A radar glitch at the Medford airport has grounded the cloud-seeding balloon, causing delays as flights were unable to take off or land because of heavy fog this week, airport officials said.
The radar issue does not affect airplane flight safety, as planes can land and take off once the fog clears on its own, Rogue Valley International Airport Manager Bern Case said.
It would most likely be safe to fly the unmanned CASPER balloon with the current radar, but Case said the airport's position is to err on the side of absolute caution.
"The tower has had a challenge with the radar and we just can't seed without the balloon," Case said. "It's been a long couple of days."The fog caused between five and seven flight delays on Thursday. Several people were stranded for hours on flights heading in all directions, Case said.
Additional flights from Portland and San Francisco have been delayed today.
Case said the airport has scrambled to squeeze as many people onto flights in the past 24 hours to clear up the backlog of passengers.
"It has set us back, but we are trying to get people where they need to go," Case said.
In the meantime, CASPER will remain in the hangar, unable to do what it does best.
The Cable Attached System Providing Effective Release, known by the catchier acronym CASPER, is an 18-foot helium-filled balloon that hoists a cylinder of ice pellets.
The balloon is pulled along by a truck. It soars above the airport and seeds the clouds with the ice pellets. The pellets change the fog to snow, which drifts to the ground and clears the air.
It cuts a wide swath in the fog that enables planes to come and go.
"When we can't get the balloon in the air, mother nature wins," Case said.
The airport hopes to have the balloon available this weekend.
— Chris Conrad