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Fiesta Weather Team up early for forecasts

Umbrellas provide shelter as people walk around concession stands at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta during a downpour Friday. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

The Balloon Fiesta Weather Team got up before you did, and the crew is already hard at work.

Brad Temeyer, chief of the team for the third consecutive year, sets his alarm clock for 2:30 a.m. each day during the nine-day fiesta so he can be inside the park and monitoring conditions with his team by 3.

“We constantly take observation data throughout the flights. We start at 3 o’clock in the morning … and keep taking observations until 10 or 11 o’clock in the morning when that last balloon lands,” said Temeyer, whose day job is as a government meteorologist. “When we’re looking at the data, we’re looking at a temperature profile of the atmosphere, we’re looking at the moisture profile … and we take that information and from there we make a decision about what the atmospheric conditions will allow.”

The weather team, which consists of three meteorologists and three staff members, will meet with top fiesta officials at 4:15 each morning and then again at 4:45. Those officials will make the final call on whether the flags at Balloon Fiesta Park will be green, yellow or red, indicating if the balloons will take flight, wait and see, or stay grounded.

Temeyer said that, as of Friday evening, the weather appeared promising for Saturday’s kickoff of this year’s fiesta. He did say that Albuquerque’s famous “box” weather pattern, a weather phenomenon in which the lower winds blow balloons in one direction and then another direction at a higher altitude, is unlikely.

He predicted that winds will blow the balloons southeast from the park across the city during Saturday’s mass ascension. He was also predicting some fog in the Rio Grande Valley, but he didn’t expect it to stop the launch.

On Saturday and Sunday, the fiesta has a dawn patrol show, when a handful of balloons take off before sunrise, scheduled for 6 a.m., and a mass ascension beginning at 7.

But those predictions are always subject to change.

“There’s some days when it’s clear cut and there’s other days when it’s on the edge for one reason or another,” Temeyer said.”The interesting thing about the weather is that it’s always constantly changing for us … . There’s always some challenge that we’re dealing with and we address those challenges at 4:15 in the morning … and then we come to a decision on those concerns near 5 o’clock in the morning.”

Friday’s weather in Albuquerque, which saw rain through early afternoon, was a “clear-cut” decision that balloons couldn’t fly, Temeyer said. But he said Friday morning’s crummy weather didn’t create any extra pressure for him and his team heading into the fiesta’s opening weekend.

“I wouldn’t describe it as pressure. We basically look at each day individually and try to figure out what we can do that the atmosphere will allow,” he said. “We have to make sure that, ultimately, we are acting in the best interest of the sport, and keeping the pilots and the spectators safe.”

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