LAKE ARTHUR — A weather balloon launched by the National Weather Service office in Lake Charles was discovered Sunday along the lake by a 10-year-old Delcambre boy visiting his grandparents.
"He looked out the window and saw a big orange parachute with a white balloon on it," the boy's grandmother Cheryl Thackston said Monday.
The balloon landed next to a cross along the lake, she said.
"At first we thought it was a kite, but he ran over there and got it and ran back with it," she said. "It couldn't have been there too long because my husband had just put the trash out and didn't see it."
That's when the family realized the orange parachute was part of a weather balloon.
Porter Melder, who loves science and history, was excited at the unusual find on his last day of a week-long visit at his grandparents home on Pleasant Street along Lake Arthur.
After taking photographs with the balloon, Melder wrote a letter to the weatherman and began making plans to use the discovery as part of a school science project.
"He wrote a letter saying he was very excited when he spotted the balloon and he asked the weatherman if he could write him back to let him know where and when the balloon had been launched," Thackston said.
Andy Patrick, meteorologist-in-charge at the National Weather Service in Lake Charles, said the weather balloon was likely launched Saturday evening or Sunday morning. The local NWS typically launches weather balloons twice a day; more if there is a tropical system developing.
Patrick explained the balloons, which contain a small white box called a radiosonde, are meteorological devices that are used to measure temperature, humidity, pressure, wind speed and direction and other weather-related information at different altitudes. The data is used for research and to help meteorologists with weather forecasts.
The balloon can expand to about 20 feet in diameter, reaching up to 100,000 feet in the atmosphere before bursting and eventually falling back to earth.
Of the nearly 700 balloons sent out each year, only about 2-3 percent are found and returned, Patrick said.
Each balloon contains a mailing bag with pre-filled address and instructions on how to return the device if found, he said.
Thackston took the proper steps Monday to mail the balloon back to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Logistics and Reconditioning Center in Greenview, Mo. where it will be refurbished and flown again.