2017 balloon race: Weather keeps many balloons grounded Saturday

Published 12:39 am Sunday, October 22, 2017


NATCHEZ — Lightning, thunder and rain made for less than favorable weather conditions on the second day of the 2017 Great Mississippi River Balloon Race, causing organizers to cancel Saturday afternoon’s competitive flight.

Meteorologist Ernie Ethridge said weather conditions will hopefully clear for today’s flights.

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“It should be sufficient to fly,” Ethridge said, though there will be a strong storm system heading into Natchez around noon.

Mike Wahl, a pilot from Decatur, Ala., said he was not going to take a chance on the weather Saturday afternoon.

“We do this for fun,” Wahl said. “It’s not worth the risk — to you or your equipment.”

Halfway through Balloonmeister Bill Cunningham’s announcement of  the cancellation of Saturday afternoon’s race, thunder broke out and sent laughs through the crowd of pilots waiting for instructions.

“Obviously, we’re not going to do anything,” Cunningham said.

Ten of the 52 pilots opted to fly Saturday morning, but those who did caught swift winds blowing to the west.

Though pilots could choose their own launching point, many returned to Duncan Park Golf Course for liftoff.   The golf course was the launching point for Friday morning’s media flight which kicked off the event.

Others, however, followed the wind from the ground in order to find the perfect place to take off, staggering take-off and landing times.

The morning objective was to drop a flag on a target behind the Natchez Mall.

As the points currently stand, brothers Bruce and Bill Bussey of Longview, Texas, are currently in the lead. Bruce Bussey holds first place with 2,916 points; Bill Bussey is close behind with 2,897.

Eileen and Gary Jones, of Diamondhead, currently hold third place with 1,944.

Debbie Willson, of Vidalia, and  Gary Heavin of Gatesville, Texas, are tied for fourth with 1,906 points each.

This morning’s balloon flight is scheduled for 7:30 a.m., weather permitting.

Festival gates open at noon at the Rosalie Bicentennial Gardens.