Tucson, Ariz. – The National Weather Service’s Tucson bureau is never closed. At least two meteorologists are on duty at all times, even on holidays.

Staffing can be a little lean in June, when conditions stay the same – hot and dry – for weeks.

Inside the Tucson Weather Operations Center.
(Photo by Mark Duggan)

But on a monsoon day, when angry clouds fill the skies, the center is buzzing with activity.

On the day of my visit, three meteorologists tracked storm cells on multiple radar displays. Others checked incoming rain gauges and fielded calls from weather spotters.

Listen to the story:

Science Officer J.J. Brost scanned a bank of radar screens, keeping a close eye on heavy rain near the burn area of the Monument Fire. Too much rainfall there could cause disastrous erosion.

Meanwhile, Ken Drozd was watching a storm cell develop east of Tucson, and its implications for Pantano Wash where it crosses a busy highway. He checked several rain gauges and compared radar angles. Drozd is the Tucson bureau’s Warning Coordination Meteorologist, tasked with issuing weather advisories.

Meteorologist Hans Hansen releases a weather balloon on a stormy day. (Photo by Mark Duggan)

After a bit of consultation, he decided to release a flash flood advisory.

His fingers flashed across a keyboard, and within minutes local TV stations, monitored continuously in the weather center, were running alert crawlers over daytime soap operas.

There is one constant at the forecast center, no matter what the weather is doing: The twice-daily release of the weather balloon.

Launched from the building’s roof, it rises quickly, taking with it a weather sensor and radio transmitter.

Temperature and barometric pressure readings start coming in almost immediately, and continue until the balloon reaches about 110,000 feet.



Learn more about weather at JetStream, the National Weather Service Online Weather School

Learn more about how Doppler radar works

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