The Electronic Theodolite & Meteorology

If you thought that an electronic theodolite was just a tool for surveyors, think again. The theodolite has helped meteorologists and others predict the weather for more than 100 years. 

The History Of Theodolites & Meteorology

The theodolite has been around for several hundred years, but until the late 18th century, this device definitely was used mainly for surveying tasks. For the uninitiated, a theodolite measures angles in the horizontal and vertical planes. 

So, if you were surveying a piece of land, the theodolite could help you measure the grade of the land and make calculations that would help engineers grade and level the parcel of land. Theodolites are still used for this purpose today, such as with the construction of buildings, bridges and roads. A surveyor or construction engineer might bring in an electronic theodolite during many phases of construction, from the earliest planning stages all the way up to the end of the project.

Of course, you probably are thinking that all of this history is nice but it has nothing to do with meteorology. Well, the idea of pairing theodolites with meteorology was sparked after the invention of the hot air balloon in the 1780s.

Obviously, hot air balloon pilots needed current information about wind and weather conditions, and in the early days of ballooning, a pilot or an assistant would first send a paper balloon up into the air to determine wind direction.

While this provided the pilot with some idea of wind direction and speed, it definitely wasn’t very accurate. In fact, given the unique paths of air currents, and the fact that little was known about them at the time, it’s kind of hard to believe that people actually went up in these balloons let alone braved excursions such as crossing the English Channel. 

As ballooning became more popular, and wind speed and conditions underwent further study, it occurred to one scientist that theodolites could be used to track the pilot balloons. This had applications for hot air balloon pilots, but also for the development of modern meteorology. 

At the turn of the 20th century, two inventions really boosted meteorology and the study of wind. In 1903, rubber balloons were developed and these had many advantages over paper balloons. Two years later, the first pilot balloon theodolite was created. Until this time, two theodolites were used to make wind calculations, but this reduced the equipment load without sacrificing accuracy. 

We still use pilot balloons, or pibals, for meteorology today, but these balloons are far stronger and our electronic theodolites are far more accurate. In fact, the weather balloons we use today can tell us about wind speed as well as atmospheric pressure, humidity and even air temperature. 

These days, balloons head up into the atmosphere with some sophisticated equipment attached to them, and they can reach some pretty spectacular heights. The Japanese BU60-1 balloon reached a height of 32.9 miles above sea level and we really think it deserves a better name than BU60-1, perhaps something like Sugoi, which is a Japanese word that roughly translates to amazing. 

Types Of Meteorology Jobs

Meteorology is a diverse field with many different job opportunities. For instance, an aviation meteorologist might work at a commercial airport or a military airport. This professional will monitor current weather and wind conditions for different altitudes as well as forecasting possible changes. This helps pilots know what to expect, weather-wise, upon take-off, landing and at different altitude levels during a flight. 

The military trains soldiers as meteorologists and, in some cases, these meteorologists work at military airports, but they also forecast weather conditions in areas where military operations will be occurring. If a special mission or a deployment has been planned, it’s crucial that current and possible future weather information is provided. 

Of course, many meteorologists work for government agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The National Weather Service and Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory are two offices within NOAA that might serve as a home base for a meteorologist.  

All meteorology jobs require a college degree, often an advanced degree; either a master’s or Ph.D. Students typically earn a bachelor’s degree in meteorology or a related area and then move on to a graduate program. 

In some cases, it can be smart to attend college via an ROTC scholarship, earn a bachelor’s in meteorology and then serve as a military meteorologist for several years. Not only will this reduce your education costs, you will gain a great deal of experience in your field, including learning how to use that electronic theodolite and pilot balloons as well as sophisticated radar systems, software and more.

Warren-Knight Electronic Theodolites

At Warren Knight, we design a number of handy electronic theodolites that can be used as airports, aboard sea-faring vessels and for various meteorological tasks. 

The WK-20-8403 Pilot Balloon Theodolite can be used to measure and observe azimuth and angles of elevation of pilot and weather balloons, as well as aircraft, ships or other moving objects to distances of 20,000 meters, depending on visibility conditions. This theodolite can be built with or without a magnetic compass.

The WK-20-95000 Electronic Mechanical Meteorological Theodolite is the perfect electronic theodolite, as its automatic power down feature prevents unnecessary power drain and the mechanical system operates independently of the electronic system, and will remain operational in the event of a power loss. 

Additionally, our WK-90-5410 Pibal System can be used with our balloon-tracking electronic theodolites to determine upper air wind speed and direction easily. The system includes a convenient handheld PDA computer loaded with the latest version of our PIBAL software. This software calculates wind speed, wind direction and balloon altitude, and stores it in an easy-to-read log file. To learn more about these and other electronic theodolites that we offer, head to our homepage and click on the Theodolites tab. If you don’t find exactly what you need, we may be able to provide you with a custom design.

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