- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 13, 2015

GRASS LAKE, Mich. (AP) - Of the 75,000 weather balloons released by the National Weather Service each year, about 20 percent get recovered and returned.

Dennis Shepherd and wife Carolyn Shepherd of Grass Lake can be added to that rare list of those who find and return the battery-powered instrument to its sender, according to the Jackson Citizen Patriot ( https://bit.ly/1BLdnW6 ).

The balloon came with a prepaid return mailbag, which stated that the balloon came from Lockheed Martin in Chelmsford, Mass., with instructions to mail it in the enclosed envelope to Missouri.

Once the balloon reaches 100,000 feet, it eventually pops and falls to the ground. It can land more than 200 miles away from where it was launched, according to the NWS. The trip from Chelmsford to the Shepherd’s business, the Waterloo Upholstery Shop, is about 800 miles.

Dennis Shepherd saw the balloon hanging by its parachute tangled in power lines while driving home on Trist Road on Jan. 4, his wife said.

“At first, I thought it was a birthday balloon that got tangled in some wires,” he said. “I made sure to call Consumers (Energy) because I was worried about it being tangled up in the wires. I’m just excited that it didn’t land out in the woods where nobody would have found it.

“The device inside the balloon reminds me of something that you would see on ‘Gilligan’s Island.’”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s NWS releases balloons from 102 different sites across the United States, according to its website.

“As the balloon rises through the atmosphere, radiosonde sensors measure and transmit profiles of air pressure, temperature and relative humidity from the Earth’s surface to about 20 miles high in the sky,” the website reads. “This information is a primary source of upper-air data for weather prediction models.”

The Shepherds said they are hoping to hear back from someone on when the balloon was released.

July 4 is listed as a possible manufacturing date on the instructions to send it back, but the space reserved for its date of release reads blank.

Once the balloons are returned to the NWS, they are rebuilt and used again, which helps reduce the cost of the weather balloon program. For more information, the NWS put together a fact sheet about the program.

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Information from: Jackson Citizen Patriot, https://www.mlive.com/jackson

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