CALCUTTA - Penny Schmidbauer believes her discovery of a weather balloon on Sunday evening was so unusual it qualifies as a sign from God.
Schmidbauer and her friend Nikki Vishak Jones were out walking a trail in the Grimms Bridge area near Stuart Road at about 7 p.m. Sunday when they spotted something unusual in the woods.
"Nikki said, 'What is that orange thing over there? I think it's a garbage bag,'" Schmidbauer said. "We always go up and look for relics in the woods anyway."
Upon closer inspection, the item turned out to be a National Weather Service radiosonde, according to the labeling on the device. A radiosonde, borne aloft by a large rubber balloon, is a radio transmitter used by the government to obtain meteorological data for weather forecasts and research, according the National Weather Service's Upper-air Observations Program website.
Such devices are released into the atmosphere with a large balloon that can ascend as high as 115,000 feet and drift as far as 180 miles from the launch point, according to the website. A label on the device found by Schmidbauer indicates that it was released from Pittsburgh at 7 p.m. May 5.
The battery-powered radiosonde is encased in a styrofoam package which is suspended by a rope about 80 feet below the balloon. When the balloon reaches a certain diameter, it bursts, and an orange parachute-what first caught the women's eye on Sunday- is deployed to slow the radiosonde's descent, the website said.
Less than 20 percent of the 75,000 radiosondes released by the National Weather Service each year are found and returned, according to the website. The packaging includes a postage-paid mailing pouch that can be used to send the device to the NWS Radiosonde Reconditioning Group in Kansas City, Mo.
A label on the package reads, "Harmless Weather Instrument."
Schmidbauer thinks the discovery is more than just a weather balloon and that the timing is more than a coincidence. "I feel like God sent me a sign from Pittsburgh," she said.
Schmidbauer and Jones were walking and commiserating about their friend Jenifer Springer, 42, of Calcutta, who has been diagnosed with cancer, when they came upon the balloon. "We were out trying to get away from everybody, just to be alone and to relieve a little bit of stress," she said.
She believes the weather balloon is a sign of God's favor on her friend and a Jenifer Springer Benefit Poker Run that starts at Scotty's Place, 629 St. Clair Ave., on July 27. Cost is $10 per person and $15 per couple. Cars and motorcycles are welcome, and all proceeds will go to help Springer with medical expenses.
A special account has been set up at Woodforest National Bank.