Every year, thousands of flights get canceled due to Thunderstorms. The good news is that modern planes can fly in thunderstorms in this era, thanks to technology.
Today, flights get canceled or delayed due to thunderstorms because many outdated technologies are still in service. It can take some time to replace those Aircraft with the latest models because it requires a lot of resources.
In this article, we will discuss different things like taking off or landing during a thunderstorm, safety tips to follow, and what effects thunderstorms can have on flights.
Can Planes fly in Thunderstorm while Taking off
A plane that hasn’t taken off will be prevented from taking off without a thunderstorm. Crazy winds are just one part of the story; there will be too much water on the runway, and running a plane on a flooded runway can be extremely dangerous as the tires will lose contact with the surface, reducing the effectiveness of brakes as well, and these phenomena are called hydroplaning.
Some of the largest airports have grooves in the runways to drain the water from the paved surface, eliminating the chances of hydroplaning. Still, a 200-ton airplane in unstable windy weather can quickly get out of control leading to casualties.
The Florida State of the US is most disturbed by the thunderstorms causing flight cancellations and delays, frustrating for passengers and airline crew. During such adverse weather conditions, flights are prohibited from takeoff, and a pilot saying for such situations goes like this.
Pilot’s saying goes, “it’s much better being on the ground wishing you were up there than being up there and wishing you were on the ground.”
But on an individual level, each passenger thinking about the events they have to attend or the kids in a home don’t think that way.
Thunderstorms usually happen in summer when the moisture from the ground goes up with the rising columns of air and cools in the colder temperature above and then falls back on the earth as rain or hail, sometimes heavy and sometimes brief. Sometimes you can experience hailstones when the droplets are dense, and sometimes you experience fog when the droplets are less thick.
But, this weather condition will not crash the Aircraft unless lightning hits the plane, breaking a part of the wing or engine. The biggest problem for the Aircraft can be the strong gust of winds causing unbalance during the takeoff resulting in severe turbulence that can cause serious discomfort to passengers.
Another big problem when an aircraft takes off during a thunderstorm is the microbursts ( gusts of blazing-fast winds) impacting the Aircraft’s direction, which can be dangerous during takeoff because such an incident killed 136 out of 163 passengers of Delta Flight 191 due to microbursts.
Pilots always prioritize passengers’ safety and comfort over traveling and are the only ones responsible for the effects of thunderstorms. A wise pilot decides by communicating with the ATC, and daylight flights are handled better than night flights because thunderstorms cannot be identified during the night due to clouds.
Although each Aircraft has its weather detection system, the onboard system is still less capable than the on-ground radar system that uses an energy beam to hit the water droplets and bounce back, revealing the distance of the Thunderstorm and the intensity of it. Sometimes, a storm can occur right after takeoff, and the navigation display of the flight deck shows green areas and red areas indicating the power of the Thunderstorm.
Sometimes passengers are annoyed that the weather outside the Airport is perfectly sunny and still the flight is delayed. That doesn’t mean the storm is near the Airport; that means the storm can meet the aircraft hundreds of miles away from the Airport, affecting the takeoff during thunderstorms.
Suppose the pilot intends to take off in intensive weather. In that case, the most safety-critical stages won’t let the airplane fly because the wings won’t be able to generate the lift required to fly due to the Thunderstorm around the airfield on departure, posing a threat in the early stages of flight. Therefore, the storm cell warns the pilot to make changes accordingly in the flight.
Can Planes fly in Thunderstorm while Cruising
Once you are in the air, the option to delay or cancel the flight is out of hand; now, it’s the run-time strategy that the pilot will make to make the best decision to ensure the safety of the passengers and flight crew.
Suppose the onboard weather radar detects a storm at a distance. In that case, the pilots can either change the Aircraft’s direction to avoid the Thunderstorm or fly upwind of the storm because downwind areas are the bumpiest. In difficult situations, the pilot can ask air control to confirm a new route because extensive thunderstorms spread over a larger area can threaten the Aircraft.
