August 04, 2020

Ellsworth boy recovers radiosonde from grounded weather balloon

ELLSWORTH — Ten-year-old Sam Heckman, who had heard of a radiosonde in his school science class, found one in a tree last Saturday. It was attached to a balloon that had burst and a parachute so tangled it was left in a tree where it landed behind Merrill’s Orchard on Old Bangor Road.

The boy, who is the son of Delores and Randy Heckman, knew the apparatus helped the National Weather Service forecast weather. The balloon was released from the Portland International Jetport one week earlier, a printed message told him.

Another message asked him to use an enclosed mailer to return the equipment to Kansas City, Mo., which he said he would do. There, it will be recalibrated, sent to a weather station somewhere in the United States and used again, a Weather Service representative said Wednesday.

He said it would be released at the same time as other weather packages from 100 stations in the United States and others worldwide. Balloons are released at the same time in the morning and again in the evening, he said.

The radiosonde takes “snapshots” of the atmosphere during its 90-minute flight and transmits the information to a weather station from which it is again relayed to the National Meteorological Center in Washington, D.C.

According to the weather reporter, the information received from the radiosonde and other observations are placed in a large computer system which generates several forecast models. These are transmitted as prognostic maps to field offices and the media.

Many of the balloons are lost at sea, the representative said.

Heckman pointed out a message on the plastic package in which the radiosonde was encased. It said the transmitter “measured temperature, pressure, humidity and winds at various heights.”

“I knew that,” said the smiling young scientist.

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