Local Balloon Captured in Canada

Posted at: 07/29/2013 6:46 PM
Updated at: 07/29/2013 10:41 PM

A regular ol' helium balloon launched from Austin Saturday evening was captured in Paris, Ontario which is situated just southwest of Toronto.  The balloon was released at the Mower County Relay for Life event at 6:30 CDT that evening along with hundreds of others, each with their own special message to a friend of loved one that has suffered from cancer.  We're told the balloon was still intact and floated right into the hand of a golfer on the Paris Grand Golf Course at 5:25pm EDT Sunday.

So how far did it travel.  As a bird flies, Paris, ON is about 630 miles from Austin.  The trek of the balloon was roughly 22 hours (subtract an hour for time switch).

One would think the balloon traveled, on average, around 28 mph to get there, but that's not the case.  The wind pattern at the time would have a major influence, which at the time was not headed due east and would increase the distance the balloon traveled.

Due to the many different variables that are unknown about the atmosphere and balloon assumptions are made in estimating how high and how fast the balloon traveled.

Upon release around 6:30pm Saturday, the balloon would have risen up into the sky traveling in a south-southeasterly direction.  The winds as you ascend into the air were nearly unidirectional that evening with speed increasing with height, only about 10 mph at the surface but as high as 100 mph in the jet stream.

Reverse analysing the situation I'm assuming the balloon was able to reach the 10k ft.  The flight pattern during that time would have taken the balloon south across the middle of Illinois and Indiana before returning north towards Ontario... on a flight path covering roughly 800 miles.  So the average speed of the balloon was closer to 36 mph.

Looking at the analysis of the 700mb, around the 10k ft height, in that timeframe showed wind speeds around 35-40 mph around the time the balloons were released (7PM Saturday).

Another analysis of the same level the following morning at 7am would hypothetically put the balloon in northern Indiana with the wind starting to steer the balloon back north and east.

So our estimation of 36 mph is plausible IF the balloon could reach that height.  In my digging on the internet I could find no finding of a definitive level that a standard party balloon could attain.

Remember the balloon survived the entire trip intact.  Normally balloons will burst at higher altitudes.  This is because the balloon will expand at higher altitudes due to lower air pressure outside the balloon.  Either this balloon was some sort of super-duper, extra strong balloon, or helium was leaking through the skin of the balloon at a fast enough rate to keep it from popping (it's obvious which is more likely).

Helium can pass through the surface of the balloon because the size of a helium atom is smaller than microscopic holes in the latex balloon material.  Eventually the balloon would stop rising, reaching an equilibrium point due to helium loss IF the material is able to withstand the pressure difference.  At this point the balloon would begin to descend.  Ours landed in Paris, Ontario

Now, remember the unknown variables, so it's possible the balloon flew at a lower altitude which would have yielded a shallower path, given the weather conditions that day, somewhere between that 630-800 mile distance.  If the path was shorter, the speed would have been slower as well. 

Either way, a balloon launched from Austin was able to make to Paris, Ontario, intact, flying hundreds of miles.  Impressive.

Storm Tracker 6 Chief Meteorologist
Chris Kuball