Greensboro, NC -- Twice a day the National Weather Service launches roughly 70 weather balloons around the country equipped with a box of weather instruments (radiosonde). These radiosondes record the weather conditions above the earth's surface to help meteorologist forecast. Inevitably that balloon pops.
Any given weather balloon can lift the radiosonde to around 100,000 feet above the earth's surface before it pops. The balloon material practically disintegrates, but the radiosonde remains intact and begins to drop back to earth.
Fortunately there is a parachute built into the system that deploys as soon as the radiosonde begins to lose altitude. The parachute and radiosonde will then slowly float back to earth and land anywhere from in a tree, a body of water, on top of a building or even in your backyard. The radiosonde can land up to 200 miles away from its launch site depending on the winds.
The National Weather Service says that once the radiosonde reaches the ground it can make some disconcerting noises and give off a sulfuric (egg-like)smell. However, they assure that the radiosonde and its attached flight equipment are perfectly safe to humans and the environment.
If you happen to come across a radiosonde the National Weather Service hopes that you return it. Each one has its own addressed, postage-paid return mailbag with instructions on how to package it. Unfortunately, however, while the National Weather Service launches over 75,000 radiosondes each year only 20 percent are recovered.
If you'd like to see the preparation and launch of a weather balloon click here: Weather Balloon Launch
WFMY News 2