ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Is it a Chinese weather balloon or spy balloon? The other question you might be asking: Where is the balloon heading?
While I can't answer the first question — China claims it's a weather research "airship" while the Pentagon pushed back that it's being used for surveillance purposes — I will attempt to answer the second.
But please understand that it is using a lot of estimations, therefore the likely outcome may be slightly different.
This all depends on the wind speed and direction at the atmospheric height of the balloon. Using NOAA's HYSPLIT model, we can get a rough idea of where the balloon is heading using weather model wind speed forecasting.
For the model analysis, I used 20,000 meters above Billings, Montana, midday Thursday as the starting point for the model run. Billings was the last slighting of the balloon, and I'm also assuming the balloon is near 60,000 feet above the surface, according to one report.
The trajectory run shows the balloon heading southeast Friday across the Plains into Nebraska —then Saturday moving toward Missouri into Tennessee. After that, it makes a turn east toward the Carolinas before heading out over the Atlantic by the end of the weekend.
This makes sense with a large trough and polar airmass over the Great Lakes and Northeast. So on the west side of the upper-level trough, winds will be moving from the northwest to the southeast, moving the balloon in that direction. Then it will reach the bottom of the trough turning it more easterly.
So no, the weather balloon will likely not pass over Florida this weekend. But if the Chinese can steer the balloon — U.S. officials say it is maneuverable — then the trajectory could change significantly.