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Aviation Weather Hazards

Mark Sinclair
Department of Meteorology
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
Prescott, Arizona
Weather radar, observing
equipment and balloon
launching on roof

ERAU Academic Complex

Weather center

Talk Overview
Survey of weather related accidents
Turbulence
Low-level turbulence and surface wind
Thermal turbulence
Microbursts
Mountain wave turbulence

IMC conditions

All weather related accidents


The following data are from the FAAs
National Aviation Safety Data Analysis
Center (NASDAC), Office of Aviation
Safety, Flight Standards Service and
are based on NTSB accident data.
Data from all accidents, the majority
non-fatal
http://www.asias.faa.gov/aviation_studi
es/weather_study/studyindex.html

Weather related accidents

Nearly 87% or 7 out of


8 of these involved
general aviation
operations

General Aviation

GA

Commuter
Ag
Air carrier

19,562 total accidents


4,159 (21.3%) weather related
Main cause = wind

GA weather-related fatalities
a study by D.C. Pearson (NWS)
http://www.srh.noaa.gov/topics/attach/html/
ssd02-18.htm
Looked at NTSB data from 2,312 GA fatal
accidents in the US during 1995-2000
Weather a factor in 697 or 30% of all GA
fatalities
A similar study by AOPA showed an
average of 35% but declining
Weather a bigger factor in FATAL accidents
than for non-fatal

GA weather related fatalities (cont.)


NTSB cited NWS weather support to be a
contributing factor in only two (0.3%) of the
697 weather-related fatal accidents.
NTSB cited FSS support to be a factor in only
five (0.7%) of the accidents.
NTSB cited inadequate ATC support only nine
times (1.3%)
Combined, NWS, FSS and ATC = 2.3%
Pilot error accounted for remaining 97.7%
Continued flight into IMC the leading cause of GA
weather-related fatalities

Flight Safety and Weather


Clearly, the responsibility for flight safety is
YOU, the pilot
You need to brief (up to 41% dont)
Clear sky and light wind now does not
mean it will be that way
One hour from now
50 miles from here
1,000 ft AGL

Fatal GA accidents

Causes of

Aviation Weather Hazards


Surface wind is the major listed hazard
in in ALL weather related GA accidents
Continued flight into IMC conditions
(reduced visibility and/or low ceilings)
the leading cause of FATAL GA
accidents

A. Turbulence
Bumpiness in flight
Four types
Low-level turbulence (LLT)
Turbulence near thunderstorms (TNT)
Clear-air turbulence above 15,000 ft (CAT)
Mountain wave turbulence (MWT)

Measured as
Light, moderate or severe
G-load, air speed fluctuations, vertical gust

Turbulence in PIREPs
Turbulence Frequency

Turbulence Intensity

Turbulence
Can be thought of as random
eddies within linear flow

Hi!
Im an
eddy

Turbulence
Linear wind and eddy components
add to gusts and lulls, up and down
drafts that are felt as turbulence
20 kt gust

15 kt wind

updraft

5 kt
eddy
10 kt lull

downdraft

Low-level Turbulence (LLT)


Occurs in the boundary layer
Surface layer of the atmosphere in which
the effect of surface friction is felt
Typically 3,000 ft deep, but varies a lot
Friction is largest at surface, so wind
increases with height in friction layer
Vertical wind shear turbulence

Important for landing and takeoffs


Results in pitch, yaw and roll

Low-level Turbulence (LLT)

Factors that make low-level


turbulence (LLT) stronger
Unstable air encourages turbulence
Air is unstable when the surface is heated
Air is most unstable during the afternoon
Cumulus clouds or gusty surface winds
generally indicate an unstable atmosphere

Strong wind
More energy for turbulent eddies

Rough terrain
When LLT is stronger than usual, the
turbulent layer is deeper than usual

Low-level turbulence (LLT)


Mechanical
Created by topographic obstacles like
mountains, and by buildings and trees
Increases with increasing flow speed and
increasing surface heating (afternoon)

Thermal
Occurs when air is heated from below, as on a
summer afternoon
Increases with surface heating

Mechanical Turbulence
Created by topographic obstacles in flow
Increases in both depth and intensity with
increasing wind strength and decreasing
stability. Worst in afternoon
Extends above 3000 ft for gusts more than 50 kt

Strongest just downwind of obstacles


Over flat terrain, mechanical turbulence
intensity is usually strongest just above
surface and decreases with height

Mechanical Turbulence (cont.)


