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  • Melissa

Flying and Summer Storms

Updated: Jul 12, 2021

A technical post from "The Pilot"

Part of every flight is the weather. Planning for it. Planning around it. Flying through it. Being sure it’s safe.

Photo: Two rain columns a few miles North of Clark Regional on my way back from Sporty’s.

In the summer, one of the biggest threats is the thunderstorm. Even before a cloud becomes a thunderstorm it can be a threat to aircraft flying not just through it, but close to it. The rapidly rising air in the middle of the cloud and often the descending cooler air around the cloud can cause extreme turbulence. Pilots work with air traffic controllers (ATC) to get vectors around these “buildups” to keep the flight safe and comfortable. This often results in what I call “cloud dancing” where you can weave your way between the clouds in gentle banking turns.

Sometimes, the buildup (a rapidly-growing cloud) is so large you can see it a hundred or more miles away. Often these types of clouds are already producing thunder, lighting, and sometimes very heavy rain. They almost always are too dangerous to fly through, so pilots and ATC work together to route around these. Generally, we try to stay at least 20 miles away; even farther for the really big storms, as the turbulence can extend that far out from the visible clouds.

Video: Cloud dancing. :)

Photos from left to right: Looking down through the clouds at the airport in Charleston, WV.; A sunset view of the Ohio River snaking it’s way between Ohio and Kentucky.; two photos of in-plane displays as I was going around a storm to get to DuPage; An outflow boundary on the radar. This is something pilots watch for and avoid, as it can cause extremely dangerous winds.

Photos left to right: Storm cloud build up in Ohio; a downpour visible from inside the plane and an overhead shot of O'Hare Airport (nothing to do with storms, just cool to be flying over one of the busiest airports in the US.

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