Albuquerque’s “Box” creates an ideal flight for balloon pilots

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They hold the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in October because of the ideal weather and the city’s perfect wind pattern, referred to as the Albuquerque Box.

Pilot Mike Bertetto is gearing up for another balloon fiesta, “I started chasing and crewing in 1978 and decided to take the bullet three years ago and decided I would get my pilot’s license and buy my balloon.” 

Beretto says Albuquerque has the best weather for mass ascensions because of the city’s unique wind pattern called “the box”.

KRQE Meteorologist Kristen Currie explains: 

Every year during Balloon Fiesta, we talk about the balloon box and there’s a reason we look for this box. It has to do with the weather. 

Now, typically here in New Mexico, we see the colder air up in the mountains to the north of the Albuquerque area, and that cool air actually sinks down into the valley all the way into the Albuquerque metro area. 

We call this a drainage-wind that moves from the north to the south. That gives us the bottom of the box. 

Up higher in the atmosphere, typically for this time of year, we see a southerly flow meaning, the winds come from the south to the north. And it’s that different level of winds coming at different directions that gives us the box: the northerly winds closer to the ground, and the upper winds coming out of the south to the north. 

Balloons ride that northerly wind at the ground, use their burners to get up to the higher portions of the air and then come to the south. That’s what gives us our Albuquerque Box, which takes us back to balloon fiesta field.

Bertetto says it helps chase crews track balloons and  ‘the box’  creates a synchronized formation of balloons making mass ascension’s spectacular to watch, “what a rush, leaving a field of 100,000 people down below you and you’re flying off of that field.”

The wind can also be the enemy. Too much of it, and the balloons, especially the special shapes, won’t take off. That does happen from time to time, wiping out a morning’s mass ascension.

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