Over flat terrain
Maximum surface wind gusts are typically 40%
stronger than the sustained wind
Moderate or greater turbulence for surface
wind > 30 kt
When sustained surface wind exceeds 20 kt,
expect air speed fluctuations of 10-20 kts on
approach
Use power on approach and power on landing
during gusty winds
Sudden lulls may put your airspeed below stall

Thermal turbulence
Produced by thermals (rising bubbles of
warm air) during day in unstable airmass
Common on sunny days with light wind
Stronger above sun-facing slopes in pm
Turbulence intensity typically increases
with height from surface and is strongest
3-6,000 ft above the surface

Thermal turbulence (cont.)


Generally light to moderate
Commonly reported CONT LGT-MOD

Usually occurs in light wind situations, but


can combine with mechanical turbulence
on windy days
Often capped by inversion
Top of haze layer (may be Sc cloud)
~3,000 ft, but up to 20,000 ft over desert in
summer
Smoother flight above the inversion

Deep summer convective boundary


layer causes thermal turbulence
(more stable air above)

up to 20,000 MSL

thermal

thermal

dust devil

Hot, dry, unstable air

Towering cumulus over Prescott


Fall 2000
Photo by Joe Aldrich

Dry microbursts from high


based thunderstorms
When precipitation falls through unsaturated air,
evaporative cooling may produce dry microbursts
Result in very hazardous shear conditions
Visual clue: fallstreaks or virga (fall streaks that
dont reach the ground)

Flight
path of
plane

45 kt
headwind

45 kt
downburst

45 kt
tailwind

Downburst (Phoenix, AZ)


July 2003Photo by Phillip Zygmunt

Downburst (Prescott Valley, AZ)


1999Photo by Jacob Neider

The nocturnal boundary layer

Clear nights, moderate flow


Shallow friction layer
Greatly reduced turbulence
Lack of mixing possibility of strong
vertical shear
Surface air decoupled from gradient flow in
free air above friction layer
Surface flow often unrelated to pressure
pattern (and flow above friction layer)

May have super-gradient flow and


turbulence at top of inversion

Friction layer during day

Friction layer during night

3,000 ft

Deep
turbulent
friction
layer

Shallow
nonturbulent
friction
layer

Strong turbulence during day


means a deep layer is stirred

Reduced turbulence means


only a shallow layer is mixed

Mixing means 3,000 ft wind


better mixed down to surface

Suppressed downward mixing


means surface wind falls to
near zero at night

Stronger turbulence, reduced


vertical wind shear

Stronger vertical shear

Diurnal variation of surface wind


Wind at 3,000 ft AGL

Wind speed (kt)

30

20

Surface wind is
stronger and
more turbulent
during afternoon

Surface
wind

10

0
Midnight

6am

noon

6pm

Midnight

2. Mountain Wave Turbulence

In mountainous terrain ...


Watch for strong downdrafts on lee side
Climb above well above highest peaks
before crossing mountain or exiting valley

Intensity of turbulence increases with


wind speed and steepness of terrain
Highest wind speed directly above crest
of ridge and on downwind side
Maximum turbulence near and downwind
of mountain

Air flow over mountains


Upwin
d

Airflow

Orographic cloud and


possible IMC conditions
on upwind side

Downwin
d

Strongest wind speed and


turbulence on downwind
side, also warm and dry
Desired flight path
ght
i
l
f
l
a
u
Act

Splat!

