Respecting the Convective Threats to Aviation from Severe Thunderstorms (credit: Capital Weather Gang)
DISCUSSION: There is no debate whatsoever that weather and aviation do not ever mix well under any circumstances. Having said that, is important to acknowledge the fact that the aviation industry often tries to challenge the natural threats provided by severe weather (i.e., namely those threats which are generated by deep convective storms). Often times, this leads to tremendous safety and protocol issues across the mediation industry by way of commercial and/or private aircraft trying to race through developing and or request severe storms close to if not at their peak intensity. When aircraft of any size try to do this, there are quite often dangerous if not disastrous results due to aircraft encountering threats created by strong winds (i.e., often realized in the form of strong downdrafts which can affect an aircraft’s ability to maintain level flight), cloud to ground lightning, and/or large damaging hail.
Therefore, it definitely goes without saying that when private and/or commercial aircraft attempt to across peak intensity or developing convection, this can lead to major safety issues for both crew and passengers alike. In the case of a recent American Airlines departing from San Antonio, Texas and bound for Phoenix, Arizona, disaster struck when the plane attempted to steer around the periphery of a cluster of deep convective storms which were blossoming and bubbling up at the time of the plane’s approach. Hence, as the American Airlines flight made its approach through the storms, the flight ran into a part of the convective storm cluster which was intensifying more rapidly and allowed for robust hail development which greatly affected the duration of this flight. As a result of this aircraft’s encounter with the hail-producing thunderstorm, there was a forced diverted landing over in El Paso, Texas. Thus, it was a very dangerous (and arguably poor decision) to attempt to fly through this particular bout of severe weather in consideration of the inherent hail threat which increased during the evolution of this particular storm cluster.
In consideration of this severe weather event, it is important to recognize that severe thunderstorms can form in an exceptionally short period of time and can have a profound impact on the aviation industry as a whole. Hence, when there is severe weather threatening, it is imperative for private and/or commercial aircraft to avoid deep convective storms at all times to remain in a safe flying environment. Above all else, it can be optimal to choose times and regions to fly through which typically do not experience major climatological severe weather impacts from deep convective storms during a given part of the year.
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© 2018 Meteorologist Jordan Rabinowitz
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