Balloon Fest kicks of. Sort of.


A stiff breeze ripples through the printed weather forecast in Jim Rodrigue’s hand. He wants to give you good news, he really does.

Instead, he slowly shakes his head.

“It’s not looking good,” Rodrigue says.

The weather, that is. It’s just no good for ballooning — at about 6 p.m. Thursday, the wind blowing over Lewiston was reported at 130 degrees and 7 knots.

“That’s about 9 mph,” Rodrigue explained. “And visibility is just one mile. We need three miles to go up.”

Rodrigue, a balloon pilot who operates Androscoggin Balloon Adventures, had more observations on the weather, but the bottom line was obvious. No balloons were going up Thursday night and Friday morning was in doubt, what with the possibility of fog and all.

In spite of all those baskets sitting idle on the backs of trucks, the mood at Simard-Payne Memorial Park on Thursday night was festive. Well over a hundred people showed up for beer and chicken wings at the “Business After Hours” gathering on the edge of the park. Vendor tents were going up all over the place and the final pieces were falling into place.

Mostly falling into place, anyway.

“We’re not ready yet,” said Kelly MacKinnon, festival director and chair of the food committee. “There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done before tomorrow.”

The festival doesn’t officially start until Friday morning with a “weather permitting” launch scheduled for 6 a.m., and plenty of on-the-ground activities following.

Rodrigue, for one, was monitoring the weather almost hour-to-hour, using to drill down to the nitty-gritty. The problem, he said, was a cold front coming in with a low-pressure system right behind it. That could mean rain and fog, not to mention winds of up to 15 mph at treetop level, which can make balloon launches perilous.

It’s a dour prognostication, but nobody was getting down about it, because everybody knows that when it comes to Maine weather, nothing is set in stone.

“Sometimes they call for great weather and it turns out awful,” festival volunteer Jenn Reeder said. “And sometimes they call for bad weather and it turns out nice. So who knows?”

Good point. Even Rodrigue, with his fancy charts monitoring wind speed, visibility and cloud cover, isn’t discounting the possibility of a weather Maine miracle. One way or another, the Balloon Festival will go on and he expects to be right in the middle of it.

“We’ll be here,” Rodrigue said. “Absolutely.”