Mountain

path

Mountain wave turbulence (MWT)


Produces the most violent turbulence
(other than TS)
Occurs in two regions to the lee of
mountains:
1. Near the ground and
2. Near the tropopause
Turbulence at and below mountain top level is
associated with rotors
Turbulence near tropopause associated with
breaking waves in the high shear regions just
above and below trop

Stratosphere

Rules of Thumb for Predicting Turbulence

Tropopause

Turbulent Layer 2
2kft above to 6kft below trop

Troposphere

Lenticular
Cloud

Roll
Cloud
Cap
Cloud

Miles 0

Turbulent Layer 1 - SFC-~7kft above peaks

10 12 14 16 18 20

Mountain Wave (> 25kt perpendicular component /stable air are key)

MWT (cont)
Severity increases with increasing wind
speed at mountain crest
For mountain top winds between 25 and 50 kt,
expect mod turb at all levels between the surface
and 5,000 ft above the trop
For mountain top winds > 50 kt, expect severe
turb 50-150 miles downstream of mountain at
and below rotor level, and within 5,000 ft of the
tropopause
Severe turb in boundary layer. May be violent
downslope winds
Dust may indicate rotor cloud (picture)

Mountain wave terminology


Breaking
waves

Wave clouds (altocumulus lenticularis)

Inversion

Fohn
cloud
wall

Hydraulic
jump

rotor

Mountain Waves
Mountain waves become more
pronounced as height increases and
may extend into the stratosphere
Some pilots have reported mountain waves
at 60,000 feet.
Vertical airflow component of a standing
wave may exceed 8,000 feet per minute

Vertical shear may cause mountain


waves to break, creating stronger
turbulence
Often happens below jet streak or near front

Breaking Wave Region


Vertically-propagating waves with
sufficient amplitude may break in the
troposphere or lower stratosphere.

cap
cloud

Rotor cloud
Wind

Rotor
cloud

Lee Waves
Lee waves propagate horizontally because of strong
wind shear or low stability above.These waves are
typically at an altitude within a few thousand feet of
the mountain ridge crest.

Lee waves (cont.)


Lee waves are usually smooth,
however, turbulence occurs in
them near the tropopause
Avoid lenticular cloud with
ragged or convective edges
Watch for smooth (but rapid)
altitude changes

Lee wave clouds in NZ

Lee wave photos

Satellite photo of lee


waves over Scotland

Flow over/around mountains


Strongest flow near top and on downwind
side
For stable air and/or lighter winds, air will
tend to go around rather than over
mountain
For less stable air and strong winds, air
will go over mountain

Mountain Wave Accidents

In 1966, a mountain wave ripped apart a


BOAC Boeing 707 while it flew near Mt.
Fuji in Japan.
In 1992 a Douglas DC-8 lost an engine
and wingtip in mountain wave encounters

Example: Extreme
MWT encounter
DC8 cargo plane over
Evergreen, CO 9 Dec 92
encountered extreme CAT at
FL 310
Left outboard engine,
19 ft of wing ripped off
10 sec duration,
500 ft vertical excursions,
20 deg left/right rolls
Safe landing at Stapleton

Turbulence PIREPs

Web sites for turbulence information


http://adds.aviationweather.gov/
Hit the turbulence button

http://www.dispatcher.org/brief/adfbrief.html
Lots of aviation links to real time weather info
Look down to turbulence section

These are tools to help pilots better


visualize aviation weather hazards.
Not intended as a substitute for a weather
briefing from a Flight Service Station

B. Instrument Meteorological
Conditions

Instrument Meteorological Conditions


(Ceiling and visibility below specified minimum values)
and/or

Category
VFR
(Visual flight rules)

MVFR
(Marginal VFR)

IFR
(Instrument flight
rules)

LIFR
(Low IFR)

Ceiling

vis

(feet AGL) (miles)

None or > > 5


3,000
1,000 to 3 to 5
3,000
500 to 1 to 3
1000
< 500

<1

IFR/MVFR/VFR
VFR- Visible Flight Rules Pilot must be able to
see the ground at all times.
MVFR Marginal VFR conditions. Still legally
VFR but pilots should be aware of conditions
that may exceed their capabilities
IFR Instrument Flight Rules Pilot has special
training and equipment to fly in clouds.
LIFR Low IFR.

