Weather balloon initially creates scare

Thursday, January 8, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:46 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 6, 2008

A northwest Boone County resident found a small package attached to an orange parachute in her yard Tuesday evening, but a bomb squad and firefighters determined that the device was a harmless weather balloon.

The resident, identified by the Boone County Fire District as Connie Coil, notified an off-duty sheriff’s deputy after she found the item about 7 p.m. Tuesday.

When firefighters and a bomb squad arrived, they discovered that the device was a weather data collection instrument box made by Vaisala, a company that manufactures electronic measurement systems.

Ken Hines, assistant chief of the Boone County Fire Protection District, said the resident made the right move.

“If you don’t know what to do, don’t do something unsafe,” Hines said. “If I saw something that said ‘explode’ on the side, I’d call someone.”

Firefighters, two bomb technicians and two explosive investigators responded to the call, Hines said. The bomb squad determined that the device was harmless, and the squad plans to return it to the company.

Vaisala manufactures the balloons, which are sent up to transmit data on weather conditions, said Selwyn Alpert, Vaisala sales manager, from his Boston office. The instruments often drift and land far from where they are launched, he said. He did not know where this particular balloon had been launched.

“There’s a battery inside, but that’s about it,” Alpert said. “There’s nothing dangerous at all about them.”

The balloons contain a package of instruments to measure humidity and other conditions and send it to weather organizations, Alpert said.

“These are measurements done worldwide by the World Meteorological Organization,” Alpert said. “Measurements are taken at the same time all over the world and become the database that teaches us about climates.”

After they are launched, the helium-filled balloons ascend, and air pressure causes them to expand. The balloons burst and a parachute opens, allowing them to drift down.

Hines, who has worked with the Fire Protection District since 1992, said the landing was unusual.

“I know of no situation that has happened like this in Boone County,” he said.

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