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WeatherWise: The Chinese Balloon

US China Balloon
Posted at 4:39 PM, Feb 06, 2023

The name's Grevenitz, Curtis Grevenitz and I like my martinis shaken not stirred. In this Weatherwise, its high stakes espionage in our sky and the weather, specifically wind speed and direction influenced the path of the Chinese surveillance balloon.

It's a balloon and not an ordinary one. If you've ever been up in a hot air balloon you know that that balloon is at the mercy of the weather. Ideal weather conditions are calm, stable, clear days with a wind of 4 to 6 miles per hour and maximum safe wind of 8-10 mph.

Around the world, there are thousands of government-operated weather balloons that are launched daily to collect information about temperature, wind and moisture in the atmosphere. Twice daily, the National Weather Services in Montana launch a weather balloon that is approximately 6 feet in diameter that carries equipment called a radiosonde that helps gather data for computer models. These balloons fly for a few hours and can drift hundreds of miles from launch sites. Most of the measurements are taken in the troposphere, the lowest level of the atmosphere, but weather balloons can reach 100,000 feet in the air.

This balloon from China was anything but a typical weather balloon. it was extremely large, estimated around 200 feet in diameter, and located high in the stratosphere, above where commercial planes fly and above the steering currents of the jet stream. As the spy balloon was first detected near Alaska, defense officials suspected the balloon would follow the prevailing wind but it did not. Rather, the balloon paused and changed course over western Canada and took a path mimicking the jet streams path down across Montana and out through the center of the country, eventually off the coast of South Carolina where it met its demise.

This story will self-destruct in 5 seconds, and now you're a little more Weatherwise.