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Balloon bombs over Texas? It happened ...

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HOUSTON – I've been blogging lately about weather balloons and thanks to the Facebook Broadcast Met group came across a fascinating article I want to share with you.

We've talked about the Jet Stream, that fast moving river of air up where airplanes fly, which moves weather systems along from West to East. They move at an easy 100mph. Here's an example:

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So imagine an idea of sending bomb-laden balloons in the Jet Stream across the U.S. That's an idea that Japan not only came up with during WWII, but actually executed from late 1944 to spring of 1945!

How to keep the balloons at the right altitude during the long journey from Japan to the US? Using a sophisticated array of sandbags that would drop in accordance with certain pressures at certain altitudes. Thus:

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The goal was two-fold: start a bunch of wildfires in the west to keep us busy so we would stop bombing them and create panic in the people as these crazy balloon bombs randomly detonated all over the place. Pretty brilliant given the technology seventy years ago.

So, how'd it go? Not very well, obviously. Of almost ten thousand such balloons launched, an estimated 1,000 made it to the US and Canada, perhaps as far west as Texas and most certainly to Michigan where two were found. Those finds are rare: of those thousand balloons, fewer than three hundred have ever been discovered. The fires didn't start because it was the rainy season.

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The bombs that made it generally didn't detonate, but, sadly, one DID actually go off. On May 5, 1945 in Oregon, Reverend Archie Mitchell and his wife took a group of Sunday school kids for a picnic. While he parked the car, his pregnant wife and the kids went running into the woods. He heard, "Look what we found!" and then the bomb exploded, killing her and five children.

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And hikers beware....there ARE some of these live bombs very likely still out there somewhere. This is truly a remarkable story and I can't do it justice in a blog. I encourage you to have a look at the recent article from the Detroit Free Press, right here.

Or you can view a three-minute Youtube Video on the whole thing, right here.

Coming Wednesday: IBM enters the Weather Computer Model arena in a BIG way.

Frank

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