Weather Balloon in Back Yard

This is weird. This past weekend a friend of mine was asking all about weather balloons and radiosondes. He was curious about how the process worked - - - whether the NWS still sends up balloons, where they end up, etc. So I went into this big explanation ... it's the first time I even remember someone really being curious about weather balloons. Then yesterday, someone else I work with came in and handed me a radiosonde that fell into his back yard over the weekend. I wonder ... what are the odds? I never have any reason to talk about weather balloons ... and then, when the opportunity does come up, I end up with one in my possession the next day? I feel like I'm on an episode of Lost. The cool thing is that the battery pack wasn't removed, and the moisture evidently caused the battery to rupture, which then fell apart in my hands and got acid all over my clothes and floor mat. That's nice.

When I emailed EAX, Evan told me that they are lucky to maybe see one or two of these things returned to them every year ... but in the last three weeks, three of them have been recovered in the EAX coverage area that have been returned. These all likely come out of TOP, which is the closest office to launch.
 
Mike - the battery probably didn't rupture, unless they have changed the types of batteries they are using these days, they are wet cell bateries that have to be 'activiated' before launch, which requires soaking the battery in distilled water. So, the battery is supposed to be wet. You can just yank it out and toss it - I don't think it can be used again. However, the rest of the instrument package can be recycled - so it's great that someone thought to save it and that you are returning it to the NWS. Too bad more folks don't do the same, or maybe the NWS could afford to launch more frequently.

Glen
 
I don't know ... this sure looks like individual battery cells that have come apart with dried acid (smells like it too) ... no big deal, though. Yeah, the instructions on the box say to pull out the battery pack and toss it. The instructions are so simple, and they do all the work of providing a postage free baggie and everything. I wonder if most people don't return them because its sort of a novelty, or if the reality is that 99% of these things end up in trees or wheat fields in the middle of Smallville, Kansas.

There's a local office here in KC that refurbishes these things, I guess. This is the first I became aware of it.
 
:lol:
I don't know ... this sure looks like individual battery cells that have come apart with dried acid (smells like it too) ... no big deal, though. Yeah, the instructions on the box say to pull out the battery pack and toss it. The instructions are so simple, and they do all the work of providing a postage free baggie and everything. I wonder if most people don't return them because its sort of a novelty, or if the reality is that 99% of these things end up in trees or wheat fields in the middle of Smallville, Kansas.

There's a local office here in KC that refurbishes these things, I guess. This is the first I became aware of it.
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Mike: last time i had fun launching balloons they cost $125 a piece. I'm not sure why they don't add a tracking transmittor of some sort and turn storm chasers (or like-minded cache-crazy folk) loose to hunt them down and turn them in for a small return. Probably because they end up in Smallville or someone's marijuana patch, so they don't want the ensuing liability. But that's what i'd do--heck id even do it as a rogue bounty-hunter; just give me some beer money and i'll hunt down all your lost sondes :lol:
Anyhow--funny story!
 
Hey Axeman - - - I think that's a good idea. During waiting periods or blue sky busts we could hone in on the GPS signals for fun. Of course, there's always the risks you mention ... or the possibility of ending up in a serial killer's basement ... or the fact that once the general public realize these things have homing beacons they will wig out and think the government is tracking their every movement. But other than those things, I'd be up for a good sonde chase.
 
While on the subject... I have always wondered about the hazards these posed to aircraft. Can they be a problem for airplanes private / commercial?
 
While on the subject... I have always wondered about the hazards these posed to aircraft. Can they be a problem for airplanes private / commercial?
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The fella I was talking to over the weekend asked the same thing and I had no idea. Maybe one of the NOAA folks can help. What would the chances be for one of these things to get sucked into a jet engine at 35,000 feet. Do pilots just keep an eye out for them?
 
A friend of mine (and of a few others on here) lived down in the very southwest part of Louisiana growing up. He was always into hurricanes even as a kid. He has found many dropsondes from the hurricane hunters and/or NOAA washed up on the beach. As far as I know. they dont have return instructions on them. I'm sure people who find radiosondes are facinated by their find too much ot turn them in. a reward for them of half of their cost before the battery/ballon/hydrogen would save alot of money I bet. and maybe enough to afford 18z and 6z launches and launches at more sites.
 
I found one of these not far from where I now live about a decade or so back. I live on the Eastern edge of thousands of acres of state forestland in Ohio. The one I found had come from Wilmington Oh I assume or had Wilmington Ohio somehow associated with it. Perhaps the return to address. I just assumed that it came from there. My friend used it to assist in teaching his meteorology class.

