LEWISTON
– The
Great Falls Balloon Festival was 0-for-2 Friday as both the
morning and afternoon launches were called off because of almost
every kind of bad weather but sleet and snow.

Early
Friday fog held the balloons down. Things seemed to be getting better with some sun
as the day went on. But late in
the afternoon, conditions changed. The National Weather Service issued
a tornado watch for Oxford, Androscoggin and Cumberland counties.

A tornado apparently touched down in Norway. In Lewiston-Auburn, the sky let loose with thunder, lightning and heavy rain. People gathered for the evening launch scattered and fled.

Many were disappointed.

We’re
always disappointed when we’re not flying. We love to fly,” said pilot Andre Boucher
said. Even though the tornado was west of Lewiston-Auburn, it was too close
for balloons to be in the air, he said. “Some of those gusts could be 100 miles an
hour.”

Just before the rain fell at Simard/Payne Memorial Park, many lingered, hopeful that something might happen. Some chatted and waited in lawn
chairs. Others bought food from street vendors.

At the
Edward Little Grandstand Club booth, Chris Bellevue said soda sales
were “so far, so good. The crowds are down a little because of the
weather.” But people were still buying. “They want to get
out,” he said.

Josh
Paradis of Sumner brought his daughter, Gretchyn, 2, to see the balloons. “She wanted to see them,” he said. “We came last year.” He heard there
was a tornado watch but didn’t seem concerned. “We’ll see if it
happens.”

As
thunder and lightning began, some were still walking through the
gate. Crowds dispersed when the rain fell.

The field at 6 a.m.

Fog kept the hot-air balloons tethered to the ground early Friday, but the soggy weather didn’t hold down spirits in the crowd.

At least five balloon crews inflated their crafts as onlookers cheered them on, and a few lucky festival-goers got to at least ride up 50 feet or so.

Jane Weber of Atkinson, N.H., said she and her husband drove up to Lewiston on Thursday night to make sure they would be here for the 6 a.m. launch. Watching the inflatables take shape, then float gently above Simard/Payne Park, was still a treat.

“It’s like watching them come to life,” Weber said as she chatted with Nancy Woller of Wausau, Wis.

Woller, a crew member and the wife of the pilot of “Wally,” a balloon shaped like the orange fish in the Disney movie “Finding Nemo,” said it was the crew’s first trip to the festival, Maine’s only balloon gathering. Wearing a lighted fish-shaped hat, Woller chatted with the public and handed out trading cards to children with balloon information on them.

Brother and sister Matthew, 9, and Courtney Stevens, 7, managed to hop in with balloon pilot Chris Mooney. 

Mooney’s Re/Max balloon from Woodbury, Conn., went up and down a few times while the kids’ faces beamed with giant smiles. “I was afraid,” Matthew said, hopping out of the balloon when it touched down. But little sister Courtney wanted to go again. “Small people,” she shouted when asked how things looked from above.

By 9 a.m. the heavy fog was still lingering, but the crowd seemed to be enjoying the sights of the balloons and the food.

The forecast calls for a chance of rain during some spots on Saturday. Balloon Meister Mike Theriault hoped for better weather.

“Tomorrow’s a new day,” he said.

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There’s more online!

Visit sunjournal.com/balloonfestival to share your own photos, read stories and watch video from the weekend’s festvities.


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