWS to overcome the supply-chain woes.

Shortcomings and complaints of glitches for the NWS have officials concerned about potential life-saving warnings unable to be delivered in a timely fashion.

"This temporary adjustment will not impact weather forecasts and warnings," the bulletin noted.

But meteorologists dispute that.

NWS spokeswoman Susan Buchanan told Axios on Tuesday the hydrogen contract has been resolved, but deliveries might take up to six weeks to arrive.

"This is an evolving situation that changes daily," Buchanan told Axios, admitting the bulletin "could have been better worded."

"Upper air soundings are a critical observation tool for weather forecasts, because of the vital importance of this data, we have been doing everything we can to resolve supply issues," she wrote to Axios via email.

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The Biden administration's supply disruptions are even impacting the coverage of the weather.
supply chain, climate change, weather, forecasts
Wednesday, 06 April 2022 12:13 PM
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