Funny that years later I would anxiously be watching data from these things.

Finding them should be a piece of cake. ;)

I mean we know where they started. We have the last data they transmitted. We have the wind speed at the various levels through which they fall once they begin to fall. All we need to know is what they weigh and how they fail when they fail. Do they reach a point where they burst and fall straight down ?

I think we have a new hobby Radiosonde chasing. Required gear, ultralight aircraft, telescope, GPS....

--
Tom Hanlon
 
It'll be like geocaching, but we can call it sondecaching...

You could probably write a little computer program to give you a general area of where the sonde fell to the ground. What's the usual bursting height for radiosondes, btw? 50mb? I know it depends upon the specific launch, since some balloons seem to pop well lower than what they should (or the transmitters fail to transmit after a particular height sometimes).... If they fall with a parachute, your program would have to account for the advection by the wind as the sonde falls too (not just where the radiosonde is located when it stops transmitting -- at very high altitudes). This would obviously be easiest when the winds are relatively weak or where the gradient in wind speed and direction isn't very great. If that's the case, you may be able to assume to ignore the fact that the low-level flow at the location where the sonde was launched is probably different than the low-level flow where the radiosonde is located when it's falling back to earth. This way, you could model the trajectory of the radiosonde in the horizontal, and it'd be easier to 'guestimate' where the radiosonde would be as it falls back to the Earth (though again, if gradients are tight, the wind field on the way down may be much different than the wind field on the way up since the radiosonde may be in a much different location and environment on it's way back to Earth).
 
Back when I was a kid, about 10 or 11 yrs old, a balloon got stuck in a friend of mines tree out in their yard. I remember the two of us lying in the grass staring at it all morning, before I finally got the guts to climb into the top branches to retrieve it. Once we had it down, I remember looking around and thinking the weather police were going to come and get us, as I took a rock and smashed it open. LoL, summertime’s were fun!
 
The fella I was talking to over the weekend asked the same thing and I had no idea. Maybe one of the NOAA folks can help. What would the chances be for one of these things to get sucked into a jet engine at 35,000 feet. Do pilots just keep an eye out for them?
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I haven't heard of one getting "sucked into an engine", but since the balloons expand with height, it may be easier for pilots to see them at that level (just guessing here). It is my understanding that various aviation publications indicate the locations and times for routine balloon launches, so the pilots may already be on the lookout.

From Federal Meteorological Handbook #3:

3.5 Notice to Airmen (NOTAM). Routine rawinsonde/radiosonde observations are, in general, exempt from the provisions of FAR 101 (Ref. 5) relative to filing a NOTAM for the following reasons:

• radiosondes do not weigh more than four pounds or have a weight/size ratio of more than three ounces per square inch on any surface of the package,

• balloons do not carry a total payload package weighing more than six pounds,

• balloons do not transport two or more packages that weigh more than twelve pounds, and

• trains do not use a rope or other device for suspension of the payload that requires an impact force of more than fifty pounds to separate the suspended payload from the balloon.[/b]

Sonde return: We usually don't get them directly returned to us. Periodically we'll get calls from sheriff or fire departments about the sondes being found, and what to do with them. I presume that if it is found, people are mailing them back to the National Reconditioning Center (the KC center Mike mentioned) using the envelopes enclosed in the sondes.

I remember reading a few radiosonde stories in our old regional newsletter. One mentioned someone at DTX running over the sonde he launched earlier that evening, on the way home. Another one at OAX had the sonde land in her parents' backyard. However, my favorite one involved a call EAX received from someone in Pittsburgh, about the "trouble their balloon caused". Someone had found a sonde on a golf course, and took it home with him, but had it sitting next to the door due to the smell of the battery. His wife came home, saw it, assumed it was a bomb (due to the battery wires), and the entire block was evacuated while the bomb squad worked to "defuse" it. EAX became involved because of the mailing envelope that referenced Kansas City, and the person assumed it was EAX that launched it.

Our office once had some issues with a farmer, whose horse ran into a fence after being spooked by a falling sonde. I believe we had to get NWS HQ involved to resolve that issue. :)

For Jeff's question: Our balloons at ILX typically burst above 8 mb. I believe burst heights vary by region. They do vary by time of year (higher values in summer).

The new radiosonde systems being deployed use GPS sondes, so maybe that will help with tracking where they end up after burst.

Chris G., routine balloon launcher at ILX
 
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