Fog-Visibility IFR/MVFR/VFR

VFR Visibility greater than 5 miles.


MVFR Visibility 3-5 miles.
IFR Visibility 1-3 miles.
LIFR Visibility less than 1 mile.
Red IFR
Magenta LIFR
Blue MVFR

Cloud Ceiling IFR/MVFR/VFR

VFR - Ceiling greater than 3,000 ft.


MVFR Ceiling 1,000 to 3,000 ft.
IFR Ceiling less than 1,000 ft.
LIFR Ceiling less than 500 ft.

IFR may be cause by either (or both)


ceiling and visibility restrictions.

D. C. Pearson, 2002

IFR conditions are a factor in over half of the General Aviation weather related accidents

Meteorological Causes of
IFR Conditions
Fog (radiation fog, advection fog)
Precipitation (snow, heavy rain)
Low Clouds (lifting, cooling)
High surface Relative Humidity (RH)
common factor in all causes of IFR

1. Fog

Fog
Fog = low cloud with base < 50 ft AGL
Generally reported when vis <5 miles and
there is no precipitation reducing visibility
Formed by condensation of water vapor on
condensation nuclei
Longer-lived when layer of cloud above
Need
A cooling mechanism
Moisture

Either lower T (cool) or raise DP (add


moisture)

Mist
Mist (BR) is reported as "A visible
aggregate of minute water droplets or ice
crystals suspended in the atmosphere that
reduces visibility to less than 7 statute
miles but greater than or equal to 5/8
statute mile."

Fog
Can be considered as a low stratus cloud in
contact with the ground. When the fog lifts, it
usually becomes true stratus. This photo shows
fog over the Pemigewasset River basin with
clear skies elsewhere.

Foggy Weather

Fog types
Radiation fog
Air near ground cools by radiation to saturation
Also called ground fog
Needs clear night, light breeze < 5 kts and high
surface relative humidity at nightfall

Advection fog
Occurs when warm moist air moves over colder
bodies of water (sea fog), or over cold land
Needs winds up to about 15 kt
Occurs mostly near coasts, day or night
California coast (+ other upwelling regions)
Near Gulf coast in winter in southerly flow

Fog types (cont.)


Upslope fog
Occurs on windward side of mountains
Moist air moves upslope and cools

Precipitation fog
Occurs with surface inversion during rain
Occurs over land areas in winter
Raindrops fall to cold ground and saturate
the air there first

Three thermodynamic types


Warm fog (temp > 0C)
Supercooled fog (-30C < temp < 0C)
Ice fog (temp < -30C)

The COMET program

Radiation Fog Near Ground in


Valley

Advection Fog over San


Francisco

Fog Formation over San Francisco

Onshore Winds Advect Fog Inland

Types of Fog - Upslope Fog


Air is lifted by moving up to higher ground.

Upslope Fog Example

Types of Fog - Precipitation Fog


Rain falling into layer of cold air
Evaporation below cloud base raises
the dew-point and lowers the
temperature
Typically occurs in winter when there is
a surface inversion
The precipitation itself can also lower
visibility to below IFR criteria in heavy
snow or rain conditions

Questions pilots should consider


regarding fog before they take off:
1. How close is the temperature to the dew point?
Do I expect the temperature-dew point spread to
diminish, creating saturation, or to increase?
2. What time of day is it? Will it get colder and form
fog, or will it get warmer and move further from
saturation?
3. What is the geography? Is this a valley where
there will be significant cold air drainage?
Will there be upslope winds that might cool and
condense?
4. What is the larger scale weather picture? Will it be
windy, suppressing radiation fog formation? Is
warm, moist air moving over a cold surface?

