WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

High altitude balloons over North Carolina

Posted July 6, 2020 11:13 p.m. EDT
Updated July 7, 2020 4:33 p.m. EDT

Lisa Rich of Cary snapped this photo of a high altitude balloon.

If you spotted seemingly unmoving white dots in the sky this evening, you aren't alone. Two to four bright white spots in the sky were seen across central North Carolina.

These are high altitude balloons that drifted south into North Carolina this afternoon. They were spotted from Cary by Lisa Rich who captured the photo above with her camera she normally uses for bird watching.

A little sleuthing with the help of meteorologists Christian Morgan and Tim Buckley from WFMY in Greensboro as well as Spencer Adkins of WWOK in Huntington, West Virginia, who had also received similar reports from viewers, turned up eight balloons across North Carolina, visible from wide portions of Virginia and the Carolinas.

These balloons travel at an altitude between 50,000 and 60,000 feet, well above commercial aircraft. From that altitude, the horizon is 275-300 miles away.

Aircraft tracking tools show high altitude ballons over NC

The balloons are registered to Project Loon, a research and development subsidiary of Google's parent company, Alphabet. The company plans to provide internet service to rural areas using the balloons to create a wireless network.

According to tracking data, the balloons seen over our area drifted south overnight from Canada through Ohio, West Virginia, and Virginia, Tracking indicates they were launched from Montana. Similar balloons are currently being being tracked over Mozambique and Madagascar and have been seen elsewhere in the world as well.

Similar balloons were used to provide temporary mobile phone service over Puerto Rico in 2017 following hurricane Maria.

Tracking shows the baloon traveling from Canada

The balloons are licensed by the FAA and each is equipped with ADS-B equipment which transmits its position periodically. You can track the balloons on air traffic websites such as flightradar24.com and flightaware.com.

Update: by Tuesday at 10 am, three balloons have drifted west near the NC/SC line west of Rockingham, NC, one is near Charleston, SC, two are off the coast of Savannah, GA and the one seen over Cherokee, NC is tracking toward Talladega, AL.

According to data from FlightAware.com, more than 30 balloons were aloft early this week across the eastern United States, South America (Brazil and Peru), northern Australia, central Africa (Kenya, Somalia, Zambia, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and Madagascar.

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