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Tracking Radiosondes -- an idea to expand Geocaching Fun

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The National Weather Service (NWS) does this program where weather balloons are launched in places all over the U.S. and around the world at least once a day. They are lifting little collections of weather instruments collectively known as radiosondes. They have GPS tracking built in to them, so the feds know where they crash, but due to lack of manpower cannot pick them all up.


This is where I believe Geocachers can come in. I've written to the NWS director about letting the coordinates of the landing be posted on Geocaching.com. I have not received a response as of yet. If you think that finding radiosondes would be a good addition to Geocaching, post on this forum, and then please write a letter to the director asking him to do this. The address is below.


National Weather Service

1325 East West Highway

Silver Spring, MD 20910


They also have a web contact form (that I think is mostly ignored by them, but worth a try) at www.weather.gov/contact

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They have tried all kinds of programs. Most don't work. Additionally most of the instrument packs end up in places not recoverable (geocachers couldn't go on private property for example). Almost all on the East Coast end up in the ocean. I terms of budget, seems more costly to implement additional staffing and such to handle this than just continue the current program and equipment.

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It sounds like a neat concept, but this pretty much goes against what geocaching is. Traveling caches are not published at geocaching.com. What you are asking for is akin to an authorized FTF race, as once the balloon is recovered it won't be there for the next cacher to find. There have been several geocaching events built around amateur balloon launches, and at least one of them because a regular cache as the property owner allowed geocachers access to the landing site.

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Have you contacted the froggie to see if they want this?


I would vote against. Getting the general public involved would create all kinds of problems. People trespassing and telling the owner they are on a governmental mission. Multiple searchers trying to be FTF raising havoc.


I would guess that there is no way that GC is going for this.

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I found a radiosonde in the middle of nowhere and subsequently hid a cache nearby. Oddly, it looked like someone had cut a path with chainsaws through a cedar swamp right to that spot. A few years later the area flooded and many of the trees had blown over, making the terrain a 4.5 at least. I did maintenance a couple of years ago. It took 2 hours to go .2 with hip waders. :o

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Actually, if they wanted help with recovery, it wouldn't be too hard for them to roll out a smartphone app that would have a 'find radiosonde near me' feature, and tap into the GPS in the phone.

Groundspeak wouldn't have to get involved, then.

This does sound like a neat idea, though I can see the concern of private property/unreachable sites. Benchmarking has the same concerns.

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Over the years I've found two of these at work (our facility covers a couple of thousand acres, some wooded), as well as had my volunteer fire department called out to one hung up in a tree. The fire chief at the time, a farmer, said he had come across them in cane fields before as well. They usually contain a pre addressed postage paid envelope so you can mail the radiosonde back for reuse.


I always thought it would be neat if they had some sort of website where you could log it, find out where and when it was launched, etc.


Does NWS even have the means to pinpoint their location once they go down?

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Despite the likelihood that red tape would just bog the whole program down, I think it is a lovely idea. Thank you for thinking of it! If one ever blows over the border into BC, I'd be happy to go pick it up! :D

They do launch them in Canada too you know? In fact the things are launched around the world by many organizations responsible for weather forecasting. Satellites have taken over the brunt of system tracking, but they still need to do accurate measurements aloft.


There are also, as mentioned already, people who launch balloons for the fun of it (and research of their own), most equipped with tracking devices like Spot II or similar or home grown APRS trackers used by Amateur Radio operators. I can remember 3 or 4 in Vernon and 1 up in Quesnel personally. Rules have changed a bit though so I don't think those 'big' balloons are as easy any more, but it was fun to track and recover them.


Doug 7rxc

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That would be cool but you have to teach those thing to land at least 161 meters away from any existing caches.

Funny! :laughing: But seriously they weren't governed by Geocaching rules at all, just aviation rules for untended balloon launches. Old days almost none other than notifications, now all sorts of rules for big ones. Small ones are still considered not hazardous to large aircraft.


Still... the US government used to consider recovering 'weather balloons' quite important and went to great lengths to make that fact known when they did recover a 'weather balloon' via the Press... in fact there was a famous one down by Roswell NM. :rolleyes: Not sure if they used GPS though, but probably tracked it with all sorts of advanced gadgets.


Doug 7rxc

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