Monday storms expected to give way to sunny skies for race

Published 12:01 am Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Sheltered by her umbrellas, Whitney Pearson rushes under a line of colorful balloons on display outside Darby’s on Main Street Monday afternoon. (Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat)

Sheltered by her umbrellas, Whitney Pearson rushes under a line of colorful balloons on display outside Darby’s on Main Street Monday afternoon. (Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ Weather conditions should be ideal this weekend for a high-flying Great Mississippi River Balloon Race, the race’s meteorologist said Monday.

The heavy rains and severe storms that passed through the Miss-Lou Monday will give way to sunny and clear skies the rest of the week and into the weekend, Ernest Ethridge said.

Ethridge, a meteorologist who travels to Natchez each year to handle daily weather predictions before balloon flights, said no rain is forecast for the entire weekend.

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“After a very strong beginning this week with those storms, it’s going to lead to a nice weekend,” Ethridge said. “Really, the only problem we need to watch out for if the conditions stay like this is if the grounds don’t dry up from the rains (Monday) by the first race.”

Damp grounds, Ethridge said, can impact pilots as they prepare their balloons to take off during race time.

The first balloon flight of the race, a 7 a.m. media flight Friday morning, should kick the weekend off without a hitch, Ethridge said.

Temperatures that morning will be in the high 50s and will rise to a high in the low 80s.

Wind speeds are expected to fluctuate between a low of 5 mph to a high of 10 to 15 mph throughout the weekend.

But Ethridge said it’s the direction of the wind that has him staying positive for multiple flights this weekend.

“The winds will return to the south and veer off to the southwest which is what you want, and the strength of the winds shouldn’t be too strong to not fly,” Ethridge said. “What all that means

is that will probably be doing most of our flying on the Natchez side Friday morning, but Saturday and Sunday the winds could make it to where we need to launch on the Vidalia side and come across the river.”

Fog would likely be the only other factor to keep balloons grounded for weekend flights, but Ethridge said he didn’t foresee fog being an issue.

“After a big rain, you can certainly get fog in and around the river, but it will depends on the temperature of the water and how warm or cool the air is,” Ethridge said. “I don’t think that will be a problem this weekend, but we’ll definitely keep an eye on it.”

If those conditions hold, this weekend’s race could be vastly different from last year’s race.

Friday and Saturday’s flights last year were canceled because of fog and wind conditions, so pilots only took to the Miss-Lou skies Sunday.

The first event of the 29th annual race will begin at 7 p.m. as multi-colored balloons light up the night sky during the annual balloon glow at the festival site, located at the Rosalie Bicentennial Gardens on the south end of Broadway Street.

A fireworks display will accompany the balloon glow, followed by live music at the festival site.

Balloon competitions take place Saturday and Sunday at 7:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. each day.

Festival tickets, T-shirts and other balloon race items can be purchased in advance at the Natchez Visitor Reception Center located at 640 S. Canal St., or the Historic Natchez Foundation at 108 S. Commerce St.

Tickets may also be purchased at the gate as well.

No pets, ice chests, tents, weapons, illegal substances, food or beverages will be allowed through the gates.  Security personnel will be checking bags, backpacks, strollers and wagons at all entrances.