Tiny sensors 'HailSondes' can be unleashed into a hailstorm

Scientists engineered hailstone-shaped probes which weigh 24 grams are attached to balloons and released inside storm updrafts.
Sejal Sharma
Representational image
Representational image


Remember the 1996 Helen Hunt-starrer ‘Twister’ in which a bunch of meteorologists develop small weather sensors to collect data and revolutionize tornado research? Well, it exists.

According to a statement by the scientists, researchers at Western University Canada are using tiny sensors called HailSondes to unleash them into hailstorms and understand the conditions for hailstone growth.

“It started as a weekend project to see if the technology was there to build such a device,” said Joshua Soderholm, an Australian thunderstorm scientist. “There was a significant amount of engineering to ensure it could also survive the extreme conditions inside storms.”

Egnieering with precision

Soderholm looked out for days with severe hailstorms and deployed his latest invention. “This is not as simple as it sounds and requires being at the right location at the right time with the right type of hailstorm,” he added.

Luck wasn’t his friend for the first few days but his team intercepted a severe storm producing giant hail on July 24 and successfully launched two HailSondes into the storm.

The HailSondes were deployed and ascended seven kilometers up in high winds exceeding 120 km/h.

HailSondes, the hailstone-shaped probes, weigh 24 grams each and were released inside a storm whilst being attached to balloons.

The researchers explain in the statement that once released into the open air, HailSondes behave like pellets of ice called hailstones and help in capturing the trajectory and measurements of the path taken by the hailstorm. 

Assessing storm conditions

This trajectory determines whether the hailstone will pass through regions of the storm that are likely to grow or miss out entirely. HailSondes can also assess the conditions in which hailstones grow as they move through a storm.

“Collecting data from the eye of the storm is the white whale of meteorological research,” said Julian Brimelow, executive director of Western’s Northern Hail Project (NHP).

“This unique dataset will improve our capacity to simulate models of hailstorm events and provides direct validation of what hailstones experience during a storm.”

HailSondes was a finalist in the 2022 Harry Otten Prize for Innovation in Meteorology. The international award is presented every second year by the European Meteorological Society (EMS) for hardware or software innovation that can be readily applied and bring benefits quickly, scientists stated.

The researchers hope that measurements of hailstorms done via HailSondes will be used in practical applications for hailstorm analysis and nowcasting. This will help transition to future hail services and benefit a wide range of sectors like aviation, risk management, transport, and public safety.

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