Skies looking good for hot-air balloon flying

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, October 17, 2012

NATCHEZ — Weather conditions should be excellent this weekend as dozens of high-flying hot-air balloons take to the sky for the annual Great Mississippi River Balloon Race.

Ernest Ethridge, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service who travels to Natchez each year to handle daily weather predictions before balloon flights, said brewing storms today should clear out in time for the first flight Friday morning at 7:30.

Balloon pilots will see clear skies and light winds of approximately 7 mph Friday, Ethridge said. Weather will also be good for the Friday evening balloon glow, Ethridge said.

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Pilots will see the most productive steering winds Saturday morning, Ethridge said.

In the wake of the cold front that will move in after the storms Wednesday, Ethridge said the wind direction will change three or four times within the first 1,500 feet of flight.

“Those are good steering winds,” he said.

The key grab on the bluff Saturday afternoon should be very interesting, Ethridge said.

The winds will be from west to southwest, which means pilots could possibly fly across the river and back.

On Sunday, Ethridge said, the wind direction will be opposite from Saturday. Pilots could be flying from Vidalia across the river to Natchez depending on where the targets are placed.

Ultimately, Ethridge said spectators on both sides of the river should see an exciting balloon race this weekend.

“We won’t have the so-called box winds that we had last year, but we’ll have something close to it that will allow for some very good ballooning,” he said.

Daytime temperature highs will be in the mid-70s and low 80s, he said.

Ethridge said he encourages balloon race-goers to dress warmly for early morning and evening because lows will be in the mid-40s to upper 50s.

Don’t risk not knowing when and where you can spot the balloons this weekend. Sign up for a free text alert service that will send you locations where to see balloons take off and land. Go to: this link to sign up today.