Try Spying on Montana by Balloon: It Ain’t Easy
Anyone who has chased the balloon that just got away from your crying kid can tell you it's impossible to really predict a path.
The slightest breeze, a picnic table, or a passing car, can all interfere with your successful pursuit, a chase that usually ends with "don't cry honey, we'll buy you a new one."
This is why I was so anxious to set aside the xBox this evening and try out the "Spy Balloon Simulator", a clever programmer's quick effort to let us see how hard it would be to launch a spy balloon and send it over a target half-way around the world.
The sighting of a "Chinese spy balloon" over Billings earlier this month ignited a heated political debate (favorite quote from Senator Tester: "I don't want a damn balloon going across the U.S.") and had Yellowstone County jumpier than a grasshopper on a griddle for the next week.
This brings us to the Spy Balloon Simulator from "Kevin//DeepFriedPancake". He makes the disclaimer that his site uses "actual atmospheric data from ERA5" but is just for "fun demonstration" and "will not be accurate enough as a credible source of military intel."
That's ok. Intelligence was never my strong suit anyway.
So with the world map spread out before me, I spawned my first balloon, and spurred by my mischievous nature, I launched right from mainland China, just to see if I could get a reaction from Tester, Senator Daines, "Maryland Matt" and everyone else in D.C.
I failed miserably
My first launch ended somewhere in the South Pacific, headed for the military stronghold of Papua Niugini. Maybe 5-hours was too optimistic.
So I cranked that sucker up to 2x Spinal Tap (22) and set off closer to the coast. Bingo! Right across the North Pacific, down the pipe at the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and over Boeing, getting a bird's eye view of the Tulalip Casino and swinging right over Jon's place in Big Sandy to check his spring planting progress.
On the second pass around it missed Montana, but did keep an eye on the Canadians just north of the Hi-Line and those maple syrup and bacon smuggling operations.
I never came close again. Three more launches sent my balloon careening nearly to Tuktoyatuk, over the Yukon, and over Saskatchewan somewhere. I love Canada but it was pretty boring.
Trying to swing south, my final two launches couldn't even get a view of the bikinis on the beach in Hawaii ("I didn't do that on purpose Honey!") The final balloon passed right over where they have "Mexico" on the map (it's not actually printed on the ground I found out) and ending in a fish hook over the Caribbean.
So it was back to the xBox where life is easier
Morale of the story? If the Chinese want to check and see if the crews really are freezing at Malmstrom this winter they're better than you think.
Maybe we could have them catch your kid's balloon the next time it blows away at the lake.