It’s autumn! It’s time for leaves to turn and, if you are in New Mexico, balloons to float. Welcome to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta!
A strange weather pattern allows 600 hot air balloons from all over the world gather in my home town and fill the morning skies with color. For nine days, it looks like the heavens are decorated with brilliant Christmas balls. Hundreds of thousands of visitors come to the event and it’s a city-wide party.
Balloons get ready to launch into the dawn skies. Credit: KRQE.com/Bill Diven
The festival is made possible by a curious autumn weather pattern that develops in the valley of the Rio Grande River flowing through the middle of the city. Close to the ground, the chill October winds blow from the south. At a higher level, the winds are from the north. This “Albuquerque Box” allows a balloon to float around the city then, by changing altitude, return to the safety of the landing field. Contests are held where balloon pilots can win new cars and trucks by snatching their keys off of tall poles, and you can see the balloons working the box 5 or 6 times in a row as they aim precisely for the lucky keys.
This year, the party had a surprise visitor—snow! Friday evening and Saturday morning, it snowed only three hundred miles north of the Mexican border.
It takes more than snow to keep balloons or partiers down in New Mexico. See full image at KRQE.com/Bill Diven
It takes more than snow (or common sense) to keep Albuquerque from a good party. Cold spectators warmed themselves with hot Mexican chocolate and breakfast burritos and watched hundreds of balloons, wave after wave, soar into the skies. People cheered, the Albuquerque Box swirled with color and the biggest day of a nine-day fiesta proceeded as scheduled.
May all of you be enjoying the gifts of fall, from brisk air to colorful leaves to our snow moving east and finally raining out on parched Texas!
Evelyn Browning Garriss, historical climatologist, is a longtime writer for The Old Farmer's Almanac. She is also editor of The Browning World Climate Bulletin and has advised farmers, businesses, and investors worldwide on upcoming climate events and their economic and social impact for the past 21 years.