Thunderstorms are powerful storms that produce strong winds and heavy rain. They also generate lightning, which can damage aircraft.
There are plenty of risks involved with flying a plane in a thunderstorm, but what are they? Why is it so dangerous?
If you want to learn more about flying in a thunderstorm, why it is so risky, and how to stay safe, then you have come to the right place.
We have put together this useful guide to tell you everything you need to know, so keep reading to find out more.
The most common type of thunderstorm is called a cumulonimbus cloud. It usually forms from warm moist air rising into cooler dry air.
Cumulonimbus clouds are tall and narrow, reaching heights of over 20km (12 miles).
The other main type of thunderstorm is known as a squall line. A squall line is made up of several individual cells. Each cell is formed when a parcel of cool air rises into warmer air.
The rising air cools down and condenses, forming clouds.
If the parcel of cool air reaches its maximum height before it hits the surface, then the cells will become supercells.
Supercells are much larger than normal thunderstorms and can be extremely dangerous.
Flying in a thunderstorm is very dangerous because many things can go wrong. Now we will take a look at some of the reasons flying in a thunderstorm is so risky.
Aircraft flying through thunderstorms experience turbulence caused by wind shear.
This causes the plane to pitch forward and backward, causing the nose to rise and fall.
As a result, the pilot has to compensate for these changes by adjusting the throttle.
In addition, the air pressure inside the cabin drops due to the increased density of the storm clouds.
These two factors cause the plane to descend, which makes it harder for the pilot to control the plane.
When a plane passes through a thunderstorm, it is exposed to high levels of wind shear.
Wind shear occurs when there is an imbalance between the speed of the wind above and below the cloud layer.
The faster-moving air at higher altitudes pushes on the slower moving air at lower altitudes.
When this happens, the air becomes unstable and creates gusts or sudden increases in wind speed.
The pilot may be unable to see outside the cockpit because of the thick cloud cover.
If this happens, the pilot must rely on instruments such as an altimeter or compass to navigate safely.
Visibility decreases rapidly once the plane enters the thunderstorm (see also “How Is Visibility Measured?“).
Lightning strikes occur when current flows along the earth’s magnetic field lines.
Current flowing along the ground produces a positive charge, while the current flowing upwards generates a negative charge.
Positive charges attract each other, and negative charges repel each other.
This means that if one part of the atmosphere contains a large amount of positively charged particles, another part containing negatively charged particles will try to move towards it.
If the two parts meet, they will create a spark. This is what causes lightning.
Lightning strikes are one of the biggest dangers posed by flying in a thunderstorm.
During a lightning strike, electricity travels along the path of least resistance.
Airplanes are particularly vulnerable because their metal skin acts like a giant antenna.
Lightning can travel hundreds of feet through the air, striking the fuselage and damaging electrical systems.
Lightning strikes can destroy electrical components in the plane, including radios, navigation equipment, and autopilot systems.
In addition, if the plane gets struck by lightning, the engine could fail.
The pilot is responsible for avoiding areas where there is a high risk of being struck by lightning.
The most common type of lightning occurs when positive charges on the ground move towards negative ones in the sky.
The electrical charge builds up until it reaches its maximum potential before exploding into a bolt of lightning.
If the plane flies over a cloud where there is an electric field, then it will be struck by lightning.
Lightning strikes can destroy or severely damage any metal objects within the vicinity.
Thunderstorms can increase the weight of the plane. Heavy rains can make the wings heavier than usual, making them more difficult to control.
Rain also reduces visibility, making it harder for the pilot and co-pilot to see each other.
In some cases, rain can create icing conditions. Ice crystals form around the leading edge of the wing.
At low speeds, the ice crystals break off from the wing and float down to the surface of the wing.
If the plane is flying too fast, the ice crystals collide with the wing and reduce lift.
How To Stay Safe
Whilst it is very risky to fly an aircraft in a thunderstorm, here are some tips to help you avoid the danger:
1) Know your weather report. If there is any chance of bad weather, check your local weather forecast before leaving for the airport. You should know what kind of storm will hit your area.
2) Check the wind direction. The wind direction may be different from the weather report. It’s important to know where the wind is coming from.
3) Avoid flying at night or during foggy conditions. Flying at night or through thick clouds increases the risk of collision.
4) Keep an eye on the horizon. Look out for other airplanes as they approach the runway. This way, you’ll have time to react if something happens.
5) Be aware of the surrounding terrain. Make sure that there are no trees or power lines near the airport.
6) Watch out for birds! Birds tend to flock together when it starts raining. So keep an eye out for them.
7) Don’t forget about turbulence. Turbulence occurs when air moves quickly over mountains or valleys. It can cause the airplane to shake.
8) Never take off or land in a thunderstorm. Even though the chances of getting struck by lightning are low, it’s better to play it safe.
9) Use extra caution while landing. Landing in a thunderstorm is extremely dangerous because of all the above-mentioned reasons.
10) Finally, don’t panic. Stay calm and alert while flying in a thunderstorm.
Flying a plane in a thunderstorm is not advisable, but there are things you can do to try and stay safe.
Be sure to use this guide to help you keep safe in a thunderstorm while flying.