ASHLAND - Though wet weather kept hot air balloons grounded on the first night of Ashland Balloonfest, the festival's pilots and officials agreed-- the glow must go on.
Rains cleared and the sun came out just as the first hot air balloon flight of the weekend was scheduled to take off, but Balloonfest officials decided it was still too hot and too wet for balloons to fly.
"With the rain that came through here, the air is very unstable for flight," said Balloonfest weather officer Jim Cusick. "And with the amount of heat we've had, it has heated the ground up. That's causing what they call convective activity and causing pop-up thunderstorms."
Cusick has been the weather watcher at Ashland Balloonfest for several years. He also pilots a balloon called Bolt, which has become a Balloonfest staple.
Pilots did not send off a test balloon Thursday, but several of them huddled and watched the flight path of a helium balloon that had been released by a spectator. The balloon traveled straight in the air, meaning the winds were calm enough for flight, according to Cusick.
Ultimately, Balloon Meister Greg Miller said made the call to cancel the flight for four reasons.
"One, the field is wet right now," he said. "Two, any place we land is going to be wet and muddy. Three, farmers are really irritated right now because they can't get people to pay insurance, so they're trying to get some crops in because the insurance doesn't want to pay. Four, with the storms that went through, we can't guarantee something is not going to pop up again."
Though no balloons took to the skies, nine of them inflated on the launch field at dusk. Hundreds of spectators looked on as the pilots and their crews used the balloon's burners to light up the balloons in time to music.
The nightly balloon glows are one of the most popular parts of Balloonfest, not only because of their beauty but also because they are less dependant on weather than the flights.
Asked how the forecast is looking for flying during the rest of the weekend, Cusick said he and the other pilots would have to watch and wait, and hope for the best.
"We've got a lot of heat coming in," he said. "They're talking mid to upper 80s all weekend long with a chance of thunderstorms again, so we're just hoping we don't get the stuff we got tonight for the rest of the weekend. That would make it tough for us."
High temperatures make flying tough because pilots have to fill the balloons with even hotter air to get them to rise, and all that heat is hard on the crew.
There are four more opportunities for the balloons to fly this weekend. Flights are scheduled for 7 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, weather permitting.
Balloon glows are planned for 9:15 p.m. both nights. In order to pull off a glow, the pilots will need dry weather and calm winds, Cusick said.
A full schedule of Balloonfest events can be found at ashlandohioballoonfest.com/schedule-of-events/.