Thunderstorms Threat to Aviation

by James T. Crouse on November 1, 2010

in Weather

Two of the main dangers posed by thunderstorms to aircraft are being hit by lightening and windsheer. Windsheer, caused by the change in vertical or horizontal drafts around the plane, is a big concern for pilots because it can cause loss of “lift” (which keeps the plane in the air).

One famous crash – depicted on the movie screen – is the 1985 Delta Flight 191. Windsheer caused the plane to hit short of the runway at the Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport, hit a car, 2 water tanks, they broke apart and burned – 135 of the 165 people aboard were killed, including the person in the car. From 1980 to present windsheer has a factor in 238 accidents.

Summer is a time of concern for aviators and airlines because thunderstorms form in hot, humid air. With a quick look at your weather map, one can see are common in a line from Texas to Michigan – affecting several major airports. These storms are too high to fly over, too dangerous to fly through, and a lot of times too wide to fly around – not only that the edges of these storms can be very unpredictable also.

The good news: the airlines wisely keep planes on the ground for safety reasons.

The bad new: expect delays due to thunderstorms mainly during the summer.

Advice: if you’ve never read “War and Peace” (or something of comparable length), this might be a good book to pack in your carry-on luggage when traveling during the thunderstorm season.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Ben R. Coleman November 13, 2010 at 3:22 am

I have investigated many aircraft accidents, both commercial and general aviation. In Jim’s article is one target but stops short of getting to the cause of these accidents…is it the weather? or the decision to fly through such weather? In today’s technological capability there is no reasone to blast off into the unknown. The investigations usually occurred the day after the accident…in clear weather…..


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