Behind the Forecast: How weather impacts the Great Balloon Race
Listen to Science Behind the Forecast with Meteorologist Tawana Andrew every Friday on 89.3 WFPL at 7:45 a.m.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - The Kentucky Derby Festival’s Great Balloon Race is a cornerstone of pre-Derby activities. The weather, of course, plays a vital role in how the race proceeds.
The Kentucky Derby Festival has specific weather criteria for the Great Balloon Race. Winds greater than 12 MPH, visibility less than three miles, clouds below 1,500 feet, and rain could postpone the launch.
The Great Balloon Race is a Hare & Hound Race. Balloons launch from Bowman Field. One balloon launches first (the Hare), followed by the Hounds (the other balloons) about five to 10 minutes later. The Hare lands and lays out a fabric X about 50 feet wide. The Hound balloons have to drop their markers as close to the center of the X as possible; the closest marker wins!
While wind speed is important for whether the balloons take off, the direction is vital, too, as it dictates where the balloon will travel. Hot air balloons fly best in light, stable winds. Winds that are too strong can cause a balloon to travel over unwanted or dangerous areas.
Rain makes it challenging to fly hot air balloons. Not only does rain lower visibility, but it can affect the flight itself. The temperature difference between the inside and outside of a hot air balloon dictates the balloon’s lift. The temperature of a balloon can reach 212°F. Rain falling on a balloon cools it down and the hot air inside. In a situation like this, the pilot would need to use the burner more to keep the balloon aloft. It also makes the hot air balloon challenging to control.
Keep a close eye on the forecast from the WAVE Weather team for the Great Balloon Race and other Kentucky Derby Festival events leading up to Oaks and Derby Day.
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