The annual Colorado River Crossing Balloon Festival is a beloved yearly event for the Yuma community.
Each year, the Caballeros de Yuma request the assistance of the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground (YPG) Meteorology Team to help ensure the weather is safe for launching the hot air balloons.
“Balloonists are definitely interested in what the winds are doing and the environment around them. A morning balloon before the launch is very critical information. That they very much appreciate.”
YPG Lead Meteorologist Mark Hendrickson provided his expertise during the November 2021 festival. For the last several years, YPG’s Test Support Branch Chief Nickolas McColl volunteered his time, but was unable to do so this year. Hendrickson stepped in to monitor the conditions from the West Wetlands Park by setting up a mobile meteorology station.
“I deployed the antennas and had helium tanks for the balloons on the truck and I was able to do everything out of my one vehicle.”
The balloon pilots are familiar with the process and wait to see how the balloon reacts.
“They very quickly start swarming around and they are very eager to see me release the balloon because they can tell a lot from the ascent of the balloon, which way it’s going and how fast it is moving. They can’t wait to see the data as it’s coming up on my computer.”
That weather balloon carries a tracker and tracks wind speed, temperature, pressure and atmospheric density. Hendrickson gave the thumbs up for launching on Saturday because the winds were light and favorable. On Sunday, however, the weather was not cooperating.
“When I saw the flags moving sideways by the big water tanks by the interstate I knew we were not in for a good morning for launching. Sure enough, when I launched my balloon there were 35 mile per hour winds aloft, so it cancelled that day.”
Even when giving the bad news of it being unsafe to launch, Hendrickson appreciated the opportunity to serve his community.
“It feels great. I love serving my county. I am a 12-year Air Force Veteran and I love what we do here supporting the Warfighter and anytime we can reach out and help the local community it feels fantastic.