Great Prosser Balloon Rally organizers hope for good weather

Tri-City HeraldSeptember 27, 2013 

PROSSER — Organizers for the 24th annual Great Prosser Balloon Rally are keeping a close eye on the weekend weather reports. That’s because hot air balloons are totally at the mercy of Mother Nature.

“Thunderstorms have been predicted for Saturday,” said rally chairwoman Andrea Wright. “That’ll keep the balloons on the ground and many of the balloon pilots simply won’t come if the weather is bad.”

The National Weather Service is predicting a 50 percent chance of rain for the Mid-Columbia today along with winds of 7 to 12 mph in the morning and increasing to 16-21 mph in the afternoon.

Sunday’s prediction isn’t much better, with a 30 percent chance of rain and winds in the 13-20 mph range with gusts up to 30 mph.

Friday, several hundred spectators and rally volunteers roamed the field at the Prosser airport before dawn hoping to see the balloons launch at sunrise. But the weather was too iffy for flying.

Still, about six balloons were inflated while tethered to the ground.

One of those was Starfire, owned by Larry Simburger of Everett.

“It’s too windy, not so much on the ground, but up several hundred feet it’s about 7 knots now and more wind and rain are coming in,” he said.

“There’s a lot of expensive grapes surrounding Prosser, we wouldn’t want to land in them. And they’re supported with all those poles, just perfect for putting holes in a balloon,” Simburger said.

Wright’s expecting 22 balloonists this weekend, mainly from the Northwest, including Boise, Walla Walla, Kent and places in Oregon.

Organizing a rally for that many hot air balloons takes a lot of hands.

A Balloon Rally committee of six to eight core members works all year planning the annual event. But the volunteer list grows during the weekend to 100 to 150 people doing everything from directing traffic to selling memorabilia to helping the balloon pilots.

“Most pilots bring their own crew but extra hands are always welcome,” Wright said.

One of the volunteers who braved the chilly Friday morning was Wright’s mom, Gale Wright. She’s one of the founding members of the annual rally.

“None of us knew anything about hot air balloons back then, but a friend’s relative who flies one visited and brought it along. He said Prosser is a great place to fly, why not hold a rally?” Gale Wright said.

“It reminds me of one of those Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland movies where someone says, ‘Let’s put on a show,’ and they just do it. We did it,” Gale Wright said.

During that first rally 1989, Gale Wright was nine months pregnant with her third daughter, Andrea Wright.

“The pilots all joked with her saying she didn’t need to look like a balloon to have a rally,” Andrea Wright said.

Andrea Wright was born two weeks later and has been involved in planning and working the rally her entire life.

She joined the rally planning committee when she was 14 and this year became chairwoman. A senior at Central Washington University, Wright, 22, plans to serve as chairwoman for the 25th anniversary rally but isn’t certain about her future involvement.

“I’ll have to wait and see what life brings after graduation,” she said.

Andrea Wright said she really enjoys hanging out with the pilots, many of whom have been attending the rally for years.

“I’ve grown up with them,” she said.

She’s even taken some training to become a hot air balloon pilot.

“That’s typical,” said Simburger. “When you’re around hot air balloons, you want to fly. I was hooked after my first flight.”

“They say that first flight only costs $150 to $250 dollars but it’s the second one — the one you take in the balloon you bought for about $40,000 — that’s the expensive one,” he joked.

You can see for yourself the magic of hot air balloons as the rally continues today and Sunday.

Weather permitting, the balloons will launch at 6:30 a.m. both days from the Prosser Airport, off Wine Country Road.

Tonight is Night Glow, when the balloons are inflated and the propane burners, which provide the hot air, light them from inside out. The Night Glow is held at Art Fiker Stadium, 1500 Paterson Road.

Prosser 4-H Club and the Prosser Livestock Fund will be selling barbecue, coffee, cocoa and soft drinks at the top of the stadium to benefit their organizations.

When you’re done checking out the balloons, head to downtown Prosser and enjoy the festivities at the Harvest Festival, which runs through the weekend. There’ll be a street-painting contest both days, dancing, music and a variety of vendors.

There’s no charge for any of the rally events or the harvest festival.

w Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513; lhulse@tricityherald.com

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