'Astronomical' Cliff Erosion Forces Chatham Weather Balloon Launching Station To Close

Rather than allow the building to fall into the ocean, it will be demolished in the next few weeks. WBZ-TV's Jacob Wycoff reports

Video Transcript

- After decades in operation, a Cape Cod weather station shut down this week because it's on the verge of falling into the ocean.

- Yeah, that station played a small but crucial role in generating forecasts. WBZ meteorologist Jacob Wycoff shows us why people on the Cape are so familiar with the station's work.

JACOB WYCOFF: What rises twice a day from dozens of locations across the United States and grows to the size of a house? A weather balloon. You may have spotted one in the skies above Cape Cod. They've been launching there everyday from Morris Island in Chatham for the last 60 years. That is, until Wednesday. After tracking nature for decades, this weather station is about to fall victim to it.

ANDY NASH: In the last six months, the erosion of that bluff has just been astronomical. I mean, it were-- it's one to two feet a week on average. And we've had a couple of storms where six feet of the bluff has just slumped off into the ocean.

JACOB WYCOFF: Andy Nash, meteorologist in charge at National Weather Service Boston, has been watching a longtime staple of New England weather observations slide into the Atlantic. While rising seas are certainly a factor, a storm in 2019 exposed a weakness by tearing a cut in the sandbar offshore.

ANDY NASH: And over time, that's widened and shifted. And so now the full force of the open ocean can get right to the base of the bluff.

JACOB WYCOFF: The building here is home to a weather balloon or radiosonde launch site, and is precariously perched on the edge of a 40-foot cliff. Rather than meeting its destiny, it will be demolished in the next few weeks.

ANDY NASH: Once we get past that, then we can look towards phase two, which is, OK, now where are we going to end up?

JACOB WYCOFF: Each balloon that leaves Chatham carries an instrument package and transmits data about the atmosphere miles up before it pops. 92 different locations across the US do exactly the same, with others nearby in Albany, Long Island, and in Maine. But having a local coastal sample is important for forecasting.

ANDY NASH: It gives us, a snapshot a profile of what the atmosphere is doing at that time. Weather is three dimensional, so it's not just on the ground. It is above our heads.

JACOB WYCOFF: Those snapshots can be viewed in real time, but also go into computer models to help paint a clearer picture of the future. While the plan was to move somewhere new within the next five years, obviously that timeline has sped up dramatically.

ANDY NASH: We need to stop operations, because it's getting to be an unsafe location for the observers that work there. And demolish the buildings before they fall into the ocean.

JACOB WYCOFF: And soon, that journey up in the sky will start from somewhere else.

ANDY NASH: Everybody from our office up through the Weather Service wants to get something set up and in place as quickly as possible.

JACOB WYCOFF: Nash hopes to have a new launch site going within the next two years. Right now, all their energy is spent working on the Chatham location. Jacob Wycoff, WBZ News.