Another situation is when there is a large thunderstorm in a small geographic area, but multiple Aircraft are trying to avoid it; that is the most challenging part of the ATC, and therefore, they do the upfront weather analysis to forecast weather and direct traffic accordingly. This is how ATC prevents flight delays, but sometimes situations get worse for ATC, especially when a sudden storm hits an aircraft without any warnings.
A plane will probably withstand the most adverse weather condition or altogether avoid it by climbing to an altitude above the turbulent cloud tops.
With that said, a plane can fly in thunderstorms while cruising.
Can Planes fly in a Thunderstorm while landing?
Landing a plane in a thunderstorm is the most challenging job for any pilot because the landing scenario will differ depending on the storm’s severity. Changes in flight path near the ground can cause serious threats; therefore, pilots and ATC are required to keep a constant eye on the weather radar to eliminate the risk of being affected by the storm.
The shear winds and strong downdrafts are the biggest threats to a plane because there are higher chances that an aircraft may slam into the ground due to these winds.
Effects of Thunderstorms on Flying
Storms near the Airport are a big headache for ATC because each Airport worldwide is getting busier daily. Storms cause hurdles because not only flying but logistics operations are also aborted during storms. Thunderstorms can worsen situations for those working on the ground, like loading and unloading passengers’ luggage, refueling the Aircraft, and removing toilet waste from the plane. Similarly, lightning in the Thunderstorm means closing the ramp area. Airports are equipped with powerful technology and equipment to detect and accurately pinpoint lightning, which also dramatically helps airport decision-makers.
The continuous progress of technology of weather radar systems helps us detect hazardous weather situations ahead, allowing pilots and ATC to plan the routes and escape the storms safely. Weather alerts in audio or visuals help pilots make a decision, change routes, or wait until the weather clears. Sometimes, pilots can divert the Aircraft to another airport with ATC’s permission if the Airport’s runway is slippery because the storm dumped a lot of water on the runway. A wet runway also poses a threat because the plane won’t be able to stop at the end of the runway or can slip, so the pilots will prefer to face the disappointments of the passengers rather than being dead among them.
When a thunderstorm occurs, taking off or landing increases dramatically because flying through one can be the worst nightmare for all the passengers onboard. A thunderstorm affects the Aircraft’s ability to climb or descend.
The biggest threat for any aircraft is the upward-moving air currents because when the hot ground air goes up and meets the descending cooler air, it creates a vertical ascending current called thermal, forming lightning that puts the plane’s safety in jeopardy. This is why flights are often canceled or delayed in nasty thunderstorms.
Airplanes with the latest and most significant weather detection systems can easily withstand severe thunderstorms, lightning strikes, and even high-speed winds. The problem arises only when an aircraft passes through much cold air because that can freeze the wings, and the plane becomes useless without moving wings.
Investigators say that every single Aircraft on planet earth has been struck with lightning in its life span. Sometimes, the lightning strike has horrific consequences. Still, sometimes, the passengers don’t even know if the airplane was stuck with the lightning, thanks to the modern technology that makes the plane lightning-proof. The lighting is evenly distributed to tails and wingtips, resulting in no damage to the helicopter’s aircraft skin or electrical systems.
Most of the time, thunderstorms form hail, and when a plane goes through a storm and starts hailing, it can damage the engine compressor blades or inlet guide vanes, but it happens extremely rarely.
Sometimes, more powerful hail can break the windshield, which will cause severe problems for pilots to land the Aircraft because the direct air puts high pressure on the cockpit.
A stage of a thunderstorm can result in supercooled water droplets, which can freeze the aircraft components like wings and windshield. On top of that, the airplane won’t get smooth airflow due to the cold air that increases the drag, and the airfoil becomes useless for creating lift, and sometimes the engine stops because of this.
The higher speed winds are called wind shear, moving in different directions like horizontal, vertical, and up and down altitudes. This situation worsens during thunderstorms and directly impacts the Aircraft, making it uncontrollable sometimes.
