Chinese Spy Balloon Forecast to Fly Over These States in the Next Few Hours

A suspected Chinese spy balloon will move eastward down across the central U.S. states and toward southeast Missouri in the coming hours, weather modeling suggests.

The object—which the U.S. has been tracking over its airspace for a few days—was sighted on Wednesday over Billings, Montana, and is believed to have traveled over western Canada and Alaska. The Pentagon decided not to shoot it down over safety concerns for people on the ground.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) HYSPLIT model, a system for computing air parcel trajectories, predicted that the balloon would be somewhere over southeast Missouri by 7 a.m. ET on Saturday.

Assuming that the balloon was still over Montana as of 7 a.m. on Thursday at a height of 20,000 meters (65,617 feet) above the earth's surface, it will have moved over the northeastern corner of Wyoming and the southwestern corner of neighboring South Dakota.

Pentagon Patrick Ryder predicted balloon path
Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder holds a press briefing at the Pentagon on October 18, 2022 in Arlington, Virginia, and, inset, a map of the predicted trajectory of the balloon according to NOAA modeling. Ryder said that the suspected spy aircraft “does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground.” Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images/NOAA

By 7 a.m. ET on Friday, it will have just crossed the border into Nebraska, crossing into Kansas sometime after 7 p.m. ET on Friday evening. Overnight, it is expected to move across northeastern Kansas and into central and southern Missouri by Saturday morning.

The initial assumptions were made by Dan Satterfield, chief meteorologist for WBOC in Maryland, who also used NOAA modeling to demonstrate that the balloon likely traveled on wind currents from mainland China.

U.S. officials haven't given an indication of the elevation of the balloon beyond saying it was a stratospheric object—a layer of the atmosphere that starts anywhere between 6,000 and 12,000 meters above the earth's surface.

Other predictions suggest it will then travel over Kentucky and Tennessee, and toward the border between the Carolinas. Weather patterns are subject to change, and so the path of the balloon could alter in the coming days from the predicted trajectory.

A senior defense official told reporters that the Pentagon had "very high confidence" that it was a Chinese high-altitude balloon collecting information of sensitive sites within America, according to the Associated Press.

The Chinese foreign ministry stated it's "assessing the situation," adding that "both sides are calm and cautious," according to South Korean news agency Yonhap News.

Montana is home to one of America's three domestic nuclear missile silo fields, at the Malmstrom Air Force Base. In a letter to Lloyd Austin, the defense secretary, the Republican senator for Montana, Steve Daines, wrote that the balloon's presence over Montana "creates significant concern" that U.S. nuclear missile fields "are the target of this intelligence gathering mission."

NOAA modelling predicted spy balloon path
A map of the predicted flight path of the suspected spy balloon according to HYSPLIT modelling, assuming a height of 20,000 meters over Montana as of 7 a.m. on February 2, 2023. Under this model, the balloon would be over southeastern Missouri by Saturday. NOAA

The projected trajectory of the balloon could place it near Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, which also has nuclear capabilities.

Newsweek has contacted the Department of Defense for comment.

However, defense sources have expressed calm over the threat to national security that the balloon poses.

"Currently we assess that this balloon has limited additive value from an intelligence collection perspective over and above what the [People's Republic of China] can do through other means," a senior defense official told CNBC. "Nevertheless, we are taking all necessary steps to protect against foreign intelligence collection of sensitive information."

Patrick Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement that the balloon "does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground."