Imagine walking through your yard and finding this? That’s what happened to Jenny and Wayne King at their house on Ono Island.
“I was supervising as Wayne was working in the yard,” said Jenny King. “He was transplanting some flowers for me. I walked down in the back. He had just repotted one of my lemon trees and I saw this kite string and the kite up in the tree. I said ‘Wow, where’d the kite come from?’”
“And I said, ‘What kite?’” said Wayne King. “And I turned around and this NOAA weather instrument fell in my garden and this kite got stuck up here in the tree.”
What was it? It was the parachute a fallen weather balloon. The balloon had burst allowing to weather instrument, called a radiosonde, to fall to the ground a parachute (or what the King’s refer to as a kite).
What might be most surprising is that meteorologists still use weather balloons. In fact they are launched all across the country twice a day. The closest launch site is Slidell, Louisiana. That’s where the King’s weather balloon most likely came from.
“It had to come out of the southwest with the wind blowing pretty hard that day,” said Wayne. “If it had gone another half a block, it probably would have ended up in Terry Cove Harbor.”
Weather balloons are important to meteorologists because it gives us an idea of what’s going on up in the sky. We don’t have any other way of knowing what is going on as you travel up in the sky.
From the balloons we can determine data like temperature, dewpoint, pressure, and winds until the balloon burst. These balloons go pretty high before the burst too. They burst about twenty miles above the ground. That’s the same distance as traveling from the Mobile Regional Airport, down Airport Boulevard, through downtown on Government Street, through the Bankhead Tunnel and over the causeway to its end in Spanish Fort.
Now there are a few things to keep in mind if you find a weather balloon on the ground. First, try not to touch the balloon itself. The balloon has special chemicals on the inside that help it explode when it reaches a low enough pressure in the sky. Sometimes the residue remains inside the balloon after it lands.
Second, you’ll need to send back the radiosonde to the National Weather Service. They provide an address on the instrument. Jenny and Wayne did this the same afternoon they found it. The National Weather Service then reuses them saving the government a few dollars.
To see some of the data generated from weather balloons around the nation, check out the Storm Prediction Center.