Up in the tree … It’s a what?
At first, Sherry Kendall felt bad for the youngster who lost the balloon that was stuck in a tree near her house in Warren.
Then she thought part of a model rocket was in the tree.
After catching glimpses of something for months, she finally discovered that a weather monitoring device was stuck in that tree.
“It was right around February, maybe the end of February, I noticed something like somebody lost a helium balloon,” Kendall said.
It was far enough up the tree she didn’t give it much thought.
Then, “maybe the first part of April, there was something hanging from the tree – a square box,” she said.
She thought she recognized that as part of a model rocket.
Still, it was too far up to do anything about it.
Then the winds, and some snow, blew past her 13 Swiss Street home last weekend.
The unknown object was still stuck in the tree, but now it was just above the ground.
“My friend, Miranda Grenat, gave a tug,” Kendall said.
The box came free.
It had a wire coming out of the top with two antennae poking out of the end of the wire, she said. There were words on it.
In a time when suspicious packages are often reported to police, some of the key words on the box were, “harmless weather instrument.”
“This is a radiosonde, a balloon-borne instrument used by the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) National Weather Service (NWS) to obtain weather data aloft for weather forecasts and research,” Kendall read.
The NWS launches radiosondes every day to check temperature, wind speeds, pressure, and other meteorological information.
“They’re a box of weather-sensing equipment that we tie to a balloon,” NWS Meteorologist Elyse Colbert said of the radiosondes. “It has equipment to measure moisture, temperature, pressure, winds, as well as GPS tracking equipment so that we can tell exactly how fast it’s rising into the atmosphere and general location.”
All of that information is transmitted back to the office that launched the instrument.
“The data that gets collected is sent to our modeling centers,” Colbert said. “A lot of that data is used as input into our weather-predicting models.”
Some information is used for immediate knowledge of storms or general weather.
Kendall’s radiosonde was launched, according to the information on the side of the box, at 6 p.m. Jan. 23 from White Lake, Mich., a suburb of Detroit.
As the crow flies, that’s over 233 miles.
A map of the launch sites is available at NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center site – www.spc.noaa.gov under the forecast tools tab.
The nearest sites to Warren are Pittsburgh and Buffalo.
Like Kendall’s, some of the balloons go hundreds of miles in a short time.
Colbert said some Pittsburgh balloons end up in the Carolinas.
The balloons rise rapidly after release and usually don’t spend more than a couple hours in the air.
When they are launched, the balloons are about six feet across. They get bigger as they rise and air pressure decreases. The balloons can stretch to almost 25 feet before they burst and begin the long fall to Earth. A small parachute slows the descent, Colbert said.
“A typical ‘weather balloon’ sounding can last in excess of two hours, and the radiosonde can ascend to over 115,000 feet (almost 22 miles) and drift more than 180 miles from the release point,” according to a NWS description of the radiosonde project. “During the flight, the radiosonde is exposed to temperatures as cold as minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit and an air pressure less than 1 percent of what is found on the Earth’s surface.”
The balloons can pick up speed under the right conditions. “If the radiosonde enters a strong jet stream it can travel at speeds exceeding 250 mph,” according to the NWS.
The box Kendall found had instructions on it, asking that the finder return the box, postage paid, to Kansas City.
“I’ve already mailed it back,” she said.
Only about 20 percent of the 75,000 radiosondes launched each year by the NWS are found and returned.
“It really helps out because if it does get sent back we can usually recycle them,” Colbert said. “There may have to be a couple repairs we have to do, but we are able to reuse them or at least parts from them.”
Kendall was happy to help and pleased that the instrument landed in her tree.
“I’m 63, I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said. “That’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”