We have tested the NCAR Cross-Chain LORAN Atmospheric Sounding System (CLASS) in a fully mobile configuration, which we call M-CLASS. The sondes use LORAN-C navigation signals to allow calculation of balloon position and horizontal winds. In non-stormy environments, thermodynamics and wind data were almost always of high quality. Besides providing special soundings for operational forecasts and research programs, a major feature of mobile ballooning with M-CLASS is the ability to obtain additional data by flying other instruments on the balloons. We flew an electric field meter, along with a sonde, into storms on 8 of the initial 47 test flights in the spring of 1987. In storms, pressure, temperature, humidity, and wind data were of good quality about 80%, 75%, 60%, and 40% of the time, respectively. In a flight into a mesocyclone, we measured electric fields as high as −135 kV/m (at 10 km MSL) in a region of negative charge. The electric field data from several storms allow a quantitative assessment of conditions that accompany loss of LORAN data. LORAN tracking was lost at a median field of about 16 kV/m, and it returned at a median field of about 7 kV/m. Corona discharge from the LORAN antenna on the sonde was a cause of the loss of LORAN. We provided our early-afternoon M-CLASS test soundings to the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Norman, Oklahoma, in near real-time via amateur packet radio and also to the National Severe Storms Forecast Center. These soundings illustrate the potential for improving operational forecasts. Other test flights showed that M-CLASS data can provide high-resolution information on evolution of the Great Plains low-level jet stream. Our intercept of Hurricane Gilbert provided M-CLASS soundings in the right quadrant of the storm. We observed substantial wind shear in the lowest levels of the soundings around the time tornadoes were reported in south Texas. This intercept demonstrated the feasibility of taking M-CLASS data during the landfall phase of hurricanes and tropical storms.
* NOAA/ERL/National Severe Storms Laboratory, Norman, OK 73069
† University of Mississippi, Department of Physics, University, MS 38677
†† National Center for Atmospheric Research (sponsored by the National Science Foundation), Boulder, CO 80307