Day 1 of Great Texas Balloon Race: Too dangerous to fly - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

Day 1 of Great Texas Balloon Race: Too dangerous to fly

Balloonists know what's coming. Photo by Jamey Boyum KLTV. Balloonists know what's coming. Photo by Jamey Boyum KLTV.

Day one of the Great Texas Balloon Race didn’t quite go as planned. The first flight of the competition was grounded by high winds.

Pilots and crew were remaining upbeat even though they had taken a look at weather conditions as they entered Maude Cobb Convention Center. At 6 a.m. they went into the pilot’s meeting and talked about, among other things, weather. Then this happened:

“If there are no questions, we’re going to take about a ten minute break,” Jim Burke said to the crowd of pilots.

That was not how the meeting usually goes. Longtime Pilot Steve Lombardi walked out the door with everyone else.

“Well, we’re kind of on a little bit of a weather hold right now. While coming in we saw that the winds were really strong this morning, so they did roll call did the general briefing announcements, and now we’re just on hold for about ten minutes. We’re about to go in and get an update,” Lombardi said.

He said the wind was nearly thirty miles an hour, which can cause big problems.

“You know, safety first, as always, so we’re just going to go ahead and let them make the decision,” Lombardi relayed.

Pilots didn’t have to wait long.

“It looks like they’re calling us back in, so we’re going to go in and see what kind of conditions we’ve got and whether we’re going to fly this morning,” Lombardi said.

Ernest Ethridge, Shreveport Meteorologist who has been calling the weather at the race for decades, addressed the crowd.

“The winds are probably at their peak right now aloft,” Ethridge announced.

Race founder Bill Bussey and his brother Bruce were in the front row. They knew the prospect was not good. Then Balloonmeister Jim Burke made it official.

“We’re going to cancel this morning’s flight. I appreciate you all being here and we’ll see you at this evening’s event,” Burke said.

Ethridge said wind shear from different directions at different heights can be extremely dangerous.

“It causes deformation of the balloon and things of that nature,” Ethridge explained.

And that can take a balloon down. The race always depends on the weather. But, at least at several locations in Longview special shapes where inflated, but didn’t fly, to give balloon fans a taste of what’s to come, weather permitting.

Ethridge said the front will set up unusual wind patterns at different layers Saturday morning and pilots may be able to fly in from the east, or the west depending on how high they fly.

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