Text message alerts will give balloon info

Published 11:03 pm Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The winds of history aren’t blowing on the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race of 2008 in a favorable fashion.

The hot air balloon business is a fickle one. To fly, the conditions have to be just perfect.

No storms. No rain. Just enough winds, but not strong ones. An appropriately positioned cloud ceiling. The list goes on and on.

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In fact, the art of weather predicting is so crucial to hot air success that a weather man will be on hand all weekend long, making the call (or at least a strong suggestion) about when balloons will and won’t fly.

Last year, conditions were nearly too perfect. After repeated wash outs in years prior, 2007 needed to be a sunny, light-winded year if the festival was to make enough money to keep operating.

And it was. The balloons flew three times, and the sun shone brightly on the festival site. Locals and tourists alike paid the gate fee and enjoyed the bands.

The festival made money, and everyone walked away smiling.

But now, last year’s success leads to this year’s fear.

Traditionally, one great year for flying leads to rainy, windy skies the next year. It’s just the luck of the draw.

And, if you try to go at it another way, balloon races falling in the eighth year of a decade haven’t been all that successful either.

In 1988 — just two years after the great festival got its start — only a few balloons lifted off for the Friday morning flight, due to weather. Their trips were short, due to a 500-foot ceiling — too low for comfort.

In 1998, all Friday and Saturday flights were canceled due to improper weather conditions.

Now, it’s 2008 and we’ll just have to wait and see.

The weather prediction for Friday morning doesn’t look good right now.

With a 40 percent chance of rain and some scattered thunderstorms, the media flight may not happen.

Saturday and Sunday look clear, so far, though.

We won’t know what the weather will do until flight time Friday. And it’s best to leave the predictions up to the weatherman.

But, we can cross our fingers that the Miss-Lou might be blessed with two great balloon races in a row.

Whether they fly or not, our area is lucky to have such a unique event. Unlike many festivals, the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race is truly a community event.

The balloons fly over all parts of Natchez, Vidalia and even Ferriday. It doesn’t cost anything to look up and see the colorful wonder overhead. And some local residents will be lucky enough to have a balloon land right in their yards.

The Saturday afternoon flight is by far the most watched. The balloons fly over the Mississippi River, aiming to drop a bean bag on a barge in the river. This race is most popular for several reasons, including its time. It’s not in the wee morning hours.

The Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning flights occur before 8 a.m. most of the time, because the winds are nicest in the early morning.

For the spectator that likes to sleep late on the weekends, balloon race isn’t ideal.

Since we know how disappointing it can be to get up, dressed and out of the house to look for balloons only to learn that they aren’t flying due to weather, The Democrat is trying to make things a bit better for you this year.

We’ll be the ones getting up early, attending the pilot briefing and letting you know if, when and where the balloons will fly.

Just visit our Web site — www.natchezdemocrat.com — now and look for the balloons in the upper right hand corner. Click on this link and you can sign up to receive news about balloon flights on your cell phones.

Hopefully, the weather will hold. And if it does, forfeit your late sleeping just this once, and head outside to see the sights.

Julie Cooper is the managing editor of The Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or julie.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.