By Mark Ronchetti
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – During the night time hours, cool air over the northern mountains sinks down to the valley floor. The heavy cool air then makes its way south to the lowest point which in this case happens to be the Rio Grande Valley.
So as day breaks the northerly cool air flow sets the stage for part of the “Box”.
When the “Box” is in full force as balloons take off from Balloon Fiesta Park the balloons move south being pushed by the northerly winds from the northern mountains.
After drifting south for a while many balloonists increase their elevation a bit and begin to ride prevailing southwesterly winds back northeast. This ends up taking many balloons over the heights and foothills for a landing that ends in a looping pattern of sorts.
That looping pattern is the “Albuquerque Box”.
The “Albuquerque Box” can be extra elusive for pilots at the Balloon Fiesta some years, but when it works, it really helps pilots and passengers alike.
Here’s why: pilots can make a balloon go up or down by applying heat to the envelope, but they have no way of steering the balloon, which is where the Albuquerque Box comes in.
In perfect conditions the box helps pilots “steer” their balloons. Close to the ground, the wind will be blowing from the north. As soon as the balloon launches, that wind will make it drift toward the south.
As the balloon begins to climb in altitude, it will enter another layer of wind blowing from the south.
That will make the balloon drift back toward the north.
As long as those two different layers of wind are blowing opposite each other, the pilot can choose to make his balloon fly within the Albuquerque Box.
The pilot may even be able to land very near from where he took off.
The phenomenon is great for onlookers, who can stay in one spot and watch the balloon launch, drift away, then drift back and land all from the same location.
When the box isn’t present, balloonists have no options for steering, and will drift wherever the wind takes them. As we’ve seen, they can land in peculiar and perilous spots around the city.
We would like to welcome you to the Ballooning Capital of the World web site. The Ballooning Capital is located in the greater Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA area including area communities like Rio Rancho.
The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is the world’s largest hot air balloon festival and takes place each October. During the balloon festival you will see literally hundreds of balloons. The event is considered to be the most photographed event in the world. Guests of the event are allowed to mingle amongst the balloons and possibly even to help the crews.
There are more resident hot air balloonists in the local area than anywhere else in the world. The ideal conditions and the growth of the sport have attracted many people to the Albuquerque area. Hardly a day goes by without a balloon launch, weather permitting.
Albuquerque has a unique climatological feature called the “box”. The Sandia Mountain to the east blocks the sun from heating the ground, and as a result, the air near the ground is cooler and flows to the south, and 600-700 feet up, the warmer air flows to the north, allowing the balloon pilot to launch and land in nearly the same spot, if not in fact, the same spot.
Another great activity is called balloon glow. This is the glow from the balloon when the hot propane-powered flames light up the balloon, and because of the balloon’s size, can be seen from a long distance. Several times during the year there are actual balloon glow events during which the balloons are on display, but aren’t launched.
This web site has been created to tell the world about what is going on here and we welcome your comments and pictures. Our host is a photographer so there will be many unique photos not found elsewhere plus photos contributed by other photographers.
Thanks for stopping by and we hope to see you back again!