Although we’ve been spending a ton of money doing R&D on our weather-controlling device… it hasn’t succeeded. That means that hot air ballooning is highly weather-dependent, and Seattle can have some interesting weather patterns throughout the 5-month flying season from May through September. In general, hot air balloon rides are not suited for marginal or bad weather, and this article will focus on that category of weather. Hot air balloon passengers are often surprised that cancelations happen, and we thought it would be helpful to break down some of the science and regulations. Whether you have a hot air balloon flight booked or not, you’ll find it both entertaining and educational.
Poor Weather For Hot Air Ballooning
In Seattle, hot air balloons do not fly in the rain, fog, high wind, when it’s too hot, or when thunderstorms are within 100+ miles. Sometimes it’s obvious to everyone that the weather isn’t good to fly that day (raining and a thunderstorm in the area). Other times, the sky is blue and clear of clouds, but still unsafe to fly. Pilots making those safety decisions have a deep understanding of weather and spend a ton of time becoming weather dorks.
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Launching A Hot Air Balloon
Remember being a kid and throwing your jacket high up on a chainlink fence when it was windy out? Now imagine a ten-story-tall hot air balloon made of fabric in that same wind. Hot air balloons have a challenging time launching in a wind blowing more than ten mph or if wind gusts are present. When inflating in windy or gusty conditions, hot air balloons turn into giant sails and can thrash from side to side until they are successfully inflated or not. Can hot air balloons still go up on windy days? Yes, they just need to be launched in appropriate conditions, within the manufacturer’s limitations, and the pilot’s personal limitations and skillset.
Landing A Hot Air Balloon
There are two types of landings when flying a hot air balloon. Both are safe and normal. Stand-up landings are where the balloon and basket stand upright. Tip-over landings where there is additional wind. Safety is always the number one factor when landing a hot air balloon. Pilots try to land where there are no obstacles, no farm animals, and in areas that have enough room for landing. Fast landing conditions (winds 10+ mph) require passengers to be trained for faster wind landing positions. Although it is possible to land hot air balloons in winds faster than 17mph, it has increased risk. A good rule of thumb is that it will likely be a fast landing if you are launching a hot air balloon in fast wind. No aircraft fly in the middle of active thunderstorms. As a rule, hot air balloon pilots do not fly within 100 miles of a thunderstorm or if there is active radar in the area. Outflow is an invisible, horizontal stream of air from the base of a thunderstorm. Hot air balloons can’t get above outflow and can have speeds of 30-40 mph.