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National Weather Service weather balloon zaps Thornton boy

Thursday, September 17th, 2009 6:31am MDT
Hundreds of weather balloons like this are released daily by the National Weather Service. (NOAA)

Hundreds of weather balloons like this are released daily by the National Weather Service. (NOAA)

A 12-year-old boy reportedly received a bit of a shock when he touched a National Weather Service balloon that had landed near Niver Creek Middle School in Thornton. The balloons which are launched twice daily from the old Stapleton International Airport facility and other locations across the nation are essential instruments for forecasters.

The boy complained of numbness in his hands after touching it and school officials called the fire department as they were unsure what the device was. Upon closer inspection they read the labels that said the unit belonged to the National Weather Service and was a weather instrument. The boy was transported to a hospital as a precaution and his father told Channel 7 Wednesday morning that he was fine.

Weather balloons are launched daily from 102 locations across the United States, Caribbean and Pacific and are essential forecasting instruments (see below for a map of sites in the contiguous United States). The six foot diameter balloons are launched twice daily and simultaneously at all the sites at midnight UTC and noon UTC (5:00am MDT and 5:00pm MDT). Once launched, the units can attain an altitude of 115,000 feet and travel up to 200 miles before they burst and fall harmlessly to the ground.

Called a radiosonde, the balloon’s payload measures air pressure, temperature, humidity, wind direction and wind speed. The data is transmitted in real time to receivers on the ground which is then fed into National Weather Service computers and monitored by forecasters. Information obtained by the units is essential for forecasters to evaluate and predict atmospheric conditions for forecasting, severe weather alerting and more.

For more details on what these instruments are used for, read the full story on Examiner.com.

There's more to this story on the Denver Weather Examiner's site!

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