A microburst is a localized column of sinking air inside a thunderstorm, usually less than 2 miles in diameter. Still, it’s the most potent form of wind that causes hazardous damage and can result in life-altering events like plane crashes.
Unlike a tornado, a microburst comes and goes instantly, which is more dangerous and highly impacts and disrupts the altitudes of the Aircraft.
Rain doesn’t affect flight because it usually occurs at lower altitudes, and Aircraft can increase the size by 35,000 feet, eliminating the effects of rain on the flight. Still, rain can pose a threat while taking off or landing. The first problem is the lack of visibility due to heavy rainfall. Secondly, heavier rainfall can trigger flameout in the plane’s engine that requires re-ignition, and sometimes, rain and cold air can freeze the airplane components, which means a reduction in lift and Aircraft can fall from the sky.
Flying in bad weather, especially wind, snow, tornadoes, and cyclonic activity, is dangerous for smaller Aircraft. Still, ATC is constantly in contact with pilots directing the flights over and around severe storms to avoid substantial turbulence.
Although pilots are extra conscious when flying an aircraft when sudden weather situations occur, things such as heavy rainfall, or frozen runway can create extreme notorious situations for pilots.
Flying 15mph Winds
Aircraft are designed to withstand extreme pressures and according to the national bodies examining weather, the winds running at 15mph to 25mph are breezy and any airplane can easily tackle such a windy situation. Other than that, pilots during their training learn how to experience winds at this speed and higher speeds while getting a license, so you can relax about winds at this speed.
Taking off in high winds
Taking off during a thunderstorm, heavy rainfall, and high winds is dangerous but the passengers are going to experience most turbulence when the airplane crosses the horizontal winds or crosswinds. Mostly, the grounded plane is delayed due to crosswinds, and similarly, landing in strong winds can also be unsafe or sometimes disastrous. Dealing with intense weather conditions is a part of pilot training but passengers are unaware of these things and that is why they look more afraid and nervous.
Thunderstorm effects on Commercial Airlines vs. Smaller Aircrafts
Smaller planes can receive more damage than large commercial airliners because they are less equipped and unable to climb upside the thunderstorms. The lack of ice protection poses the most significant threat for smaller private jets. On top of that, the private pilots flying these jets are not highly trained to tackle situations like thunderstorms, and therefore, the lack of experience and equipment can cause dangers for smaller Aircraft.
What type of Thunderstorm is more dangerous for Aircraft?
There are different types of thunderstorms: single-cell, multi-cell, and supercell, and the most dangerous among all these types of thunderstorms is the supercell.
Can Thunderstorms cancel flights?
Yes, flights are always delayed and canceled due to thunderstorms, and the waiting time depends on the Thunderstorm’s existence. The sooner the Thunderstorm passes, the faster the flights will be resumed, and the Airport will allow the flights to take off and land.
Can planes take off in scattered thunderstorms?
Yes, airplanes can take off in scattered thunderstorms because scattered thunderstorms cover a larger area and that means less microbursts of air and rain.
Can fighter jets fly in thunderstorms?
Compared with commercial airlines, fighter jets are much more sophisticated and powerful and their higher speed makes them less vulnerable to thunderstorms.
If the winds of a storm are more than 25 nautical miles, the fighter jets like F-35s, choppers, and other military Aircraft are prohibited from flying.
Do planes take off in lightning?
Yes, planes take off in lightning because modern aircraft can withstand lightning.
Do planes get delayed by thunderstorms
Yes, sometimes heavy rainfall and Thunderstorm can cause flight delays for a few hours to a few days.
Flying around thunderstorms
That is the possibility for only commercial airlines because they are equipped to fly over or around the Thunderstorm.
Will the storm affect my flight?
That depends on the type of storm as we have explained different types of storms in the article, you need to decide which storm you are talking about.
Flight cancellations due to thunderstorms
Flight cancellations are common but passengers are most annoyed by this.
How bad does the weather have to be to delay a flight?
A third-degree storm or heavier rainfall causes flight delays because the runway is wet and pilots are usually unable to see outside to determine the right direction of the Aircraft.
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