NORMAN, Okla. - Researchers and forecasters around the country are hard at work tracking Hurricane Irma, including officials at the National Weather Service.
A weather balloon, which expands to about 40 feet in diameter, was launched Wednesday from the National Weather Center in Norman. Attached at the bottom of the balloon is a package of weather instruments, which measure temperature, humidity, wind and pressure.
Rick Smith, warning coordination meteorologist at NWS Norman, said about 50 weather service offices across the country are launching two extra balloons each day to gather information and get a better idea of where Hurricane Irma may be headed.
According to Smith, this information is critical in determining where the hurricane might make landfall.
"Just a matter of 25 miles will make all the difference in the world on whether a city, like Miami, or Melbourne, or Orlando or Tampa, sees a devastating impact through a hurricane or whether they’re on the fringes of it," Smith said.
Collected data is fed into hurricane models, such as ones at the National Service Center in Norman.
While it was a sunny day in Norman when the balloon was launched, Hydrometeorological Technician Daryl Williams said data will be analyzed from a bird's eye view.
"They’re looking at the big picture all the way up and down the Plains, all the way in the eastern half of the United States," Williams said. "It’s little pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that they’re hoping to come out with a better solution. Hurricane track prediction is a very difficult thing, and so anything to help the forecasters, we’re kind of in that mode right now."
Hurricane Irma was upgraded to a Category 5 on Tuesday, the highest rating for a hurricane.