If you see a pilot looking at their iPad or phone, chances are they are looking at a weather app. Balloonists pay a lot of attention to weather. Walk by a crowd of them at Carolina BalloonFest, and if they are not talking about it then it has been discussed in the last few minutes. We understand it is a great mystery to people and we want to try to help. So....I got a little help from a special guest to give you a little weather and ballooning lesson.
Duncan Dunavent is a special member of our local ballooning community and most weekends you can find him helping crew hot air balloons. He has also attended the Great Eastern Balloon Camp for several summers, as well as a weather camp. Duncan is 14 and a student at the South Iredell IB School. If you see Duncan around the festival this weekend and have ballooning questions, I am sure he will be happy to help answer them. But in the meantime, here's some thoughts on the weather from Duncan!
Weather For Ballooning
Most people love to see hot air balloons at the festival and will come at any part of the day expecting to see them. However if you get there at 2:00, there will be no balloons taking off to fly. Did you ever wonder why?
Balloons only fly in this part of the country during the early morning, right after sunrise, and just about 2 hours before sunset. During the rest of the day the sun causes the atmosphere to become unstable. The winds will also probably be too high and unstable and the balloons need calm winds.
At Carolina BalloonFest, our Balloonmeister Sam Parks has the final say as to whether it is safe for balloons to fly. Even though the wind may be calm on the BalloonFest field, Sam and his team are watching how they look higher up and all around the area. It may be calm at 500 feet, but breezy at 3,000.
The balloons also cannot fly with rain around the area. Though it may be sunny on the BalloonFest field, it might be raining close by. The FAA will not allow a balloon to take off with a thunderstorm or rain within 10 miles of the field. Most pilots prefer that a thunderstorm be at least 75-100 miles away and not moving towards them.
Under FAA regulations (not just for BalloonFest, but across the entire USA) balloons must have a minimum of 3 miles visibility. This means if it is too foggy, they also cannot fly.
While the Balloonmeister has the overall say as to whether balloons can fly at the festival, most pilots have their own personal limits. Even if the Balloonmeister opens the field and allows balloons to fly, it is always the pilot's final decision as to whether they will fly their balloon.
The Balloonmeister and his team of experts spend a lot of their time at the festival tracking the weather. If the weather is looking iffy at the pilot's briefing (a meeting where they talk about flying conditions), then they put things on hold and continue to look at the weather before they make a final decision. Watch the flagpole. If the yellow flag is up, there is a delay as they watch conditions. If the green flag goes up, it means pilots are allowed to fly. If the pink flag goes up, the pilots gather for another meeting. If the flag is red, the balloons will not be able to fly.
If the pilots cannot fly, they try to see if there is anything else they can do that day. If the winds on the ground are low and stable, they may be able to tether the balloons. If it is night, may be able to do a balloon glow.
Pilots love to fly their balloons, so they are often the most disappointed when conditions don't allow for it to happen. You can be assured of this...if it is safe to fly, they will be ready to launch!
On The Breeze ~
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