Here is some weather information on ballooning flights:
- Winds Aloft
Hot-Air Balloons are a type of aircraft that rely on basic scientific principles to fly. Warm air rises over cooler air, thus the balloon is able to rise when the burner is thrusted. To help balloons rise, we need thermals to be absent or at low activity. These thermals are least prominent in the early morning, just after sunrise, and early in the evening (the reason why launches are scheduled between 6:30 AM and 8 AM & between 3 PM and 8:30 PM during the event) at the pilot’s discretion with the Balloon Meister’s permission.
Prior to flight, a “Piball” (or Pilot Balloon) will be released. This is a helium filled balloon that lets the pilots know the general direction of the wind. This is the way the pilot’s balloon will drift. Wind directions do change based on height (especially if a front is in the area) and pilots must rely on (and know the direction) of the winds aloft. A balloon must also be able to land once in the air so the decision for “Go” or “No Go” for launch must take both the takeoff, flight, and a safe landing into consideration.
This means that weather conditions must be almost “ideal” in order for a Hot-Air Balloon Launch to take place. If there is any sign of a potentially non-safe flight, then the launch will be CANCELED. Here is some weather information on ballooning flights.
- Winds: Winds are obviously the most critical weather phenomena that effect balloons. Winds are the #1 reason that Balloon Flights are canceled. Balloons fly best with wind speeds ranging from 4 to 6 miles per hour. Balloons will never fly in winds higher than 12 mph. Strong winds can not only damage the balloon, but it can make a pilot overshoot a target, cause a hard landing and require more space for landing.
- Winds Aloft: Winds aloft (or winds at higher altitudes) can also cause a flight to be canceled. There may be almost no wind at the ground, but at altitude, the wind may be blowing at 20 miles per hour. Winds aloft must also be taken into consideration when deciding whether to fly or not.
- Visibility: Balloon Pilots operate under FAA VFR conditions. This means they must have a certain amount of visibility in order to be able to fly (which means NO NIGHT FLYING). Depending on flight location, the visibility must be AT LEAST 1 to 3 miles. For the most part, there will be NO flying in fog.
- Rain: Balloons do not launch in the rain. Rain can damage the balloon and decrease visibility. Besides, would you want to fly in a Hot-Air Balloon in rainy weather?
- Fronts: There must be no fronts in the area for a balloon launch to occur. Fronts usually come with a change in wind direction or increased wind speeds. If pilots can plan ahead for this, then it may be possible for a launch. But if the front will move through during time of flight, the launch must be canceled.
- Thunderstorms: There must be NO thunderstorms within 100 miles of the launch point for a balloon launch to take place. Thunderstorms present hazards to any type of aircraft, but a balloon is the one aircraft that would be affected most by any type of weather condition. A lightning strike to a balloon is an extremely dangerous hazard. In addition, gust fronts can occur up to 100 miles in advance of a storm or line of storms, which could heavily impact a balloon. If the weather forecast calls for Severe Weather, it is a good bet that the balloons will NOT be launching at that time
With this basic understanding of conditions for Balloon Launches, we hope you understand why some flights during the event are canceled. Also, remember that Launch Forecasts and Updates for the festival will be available on our Facebook Page, LakesideoftheSmokiesBalloonFest, throughout the event.