Can Planes Fly In Tropical Storms?

Pilots are allowed to fly in storms as long as the storm is within legal and safe parameters.

How Do Tropical Storms Form?

Can Planes Fly in Tropical Storms

Tropical storms start in regions such as Africa, travel eastward, and then move towards the US. These storms create rain bands that cause flooding and damage to homes.

There are about 40,000 thunderstorms in a day. These storms are associated with heavy rain, strong wind and severe turbulence. When we see these three conditions, we know that there will be a thunderstorm. 

Pilots keep passengers safe by flying them over bad weather. During bad weather, pilots fly planes low enough to avoid turbulence and high enough to stay out of clouds.

Pilots also use instruments such as altimeters and airspeed indicators to help determine how fast they’re going.

Takeoff And Landing In Hurricane Winds

Hurricanes are extremely dangerous storms that require careful consideration. Pilots must avoid them by staying away from the storm.

When there are no storms near, airlines allow flights to fly. However, when a category five hurricane is nearby, airlines do not allow planes to fly.

Flying In And Around Hurricane Activity

Hurricanes are powerful storms that can cause damage and destruction. Flying over a hurricane is safe because it’s usually above the eye of the storm and there is less turbulence.

Lightning strikes near an airplane are dangerous because the plane is close to the ground. Pilots need to stay away from lightning during storms.

Pilots don’t need to worry about the weather anymore because they can use radar to see storms coming up ahead of time.

But they still shouldn’t fly recklessly, even if there aren’t any bad storms around. Flying during a storm is much more dangerous than flying in other types of weather.

Hurricanes Vs Thunderstorms

Storms can cause airplanes to be grounded for hours, if not days. Flying during storms can be dangerous, but it isn’t impossible.

Sometimes planes must take off early or late due to bad weather, and this can make them miss connections.

Flights may also need to stay grounded while weather conditions change. After all, hurricanes are very powerful storms that can last for days. Thunderstorms are smaller and shorter-lived storms.

Pilots can choose to avoid them by flying over them or turning around and going back to where they came from.

Thunderstorms are tall clouds that can be catastrophic in a short amount of time. This is why pilots should avoid them if possible. Once they get out of the storm, things tend to calm down.

Flying Through Thunderstorms

Can Planes Fly in Tropical Storms

Thunderstorms are taller than hurricanes. Flying over a thunderstorm is safer than flying over a hurricane because the plane can easily get away from the storm (see also “Can Planes Fly Over Hurricanes?“).

Flying over a hurricane means that if an emergency occurs, there may not be many options for getting people out. 

Before The Storm

Weather forecasts are used by airlines to know when to evacuate planes and when to cancel flights. Airlines will often make changes in order to keep passengers safe.

Passengers should be aware of these changes and take action accordingly. Airlines usually offer travel waivers during tropical cyclones.

However, travelers must be aware that not all airlines cover the same areas with their travel waivers. Call your airline before you make any changes to your flight. 

When a hurricane or tropical storm approaches, airlines usually cancel all flights out of the affected areas. This includes flights going to and coming from the affected areas.

Some airlines even cancel flights before the storm hits because they know it will affect their business. In addition, some airlines may offer early boarding discounts to people who want to leave the area before the storm hits.

However, many people do not take advantage of these offers because they do not want to miss their connections.

Before the most severe tropical cyclone, airlines will focus on getting as many passengers and staff off the plane before they take off.

Common steps include using large aircraft on previously scheduled flights, and operating extra evacuation flights. 

On some occasions, airlines may implement price caps for flights outbound from areas predicted to be hit by hurricanes. Tropical cyclones usually cause heavy rain, strong winds, and tornadoes.

During the last few days before a tropical cyclone strikes, the airports serving the affected cities typically become very busy. People should avoid driving to the airport unless absolutely necessary.

Airport authorities recommend that people only travel to the airport when they have a confirmed ticket. Most airports aren’t designed to protect people during a tropical cyclone.

After The Storm

Airport closures due to tropical cyclones depend on the extent of damage at the airport, the capacity of local government to repair any damage, the scale of airline operations, and the availability of runway repairs.

After a hurricane, the airport will first reopen to relief flights only or to limited commercial operations. Repairing damaged terminals and air traffic control facilities can take weeks or months.

Runways are still visible at the airport, despite damage from Hurricane Irma. Relief flights are usually the first flights into an airport after a hurricane.

Such flights carry emergency supplies for victims, relief workers, and essential equipment needed to repair vital infrastructures.

Military cargo planes often operate the first relief flight into an airport, but commercial airlines usually send in their airplanes shortly thereafter.

Aircraft operating relief flights may take evacuees with it on their return trips. Flights carrying relief supplies often have strict restrictions on baggage and other items that passengers can bring along.

Relief flights usually operate at night because damaged airports lack the navigational aids needed by daytime flights. Temporary facilities are used for screening passengers.

Also, fences around airports are torn down, making those inside more vulnerable. Passengers typically have to wait in temporary areas which can become overcrowded and, in some cases, unsafe.

A hurricane causes damage to electrical infrastructure, roadways, and fuel infrastructure. Airport operations are severely hindered by these factors.

Employees cannot get to work due to flooding on nearby roads and damaged fuel supplies. Some airline companies have taken a long time to reopen airports after storms.

Many airline companies depend on local staff and planes to operate. For instance, a lot of flights were canceled because of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Because of this, airlines took a long time to open up again.

Final Thoughts

Is there a chance of bad weather on the day you fly? Don’t be concerned.

When asked if planes can fly in thunderstorms, the response is nearly always “yes,” and when it isn’t safe, pilots (and others who assist them in flying) won’t even try.

All except the most severe weather, including lightning, is absolutely harmless to modern airplanes. So sit back, unwind, and enjoy your flight—even if the sky outside is starting to light up!

Jacob Stern
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