Rain, wind dim Balloon Glow but not enthusiasm

FOREST PARK – A half glow is what Friday night’s Balloon Glow in Forest Park might be called. But it was enough to draw glowing reviews from spectators who clustered around the fleet gathered for the annual Great Forest Park Balloon Race, which had been scheduled for Saturday. 

High winds kept pilots and engineers from fully inflating all 60-plus hot-air balloons. But it didn’t stop thousands of attendees from enjoying the festivities along with the glow.

Take Rae Whitfield, a local promoter. 

It was raining when she walked among several people leaving Forest Park’s Emerson Central Fields. However, Whitfield was just going to the trunk of her car to get a poncho and return to the park field.

“It does this every year, and they usually just hold out to see if it’s going to storm or if the winds will get too high,” Whitfield said. She has been attending the annual Forest Park Balloon Glow, and the race the day after, for years. 

“I’m going to stay and hang out and weather the storm. Besides, it looks like it’s clearing. … Usually one or two balloons will be inflated.” 

She was right. Actually, about a dozen balloons were inflated before the race meteorologists called the Balloon Glow off. But not before the huge, glowing balloons wowed attendees.  

“It’s a great family date,” said Chris Little. “It’s tradition. I love the diversity, meeting new people and seeing everyone having a good time.”

Joe Carney, the official Balloon Race meteorologist and a staffer with the National Weather Service, opted for safety when he ended the Glow. He called Saturday’s balloon race iffy due to a possible cold front and storms that could reach the race area – and in fact, the race was canceled.

But when the balloons can take to the air, Carney’s role includes advising balloon pilots and organizers on race routes to ensure safety. He briefs the FAA at St. Louis Lambert International Airport regarding balloon proximity, levels and heights. 

“They actually land planes below balloons,” he said.  

“The weather is the big deal,” hot air balloon pilot Ralph Tomato said. He is half of the Flying Tomato Brothers duo, along with his brother, Joe. 

The Tomato brothers, of Champaign, Ill., have been coming to St. Louis to fly in the balloon race since 1971. 

“It’s better to be on the ground and wishing you were in the air, than in the air and wishing you were on ground,” Joe said. 

They absolutely love St. Louis and, of course, the Great Forest Park Balloon Race. Joe called Forest Park one of the best (if not the best) parks in the country, and he praised the balloon race.

“It’s one of the best races in the country,” Joe said.

Even if it doesn’t always achieve takeoff.

Bill Beene

bill.beene@thenorthsider.com Bill Beene was born and raised in north St. Louis. He has been a journalist for 12 years. He enjoys cooking and roller skating. He lives in the historic Ville neighborhood.

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