° empty

Ready to fly!: Balloon festival starts today

LAUREN WOOD/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Balloons inflate and take off from Concordia Parish Friday morning.

NATCHEZ — All the pieces — mainly weather related — seem to be falling into place to help make this year’s Great Mississippi River Balloon Race a success.

See photos from Friday morning’s balloon flight: balloon photo gallery.

Strong winds and possible tornadoes swept across the southeast Wednesday night, but cleared the skies for nearly 64 eager pilots to take to the skies this weekend.

And clear skies are something Babs Price, executive director, said help everyone involved with the race sleep a little easier.

“You always end up worrying about everything up until the last minute, but weather is just something you have to pray for,” Price said. “Everything seems to be moving right along and if the winds aren’t bad, the balloons will hopefully be flying all weekend.”

LAUREN WOOD / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Tommy Brady holds up the wires that Jayce Bosman, left, of Deep South Pro Sound and Lighting hooks up to the main concert stage as they set up Thursday afternoon in the Rosalie Bicentennial Gardens.

The Miss-Lou will see the highest gusts of wind — approximately 20 mph — this afternoon as a result of the storms that moved across the state, said National Weather Service meteorologist Anna Weber.

“After that front came through, it left a lot of high wind in its wake,” Weber said. “Once that’s moved through the area, everything should be good the rest of the weekend.”

On Saturday, max wind gusts are estimated at 1 mph for the 7:30 a.m. flight and 10 mph for the afternoon flight.

Sunday could leave some pilots on the ground for the afternoon flight with max wind gusts estimated at 12 mph. The morning flights should fly in clear skies with 5 mph max wind gusts, Weber said.

But those winds will do little to deter pilot Hulon White of Collierville, Tenn., who said Natchez is at the top of his list of eight other races he attends each year.

“Until we get through with ballooning, we wouldn’t miss this race for anything,” White said. “And I plan on being the oldest living balloonist, so if that works out we’ll be coming here for many more years.”

Balloon race events kick off today with a 7:30 a.m. media flight followed by a calm afternoon until 6 p.m. when the gates open for the Bicentennial Gardens Balloon Glow, which begins at 7 p.m.

Fireworks sponsored by the cities of Vidalia and Natchez will light up the Miss-Lou skies at 7:30 p.m. followed by live music from 8 to 10 p.m.

To know where and when balloons will fly, sign up for a free text alert service that will send you balloon flight information all weekend.

Visit www.natchezdemocrat.com/balloon-race-text-alerts to sign up for the free updates to be sent to your cell phone or e-mail.

LAUREN WOOD / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Raymond Murray, left, tapes the wires that Dean Simon had set up as part of the light display for the concert stage Thursday afternoon in the Rosalie Bicentennial Gardens. The crew was preparing for the opening show of The Great Mississippi River Balloon Race tonight.