LINCOLN, Ill. (WCIA) – Hurricane Ian is on the way to the Florida Gulf Coast this week.

While Central Illinois is almost a thousand miles away, local forecasters at the National Weather Service Office in Lincoln are still helping out with the forecasting.

They are doing so by increasing the number of weather balloons they launch into the atmosphere.

“A weather balloon is a way for us to sample the atmosphere normally twice a day, we send a balloon with a weather instrument attached below it and as it goes up in the atmosphere it records all the weather elements that we use to put into our computer models,” said Ed Shimon, the Warning Coordination Meteorologist for the NWS Office in Lincoln.

Each day, weather balloons are launched from various National Weather Service Offices and global forecast sites twice a day around the world at the same time.

In Central Illinois, that schedule normally is at 6a and 6p, but with doubling the number of balloons that will add a lunchtime launch and a midnight launch.

“The Weather Prediction Center requested that balloon sites in the eastern half of the United States help by launching extra balloons so that we can predict the path of the hurricane better,” said Shimon.

Twice as many launches means twice as much data, including temperature, wind and pressure, and not only at the surface but also high up into the sky.

“The more balloon launches we have, the better chance we have at getting an accurate hurricane forecast. It gives us more information and more frequent data to place into computer models.”

The National Weather Service Office in Lincoln is part of 122 forecast offices around the country providing forecasts for the country and the world.