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Behind the scenes of Thunder's fireworks display

Zambelli Fireworks has mastered the largest fireworks shows around the world for over 100 years. This year, Thunder over Louisville will still be its biggest event.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The talks began late last fall, and at that point, Thunder was only a ‘what if.’ The Zambelli design team said they held their breath on multiple occasions, thinking this year would be another bust, following a year of COVID cancellations

But Saturday night, they’re expecting nothing less than a blast.

"It’s art in the sky or entertainment in the air," Ernie Simmons, Zambelli's project manager said. "I’ve been doing this for over 40 years and I still do it because it’s fun."

For the Zambelli crew, pyrotechnics is more than fun. It’s a family tradition that dates back to the late 1800s, lighting up the night sky for millions across the globe. Thunder Over Louisville is their biggest event of the year.

"The KDF folks issued a challenge to us? Can you do it safely? We live in safety. Can you do it with imagination, creativity and power and can we do that and not be on the water? You’re going to see the results Saturday night," Ralph Piacquadio, with the Zambelli Fireworks design team said.

They started designing months ago, without having the exact locations in mind. Then early Wednesday morning, the setup began, at the first of 5 locations across Louisville and Southern Indiana.

"I’m holding a 90-page script that has a layout of everything on this site only," Simmons said.

Three semis full of fireworks, synchronized to match every beat of an 18-minute playlist.

"For every aerial minute, it takes 2 hours of work," Simmons said.

Credit: Brooke Hasch, WHAS
The initial setup, before fireworks are dropped in and wired to GPS.

"There’s over 6 thousand cues that initiate, launch the fireworks from all 5 sites combined. That’s not far off from the typical Thunder on the waterfront," Piacquadio said. 

It’s not going to be the Thunder we’re used to, but the Zambelli crew promises some of our favorites won’t be lost to the changes.

"This is a cherished project. This is something a lot of people would love to work on Thunder. Yes, it’s different this year, but we’re in Louisville and we’re going to shoot fireworks on Saturday and we love it," Piacquadio said.

Contact reporter Brooke Hasch atbhasch@whas11.com. Follow her onTwitter (@WHAS11Hasch) andFacebook.

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