Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta Weather Information - by Randy Lefevre
Welcome to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (AIBF) weather information site. Our goal with this site is to give general weather information about Balloon Fiesta to pilots and crew and offer a few of our favorite weather links. Balloon Fiesta Park is approximately 10 miles due North of the Albuquerque International Sunport (Airport). One would think the official National Weather Service (NWS) surface observation for the airport (KABQ) would be representative of Balloon Fiesta Park and that is often a true statement, but there are frequent times during the Balloon Fiesta when that is not the case.
The Sandia mountain range to the East of the city provides a significant block between Albuquerque and the “Midwest”. The gap or valley pass where the Interstate 40 highway passes west to east through the mountain range significantly influences the local weather patterns of the Albuquerque area, especially in the Fall and with respect to surface winds. During the Fall a substantial high pressure center often occurs on the east side of the mountains and the wind flow around this system will often “squeak” through the gap in the mountains. The airport (KABQ) will often experience “gap winds” (often called canyon winds) in excess of 25 knots at the surface when areas to the north (for example Balloon Fiesta Park) and south do not experience these winds. During the afternoon when the temperature rises the gap winds either dissipate, or the entire area gets “mixed” and the stronger winds dominate throughout Albuquerque (thus the NWS KABQ surface observation becomes more representative for Balloon Fiesta Park). The gap wind is not the only terrain-influenced wind pattern for the Albuquerque area.
The famous “Albuquerque Box” in the ballooning community is also a terrain-influenced feature. During the Fall months the predominant wind direction in the lower atmosphere is from the South or Southwest. The southwesterly wind occurs quite often during the afternoon in the Albuquerque area. However in the mornings, especially during the mornings after a fairly cloud-free sky overnight, a significant temperature inversion is present where the coldest air is near the surface. This cold and dense air from the higher terrain north of Balloon Fiesta Park “pours” down the valley through Balloon Fiesta, thus the surface wind in the morning hours is typically from the North while the wind direction above the surface remains from the predominant southerly direction. This wind from the North near the surface and from the South above the surface forms the infamous “Albuquerque Box”. When the sunlight comes over the Sandia mountain range and heats up the lower atmosphere the temperature inversion is lost and the entire atmosphere mixes, thus the southerly wind from above extends to lower altitudes and the Albuquerque Box dissipates.
Albuquerque is known for its tremendous amount of cloud-free conditions and predominant sunshine during the Fall, but thunderstorms and rain showers are not infrequent. The Rio Grande River and the mountainous terrain along with the afternoon atmospheric heating often produce favorable conditions for convective clouds, rain showers and thunderstorms. Our meteorologists constantly monitor the KABQ weather radar, meteorological satellite images, and surface observations along with NWS (forecast office and Aviation Weather Center) to provide the maximum warning for unsafe conditions at Balloon Fiesta Park and local area. In addition to monitoring the official NWS weather observing information, our meteorologists install several local surface weather observing instruments around the Park to alert Balloon Fiesta leadership to potentially unsafe conditions. They also monitor the unofficial private weather stations (for example using Weather Underground stations) around the Albuquerque area to help pinpoint micro-meteorological effects that could adversely impact balloon operations and safety of flight.
Here are a few of our favorite websites for monitoring the weather and balloon flying conditions around the Albuquerque area.