Weather tip-top for balloon race

Published 12:07 am Thursday, October 13, 2011

NATCHEZ — Weather conditions should be ideal for a high-flying, beautiful balloon race this weekend, according to the race’s meteorologist.

Skies will clear today, after Wednesday’s showers, and remain clear all weekend, Ernest Ethridge said.

Ethridge, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service who travels to Natchez each year to handle daily weather predictions before balloon flights, said high winds today will give way to perfect winds by Saturday morning.

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The first balloon flight of the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race, a 7 a.m. media flight Friday morning, is the only one that might see questionable winds, but Ethridge said he still thought the flight would occur.

After that, winds will calm to perfect flying conditions, he said.

Wind speeds should be less than 7 mph for the balloon glow at 7 p.m. Friday night.

Temperatures will drop overnight Friday, with lows at approximately 50 degrees for the 7 a.m. Saturday flight.

“Saturday morning’s winds are ideal for everyone, especially a balloonist,” Ethridge said.

“A weak high pressure system over top of us will mean maximum steering and changeable winds ideal for balloons.”

Winds will pick up slightly by Saturday afternoon, but Ethridge still predicted safe flights in winds less than 10 miles per hour.

He speculated that balloons will likely launch south of Natchez in order to fly over the Rosalie Bicentennial Gardens for the key grab.

High temperatures Saturday will reach the low 80s.

Sunday morning, winds will come from the south or southwest, likely leading balloonists to a liftoff in Concordia Parish and landing in Natchez, Ethridge guessed.

Any early birds arriving in town today and hoping to hit the skies will likely be grounded, Ethridge said, due to high winds.

Rainfall brought in Wednesday’s storm should dry quickly today, and won’t hamper balloonists, he said.