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Local News

March 7, 2014

Balloon's flight ends in Otego man's yard

Tom Barrett of Otego said a puzzling object he found in a field Thursday made him feel like he was living out a science-fiction film.

“It looked like something from a martian movie,” Barrett said, “and, from far away, it looked like it had a foreign language written on it.”

The funny-looking object had, indeed, traveled a great distance, but not from any galaxies far away. It was a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather balloon from the National Weather Service’s Forecast Office in Buffalo.

Barrett, 67, said he spotted an orange parachute-like object in one of the upper fields near his home on Wednesday. On Thursday morning, he revved up his tractor and headed into the field, which is covered with 15 inches of snow, he said. Barrett said he approached cautiously and breathed a sigh of relief upon seeing this message: “Harmless Weather Instrument.” A large, deflated balloon, attached by 40 feet of rope to a small box, lay on the ground.

“The balloon was thick latex, but it was completely shredded,” Barrett said. “It looked almost like spaghetti.”

According to NOAA, the deflated balloons and attached plain white boxes are found regularly. The white box is actually an important piece of weather equipment called a radiosonde, which is suspended below the hydrogen- or helium-filled balloon and takes upper air observations.

Barrett said information on the radiosonde noted that the balloon had been launched at 6 p.m. on Tuesday in Buffalo, meaning it traveled more than 200 miles in a short period of time. Attached were instructions to mail the equipment back to the Buffalo office.

SUNY Oneonta meteorology professor Jerome Blechman said finding a burst weather balloon such as this one is a rare occurrence for our area. This is mainly because the closest National Weather Service station is in Albany, he said, which is downwind from Oneonta. For a balloon from the Buffalo station to land in Oneonta, it would have to encounter very strong, steady wind from the west, which Blechman said was the case on Tuesday night. The Albany station reported 70 knot winds that night, he said.

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