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Flight of the Pink Balloon

On July 23  the Kaw Valley Rodeo Association hosted Tough Enough to Wear Pink-a rodeo inspired fundraiser for breast cancer. Locally the funds raised go toward the K-State Cancer Research Center.

One of the events  was a balloon launch.

The following Sunday a woman in Illinois found an inflated pink balloon in her cornfield.  She is a teacher at a middle school and plans to use the experience in the classroomHer question:  What were the weather conditions that moved the balloon toward Illinois?



Hot air rises, allowing the lighter-than air-balloons to be carried aloft.  Photo by Marcia Locke, Johnson Center for Basic Cancer Research  


As the balloons gain altitude, they get captured by the upper levels winds.  To the right you see the surface readings across the region.  The brown line indicates areas of equal pressure.  Note that there is an area from Northeast KS across Missouri into Northern Illinois that would guide the balloon toward Illinois.



On this next map you will see the upper level readings.



The surface reading and upper level readings can be read using the diagram to the right.  More detail can be found at

The University of Illinois Surface Weather  Guide


Finally, you can estimate how long it took for the balloon to reach Illinois.

The distance from Manhattan to Monmouth as a balloon might travel is 336 miles.

The wind speed at the upper levels was 15 knots.

Converting from knots to miles per hour, you see the wind speed at the upper levels was 17.25 mph

   One knot equals 1.15 miles per hour.
   15 knots times 1.15 miles per hour = 17.25 mph

Time for travel is calculated using the formula:

       Distance divided by speed equal time of travel

       336 miles divided by 17.25 miles per hour = 19.48 hours

State Climatologist
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