Weather balloon goes on 117-mile ride over Lake Michigan

The box of instruments the balloons carry is, known as a radiosonde, is harmless, but the data it collects play a critical role in weather prediction.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A weather balloon launched in Wisconsin Tuesday took a 117-mile journey across Lake Michigan before landing in a Michigan backyard.

Meteorologists from the National Weather Service office in Green Bay launched the balloon at 6 a.m., as it and every other weather service office does twice every day at 0Z and 12Z time -- that's 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. Central time.

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The box of instruments the balloons carry, known as a radiosonde, is harmless. But the data it collects play a critical role in weather prediction.

Instruments measure various important weather conditions as the balloon rises through the atmosphere, including temperature, wind and dew point.

The result gives meteorologists a snapshot of current conditions at several layers of the atmosphere. It provides critical data to computer forecast models to solve the riddle of what the weather is about to do next.

The balloons will typically rise to about 100,000 feet before the balloon pops and the radiosonde parachutes safely back to the ground.

The National Weather Service marks each box what they are and provides a postage-paid envelope to return the equipment to their headquarters where they can recycle and reuse the box on another balloon mission -- saving taxpayers money!

In this case, NWS Green Bay says their balloon made it 117 miles across Lake Michigan, landing in a backyard in Traverse City, Michigan. The balloon registered a southwest wind of 120 knots (138 mph) at 30,000 feet, giving that balloon quite a ride!

Meteorologists there tell FOX Weather they have received four of the instrument boxes back since the start of the year. But most who find the radiosondes send them back in the pre-paid package. The National Weather Service says of 75,000 balloons sent up each year, about 20% are returned.