Weather Forecasters Challenged by Helium Shortage

This article appeared in the July/August edition of Weatherwise (Vol 75, No 4, p 6)

The ongoing helium shortage has been worsened by the Russian Invasion of Ukraine, and the result could be challenging for weather forecasters, according to an investigation by KXAN-Austin, an NBC affiliate in Texas. The helium shortage, which began several years ago, is the result of multiple factors, including decreased production and increased demand. While the United States is a primary supplier of helium worldwide, Russia is also a large supplier, and the war in Ukraine has resulted in greater demand for U.S. helium.

This presents a problem for NWS forecasters who rely on helium to launch balloons twice daily in across the country to gauge weather conditions in the upper atmosphere. Several NWS sites in Albany, New York; New York City; Tallahassee, Florida; Greensboro, North Carolina; and Charleston, South Carolina, have reported having to reduce the number of balloon launches from twice daily to once daily.

However, the NWS says fewer balloon launches won’t have a major impact on local forecasts because radars and other sensors will be able to fill the majority of the data gaps.

The NWS is planning to find ways to reduce their reliance on helium in the coming years as a result of the shortage.