What are the weather restrictions for hot air ballooning?

Hot air balloons are an exciting experience, but they can only fly under certain weather conditions.

Wind

Hot air balloons fly best in stable and light winds of between four to six miles an hour, but they can fly in winds between seven to ten miles an hour. However, as they reach ten miles an hour, it becomes more difficult to fill the balloon with air.

The pilot needs to be able to find a suitable landing spot. If strong winds cause the balloon to fly over urban areas, or over the sea, there may be no suitable landing area.

If there is no wind at all, the balloon will not travel far, and it will be more difficult to find a safe landing area.

Visibility

To fly safely, balloon pilots need to see between one to three miles.

Rains and storms

Balloons do not fly in rain or storms. Unlike aircraft, a balloon cannot fly away from storms. The temperature of the balloon can reach 100°C, and rain falling on the balloon cools it and the hot air inside. This means that the pilot must use the burner more to keep the balloon afloat and the balloon is harder to control.

Why are hot air balloon flights sometimes canceled in fair weather?

A flight may be canceled even when the weather appears fine, because harsh weather is expected. Hot air balloon companies look at accurate local weather forecasts to determine whether it is safe to fly, and will not take any chances.

Hot air balloon pilots, like aircraft pilots, rely on the METAR or TAF systems to check the weather. METAR is a weather forecast that is issued at hourly or half-hour intervals. If there is a significant deterioration or improvement in the weather, a SPECI report is issued as and when substantial changes are expected.

TAF is a similar system to METAR and provides a concise account of meteorological conditions. TAF is produced as a short code that identifies the area, date and time of origin, the period of the forecast and meteorological conditions, which include wind speed visibility, rain, mist and cloud cover.

TAF and METAR forecasts provide a much more local and detailed forecast than the one that the balloon passengers may hear on their local radio station or local TV stations.

It may be warm and dry with light winds in the take-off area, but the METAR data could forecast that within half an hour there will be heavy rain. The balloon pilot wants assurance that there will be good weather to fly the balloon during the whole of the flight, which could be between one and two hours long.

Safety is the priority

Of course, it’s a disappointment when a hot air balloon flight is canceled, especially if the flight is to celebrate a special occasion such as a birthday or anniversary. Balloon companies hate to cancel flights, but their priority is the safety of the passengers, which is why hot air balloons only fly in good weather.

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