If you’re a regular traveler, you know that weather can have a big impact on your flight. Events such as storms and lightning can cause turbulence, but the truth is that pilots are equipped to handle any situation. To help you prepare for a flight during a storm or to simply put your mind at rest, Captain Tom Bunn explains why you should check the weather before a flight.
1. When to Check
Check the day before. Earlier information is not dependable.
2. Where to Check
Go to www.weather.com. Search for your departure airport. If the airport is not listed, the city location is fine.
Select “Hourly.” This will give you six hourly forecasts. Look just below the last of the hourly forecasts for the text “Next 18 Hours.” Click on that. This will give you eighteen hourly forecasts.
The last few will be for the next day. Find the hourly forecast for the date and time of your departure. You may have to click again on “Next 18 Hours.”
3. What to Look for Regarding Departure
If you are like most anxious fliers, you are worried about turbulence.
Check the wind. Strong surface winds—20 MPH or higher—can cause takeoff to be bumpy, but only for one to two minutes.
Check the precipitation percentage. Thunderstorms in the area might cause the climb to be bumpy. A 20 percent precipitation figure means that there is a 20 percent chance of rain (or in the winter, snow) at some time within that hour.
Recognize that a 20 percent figure means 80 percent (or more) of the sky is thunderstorm-free. That means there is lots of room for the captain to maneuver around the thunderstorms. Don’t expect the climb to be bumpy unless the number is at least 70 percent.
If you hear about tornadoes somewhere along your route, forget about them. Tornadoes develop at ground level.
At cruise altitude, you are miles above them. Bumps during cruise come only (a)when near the edge of the jet stream, or (b)near a thunderstorm that extends to your cruise altitude. Most thunderstorms don’t.
Open the “Flight Support” tab at www.fearofflying.com and select turbulence forecast. Information on turbulence associated with the jet stream is the middle column. Information on thunderstorm activity that could cause turbulence is found by clicking on the “Aviation Weather” map.
Thunderstorms are shown on the map in colors: green for mild, yellow for moderate, and red for strong. Look along a straight line from your departure airport to your destination airport for two things. First, how high are the storms directly on your route? If the storms are below 350, your plane can fly above them. Second, if the storms are higher than 350, look for gaps through which the plane can pass. In general, your captain will be able to find a gap if need be.
5. What to Look for Regarding Arrival
Check the hourly forecast for your destination airport. If you’re concerned about a bumpy ride, check the precipitation percentage at the time of your arrival.
6. Put the Information Into Context
Your airliner is certified for landing in specific ceiling and visibility conditions. Ceiling is the distance from the ground to the lowest clouds. Visibility is the distance ahead at which an object can be seen. Airport weather is measured every few minutes, and this information is displayed in the cockpit, via data link. If the airport weather measurements are lower than what the plane is certified for, your flight will divert to an airport with suitable weather conditions. Since modern airlines are certified to land in almost any weather, this happens rarely.
If the weather measurements are equal to or higher than the lowest figures your plane is certified for, landing can be made both legally and safely. Legal limits are always reached prior to safety limits. To insure a substantial margin of safety, the conditions your airliner is certified for are very conservative. Even if the weather measurements were below what the plane is certified for, your captain could still land safely. He or she will not land if weather measurements are not legal for landing. To do so would mean loss of license.
Turbulence causes distress because each time the plane drops, stress hormones are released. One drop after another means one shot of stress hormones after another. If you do the strengthening exercises in a detailed enough way, you will be able to prevent this problem. This requires you to dissect turbulence, breaking it down into every thing you may feel physically, may feel psychologically, think in words, or imagine in images.
Each needs to be treated as a separate item. Using a cartoon, link each item to a memory of a sensual experience that produces oxytocin and to a memory of attuned connection that activates the vagal brake and the parasympathetic nervous system. If you need help in setting this up, book a counseling session at www.fearofflying.com/tom.
For more information about flight safety, check out:
- 10 Things Travelers Need to Know About Turbulence
- What Happens When Lightning Strikes an Airplane?
- A Pilot’s Secrets to Conquering Your Fear of Flying
By Captain Tom Bunn for PeterGreenberg.com. Tom Bunn is the founder of SOAR (www.fearofflying.com), and the author of SOAR: The Breakthrough Treatment for Fear of Flying. Order your copy on Amazon, Barnes & Noble.