Dairy Festival ready for liftoff

By BRUCE ALSOBROOK, News-Telegram Managing Editor

June 13, 2008 - Mother Nature wasn't cooperating with this morning's kickoff to the 49th Annual Hopkins County Dairy Festival, but barring a worst-case scenario, she won't be enough to stop more than two dozen hot air balloons putting on a great show tonight.

High winds canceled a planned promotional flight scheduled for 5:30 a.m., then stopped balloons from being inflated during a ribbon cutting ceremony next to Guaranty Bond Bank at 9:30 a.m.

Overcasts skies and wind gusts of over 20 miles per hour made conditions less than favorable for flights this morning.

"For balloonists, everything depends on the wind," said David Black, who serves as the "balloonmeister" for the Dairy Festival.

But the show will go on, Black added. With winds projected in the 10 to 15 mph range this afternoon, decreasing to 5 to 10 mph tonight, weather conditions should be more favorable for balloon activity this evening.

"They should still be able to glow, and if they can't they'll do the 'candlesticking,'" he said, referring to the blasts of flames from the balloon gondola's propane tanks, shooting streams of fire dozens of feet in the air in an orchestrated symphony of heat, noise and power. It's a definite crowd favorite.

Mother Nature will definitely have to cooperate for the balloon flights scheduled for Saturday and Sunday morning, however. Currently, the forecast calls for a 30 percent chance of rain overnight, mainly after 1 a.m., and a 20 percent chance on Saturday, which could put a halt to a the planned rally and flight scheduled for 6:30 a.m. Saturday.

No rain is in the forecast for Sunday morning's 6 a.m. competition flight, however, and wind speeds are expected to fall between 5 and 10 mph.

A few other trivia items about the hot air balloon rally, now in its seventh year:

-- Every year, Charlie Atkins, owner of The Propane Company, has donated all the propane for the ballonists to use during their flights and exhibitions. Black doesn't have an exact dollar figure for how much Atkins donates every year, but it's no small potatoes. "It's several thousand dollars," he said.

-- Dairy Festival organizers are hoping the balloons can add a little visual impact to the Jazz, Blues and Roots Music Festival being staged Saturday on the downtown square. "We hope to have the balloons do a fly-over at the music festival," Dairy Festival Board Member Lynda Hager said.

-- More than two dozen of the balloons are scheduled to be in town for the events, officially titled the Dairy "Airs" Hot Air Balloon Rally. Black said the count of confirmed balloons as of Friday morning was at 27.

-- The big balloons represent a sizeable amount of investment by the owners. Sport balloon prices typically start at around $20,000, although some of the balloons that have exhibited at the Dairy Festival in recent years have been valued at upwards of $50,000.

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