Weather observation

By Clyde Williams

The evening (10pm) meteorological balloon flight at Raoul Island was usually done with only the evening radio operator present. After launching the balloon, the operator would follow its light(1) on a theodolite, recording azimuth and bearing at 1-minute intervals on a record attached to the theodolite post.

To do this, one stood with an eye to the sighting scope, with one hand operating the bearing control and the other the azimuth control. You had a head-mounted torch which you turned on only to see and enter the values. You could not have this on while you were following the “light” or you would be blinded. It really was a one-handed paper hanger job, and your focus was totally upon the task.

Well, one night while so engaged I felt something slimy and warm on the back of my head. I panicked, threw the record in the air and jumped away from the theodolite, hardly daring to look at what monster had attacked me. I saw it was one of the cows standing with head lowered and licking its nostrils as only cows can.

I abandoned the flight, coded it up and ended with the words “Flight abandoned due to unsafe conditions”.

  1. The balloon had attached to it on an extended string tied to a light which was comprised of (and I kid you not) an inch-long piece of candle which was in turn sitting on a 4-inch diameter cardboard base and the whole enclosed in a foot long tube of cellophane. We assembled these ourselves. The candle was lit with a match just before the balloon was released. On clear nights it was quite common to track the balloon to 10,000 feet plus. Day balloons did not have a light but did have a long length of used teleprinter carbon paper attached by a 50-foot or so length of string. It was not uncommon to track these day flights to beyond 20,000 feet.

Clyde Williams was a radio operator at Raoul Island 1949-1950.

1949 video showing the taking of weather observations and transmitting them to New Zealand

1949 video showing the taking of weather observations and transmitting them to New Zealand. In the photo above, operator George Bourne. In the radio room scene (starting at 0:49 in the video) the man wearing glasses is the meteorologist and the radio operator is Lloyd (Cookie) Douglas. John Moore also appears in the video. Click to view (opens in new window).