canyonblue17
Topic Author
Posts: 389
Joined: Wed Oct 08, 2008 12:22 am

Flying Through Tornado Weather

Sun Mar 04, 2012 4:30 am

After getting off my ISP to PBI flight a few hours ago I stopped and thanked the pilots for getting us home safely - and I never meant it more in my life. It was a generally uncomfortable flight to begin with, but as we approached the South Carolina area, we received a warning from the flight deck. Everyone needed to sit and buckle up because "we are about to fly through that weather you may have seen on television." The pilot was referring to the line of storms that has produced numerous devastating tornadoes. It was 20-25 minutes of serious bouncing around. It got real quiet in the back of this 737. When we finally popped out the other side - looking back you could see a miles long stretch of near constant top to bottom lightning. It was other worldly. I have flown probably 100 times in my life, and in a bunch of different countries, I have never seen a storm as powerful as this one. The two men up front earned their money tonight. Wonder if anyone else has been through this weather yesterday or today?
negative ghostrider the pattern is full
 
EWRandMDW
Posts: 314
Joined: Thu Jul 20, 2006 5:28 am

RE: Flying Through Tornado Weather

Sun Mar 04, 2012 1:02 pm

I can't imagine pilots taking the risk of flying passengers through "tornadic" weather. The winds in a tornado are incredibly strong and concentrated and would seriously damage or more likely destroy an aircraft. A supercell that spawns a tornado can be upwards of 50,000 feet high with strong updrafts and downdrafts. I live just outside Chicago not far from both ORD and MDW and whenever we get severe t-storm warnings and especially tornado warnings departures can be stopped and arrivals may be sent to alternate airports out of harm's way.

I'm sure you flew through the same weather system that spawned the tornadoes but by the time your plane flew into it, its characteristics had changed and your course took you through less active parts. Nonetheless, I do tip my hat to the pilots and am glad you and everyone else on your flight got through OK.
 
26point2
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Joined: Wed Mar 03, 2010 6:01 am

RE: Flying Through Tornado Weather

Sun Mar 04, 2012 1:45 pm

I'm sure it looked dramatic as you describe but very unlikely any airline pilot would knowingly fly through severe weather of any sort. Pilots are not risk takers and an effort to penetrate severe weather would also put their employment in jeopardy. Sounds like your guy wanted to make sure you were all buckled in and used a bit of drama to get the attention of passengers.

The media often times creates the image of a pilot taking risks in the effort to get to destination when in fact we are trained and companies policy mandates to avoid all severe weather. We can always stay on the ground or turn the plane around, and we do if necessary....people forget this.
 
CairnterriAIR
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RE: Flying Through Tornado Weather

Sun Mar 04, 2012 2:21 pm

I'm sure he found a safe opening via radar to pass through the storm. Like what was said, pilots' main concern is the safe operation of the airplane. But still dramatic just the same...and impressive to see such a weather system from the air. (Even more interesting to see it at night from the plane). Back last June we got hit by a major tornado spawning storm system up here in Massachusetts....the worst being a long-lived, long tracked EF3/4. Flights into BDL were rerouted as far north as Maine and in some cases flights diverted into BGR and PWM. Lots of damage still being repaired 9 months later.
 
CIDFlyer
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RE: Flying Through Tornado Weather

Sun Mar 04, 2012 3:21 pm

I flew through that crap Friday evening from Atlanta to Cedar Rapids, Iowa and I agree with you that was some crazy flying and very bumpy, I closed my eyes and winced a couple of times. But it was cool seeing all the lightning and such. Luckily once we got past Nashville it was pretty smooth after that. I felt lucky to get out of ATL and into CID 25 minutes early, those storms were on the doorstep of ATL as we were taking off, you could immediately see lightning off to the west.
 
canyonblue17
Topic Author
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RE: Flying Through Tornado Weather

Sun Mar 04, 2012 3:58 pm

Just to clarify, I am sure the pilots did not fly through a tornado. They did a few significant turns during the bad weather, so I am sure they were dodging everything they could. But this was the same system and it clearly was still packing a serious punch. I should have had my camera with me, because describing what I saw with words doesn't do it justice.
negative ghostrider the pattern is full
 
727forever
Posts: 304
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RE: Flying Through Tornado Weather

Sun Mar 04, 2012 4:32 pm

Often times in a line of thunderstorms, there will be gaps at the higher altitudes that will allow for safe passage through the line. Thunderstorms are 3D, 4D if you add in velocity inside of them, animals. When we see the composite radar image on the weather channel, it is showing a lot of information blended into an easy to view 2D display. Some of the new images with the doppler additions also display the extra velocity dimension. The radar in a jet only gives a 2D image, but with controllable settings, the pilot can gain a "3D image" using his memory of all that he is seeing.

The most used setting is the tilt which adjusts the beam width of the dish up and down. This will need to be adjusted as the airplane climbs to altitude. Typically you would takeoff with the tilt pointed up at around 5*. By the time you reach 10,000' you would adjust it down to around 2.5*. By 20,000' it would be around 1*, and by 30,000' -0.5 to -1.0*. As you can see the higher you go the more you point it down as you are climbing in relation to the visible moisture which tends to mostly be below 30,000'. This will change based upon the range of the cell that you are looking at. The super cells that produce tornadoes are quite tall, but this doesn't mean that the rest of the line around them will be that tall. Using the tilt angle you can scan the line and find a low spot. If all of the precipitation is below you, I generally want 5-10,000' of clear zone above an area of heavy precip, it'll be a safe area to pass, given you give enough lateral separation from a super-cell. Generally you want to give at least 20 miles laterally to the super-cell to avoid having it spit hail and other debris at you.

