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Clear Skies, Warmth to Greet Thousands of Spectators as 2015 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta Begins

The 44th annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta will get underway on Saturday, Oct. 3, and calm weather conditions are ahead for the first weekend.

The fiesta, which continues through Oct. 11, will kickoff with the traditional mass ascension on Saturday morning from the 78-acre launch field at Balloon Fiesta Park, where over 500 balloons will take to the air in two separate, colorful waves.

Travelers and participants in the Albuquerque area will experience warm, dry conditions through Friday, before a cold front brings temperatures down closer to average this weekend, according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Randy Adkins.

Daytime highs will settle near 90 F through Friday, before decreasing to near 80 F over the weekend.

The weather forecast is critically important for hot air ballooning, particularly when it comes to determining wind speed.

Don Edwards, who served as the Balloon Fiesta's event director prior to retiring earlier this year, previously told AccuWeather that they have a waiver issued from the Federal Aviation Administration that says balloons are not allowed to take flight if winds exceed 10 knots (11.5 mph).

In years past, there have been instances where wind conditions on the surface level were acceptable, but in higher elevations, the winds were too strong. In 2014, balloons had to be grounded for a time due to this very circumstance.

Over the weekend, winds will range between 7 and 14 mph, Adkins said.

In the ballooning community, the renowned "Albuquerque Box" is a big part of why Albuquerque is a popular destination for balloonists.

According to the National Weather Service, the box often produces an atmospheric wind pattern that results in balloons remaining over the park during the morning hours. This weather pattern occurs under stable conditions during the fall when no strong weather systems are affecting the area.

Meteorologists on staff monitor several surface weather observing instruments placed around the park to inform the event's organizers of possible unsafe conditions. If inclement weather forces a delay in takeoff, in past instances, balloons have been inflated but left standing on the ground as a static display for the spectators.

Balloonists prefer to fly in the morning, when cooler air and lower winds provide a better flying environment, the fiesta's website states. Additionally, during this time of year, Albuquerque is known for "cloud-free conditions" and "predominant sunshine," but showers and thunderstorms are not uncommon.

Adkins said the chance for rain is greater at the start of next week, with moisture from Marty possibly making its way northward.

The event will feature both gas and hot air balloons, but it's only the gas balloons that compete in the America's Challenge event, a distance race that can see pilots take their balloons all over North America, sometimes flying for up to three days.

Due to the longevity of their journey, the pilots receive an extensive forecast ahead of time, Edwards said.

In 2014, after being delayed several days due to high winds, racers carefully guided their balloons across the United States, with competitors landing as far away as Nebraska, Arkansas and Kentucky. The winning crew, Anulfo Gonzalez and Angel Aguirre of Spain, flew 1,189 miles in 53 and a half hours before landing in Campbellsville, Kentucky. In prior years, winning teams have landed in Canada and North Carolina.

"At different altitudes, the wind goes different directions and different speeds, and [the pilots] use that to guide the balloon in a general direction of where they want to go," Edwards said.

This year, there are seven teams registered, and they will begin their journey in the sky at 6 p.m. local time Saturday, barring any changes in weather.


Have questions, comments, or a story to share? Email Kevin Byrne at Kevin.Byrne@accuweather.com, follow him on Twitter at @Accu_Kevin. Follow us @breakingweather, or on Facebook and Google+.