Another feature that I use on the radar is the Gain setting. The Gain is basically a sensitivity setting. You can temporarily turn up or turn down the sensitivity to see what is going on inside of an area of weather. Turning the Gain up while pointing the tilt up will show if there is a high level of moisture moving around at the higher altitudes. It will give a pretty good idea if there will be a bumpy ride through an overhang if something is painting. On the other hand, if you point the tilt down and back off the gain while looking into a cell, you can get a better idea of how heavy the precip is inside of the storm. If you back off the gain by 2 and it still is painting red, don't go there.

The gist of all of this is you can safely maneuver around this nasty weather using the radar, but you don't ever want to just go pushing headlong through it. The gaps will usually be safe for passage, but that doesn't mean it will be smooth in there. There is a lot of air moving around and the airplane must react to all of that. Rest assured the radar will be in use anywhere near that kind of weather.

727forever
727forever
 
777fan
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RE: Flying Through Tornado Weather

Sun Mar 04, 2012 6:37 pm

Looking into your post, it seems you were on WN1043 which appeared to turn out over the Atlantic to avoid the front as it approached the coast. From the looks of it, you were nowhere near the actual weather although that does not guarantee a turbulence-free flight. Frankly, I'd have been somewhat more uneasy about WN's decision to crank a 733 with a gajillion cycles on up to FL400.

http://flightaware.com/live/flight/S...3/history/20120303/2300Z/KISP/KPBI

WN3956 flew a few hours earlier and did not fly out ahead of the front but was still pretty far from the worst weather.

http://flightaware.com/live/flight/S...6/history/20120303/1640Z/KISP/KPBI

Quoting CIDFlyer (Reply 4):
Luckily once we got past Nashville it was pretty smooth after that.

I pulled up the BNA tower on liveatc as their supercell moved in - I thought they were cutting it pretty close but obviously the crews, dispatchers and controllers had a better sense of the situation. There were a few reports of windshear on final and some reports of continuous moderate turbulence (>FL080) and "extreme precip" but at no point did any of the crews seem alarmed or in danger.

777fan
DC-8 61/63/71 DC-9-30/50 MD-80/82/83 DC-10-10/30 MD-11 717 721/2 732/3/4/5/G/8/9 741/2/4 752 762/3 777 A306/319/20/33 AT
 
barney captain
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RE: Flying Through Tornado Weather

Mon Mar 05, 2012 5:38 am

Frankly, I'd have been somewhat more uneasy about WN's decision to crank a 733 with a gajillion cycles on up to FL400


I can assure you we didn't. You're putting far too much faith in the accuracy of flightaware - either the type or the altitude is incorrect. The classic's have a max certified altitude of FL 370.
Southeast Of Disorder
 
747fan
Posts: 862
Joined: Thu Jun 21, 2007 7:40 am

RE: Flying Through Tornado Weather

Tue Mar 06, 2012 2:23 am

Quoting Barney Captain (Reply 8):
Frankly, I'd have been somewhat more uneasy about WN's decision to crank a 733 with a gajillion cycles on up to FL400


I can assure you we didn't. You're putting far too much faith in the accuracy of flightaware - either the type or the altitude is incorrect. The classic's have a max certified altitude of FL 370.

For some reason Flightaware often mistakenly shows WN flights are operated by a 737-300 when its actually a -700. Almost certainly that flight was operated by a 73G.
 
runner13
Posts: 206
Joined: Mon Jun 07, 2010 10:00 pm

RE: Flying Through Tornado Weather

Tue Mar 06, 2012 6:26 am

Quoting 777fan (Reply 7):
I pulled up the BNA tower on liveatc as their supercell moved in - I thought they were cutting it pretty close but obviously the crews, dispatchers and controllers had a better sense of the situation. There were a few reports of windshear on final and some reports of continuous moderate turbulence (>FL080) and "extreme precip" but at no point did any of the crews seem alarmed or in danger.

I was working in the morning, and aside from a few rain showers with some thunder and lightning it was fine. I got off at 1330 though. Most pilots won't even fly through moderate precip. I'm sure all the pilots knew that supercell was coming, and wanted to get in and out before it hit. For departures, as long as they can get vectored around it, and there are not bad windshears on departures they will go, same with arrivals, but once you start getting microbursts no pilot will even take a chance with that. I was home listening to liveatc also, and watching the news. I knew exactly when it was going to hit. I live 10 miles east of BNA in Mt Juliet, and we got hit pretty hard also. I know they evacuated the tower, and was pretty much shut down for almost an hour. That supercell was one of the best storms I've been in in over 15 years of living in Nashville. The amount of hail was ridicolous. The tops of the storm were well above FL600. During the storm I didn't take cover but was not by a window as golf ball size hail was pounding the windows in my apt. I was just waiting for the windows to break. I was also afraid of my new 4runner getting beat to hell. There was also 100+ mph winds with that storm so the hail was coming hard and sideways. Fortunately for me, the windows in my apt never broke, and the 4runner didn't even have a scratch, now thats a well built car. There was 6 inches of ice in my parking lot, and found out today at work that they had to get the snowplows out at BNA to open up from all the hail. But thoughts go out to everyone that lost lives in that storm system. That supercell that passed over BNA and my complex did produce tornados a few counties east of me, but don't think anyone was injured.

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