Climatology of IMC
In west, highest frequency of IFR conditions
occur in
Pacific northwest - lots of cyclones & fronts
> 40% in winter

California coast - coastal upwelling & fog


LA basin - smog
Elswhere in west < 10% IFR conditions

Higher frequency in east, particularly in


midwest and south
In IL, IN, OH, PA, > 50% frequency in winter
Also > 40% along Gulf coast in winter

Climatology of IMC, winter


40-50

< 10

10-40

10-40
40-50

40-50

10-40

> 50

< 10

10-40
10-40

10-40

40-50

< 10
40-50

10-40

Identification of Current IFR Conditions


AWC - Aviation Weather Center
red dots IFR, magenta dots LIFR, blue dots MVFR

Also shows Icing and Turbulence reports

Other Sources of Current IFR Conditions


AWC Standard Brief Satellite with AFC
AWC - Standard Brief
ADDS (Aviation Digital Data Service run by
AWC) Metar regional plots are color coded for
IFR conditions ADDS METARs
ADDS Interactive Java tool using sky cover
ADDS - METARs Java Tool
NCAR-RAP Surface Observations (similar to
ADDS site) RAP Real-Time Weather

IFR Forecast Products


Terminal Area Forecast (TAF) Text product
issued by WFOs for selected airports. Hourly
resolution of prevailing and temporary surface
conditions for up to 24 hours into the future.
TAF provide visibility and cloud ceilings, which
can be related to IFR conditions
TAF has standard format so can be decoded
and displayed as graphics or plain text.

Sources of TAF Forecasts


ADDS TAFs Available as plotted maps for a
single time for a given region for prevailing or
tempo conditions. Also available in text form in
raw or translated formats for a given single
station (need to know 4 letter ID).
ADDS - TAFs Java Tool Mouse over map for
raw TAF data at any station.
Aviation Weather Center (AWC) - TAF Graphics
Mouse over times and data types showing US
prevailing or tempo conditions (3 hour resolution)
in graphical form for IFR conditions.

Area Forecasts
Text product generated by AWC.
Covers state or part of state VFR
conditions for 12 hours into future with 6
hour outlook.
Coded format not decoded into
graphics.
Available at
http://aviationweather.gov/products/fa/
NWS plans to develop graphical Area
Forecast product in future.

AIRMET
AIRMET regularly issued for IFR or
Mountain Obscuration conditions covering
at least 50% of an area.
6 hour forecast with 6 hour outlook
Text product with graphical products
generated from decoding of from lines.
Available at ADDS - AIRMETs

Model Guidance
NCEP Short Range Ensemble (multiple model
runs which generate probabilities). Aviation
products at SREF Aviation Products. Available
for 3 day outlooks.
TDL Model Output Statistics (MOS) (statistical
relationship of model parameters and observed
conditions) for visibility and ceiling probabilities
and most likely conditions. Available at MAV
MOS Graphics. Available for 3 day outlooks.

Forecasting LIFR is Difficult


LIFR=Low IFR

POD=Probability of Detection
It happened - was it forecast?

FAR=False Alarm Rate


It was forecast but did not occur.

Less than half of the observed


LIFR conditions were forecast
correctly at TUL.

About 75% of the time LIFR


was forecast, it did not happen.

Online Weather information and


Forecasts to reiterate:
These are tools to help pilots better
visualize aviation weather hazards.
Not intended as a substitute for a weather
briefing from a Flight Service Station

Summary
Issues to do with low-level wind are the
main weather hazard facing GA
Probably includes cross winds, low-level
turbulence, mountain effects and shear

Continued flight into IMC conditions the


main cause of GA fatalities
Get a weather brief from your FSS
Get a weather brief from your FSS
Get a weather brief from your FSS

Talk Web site


http://meteo.pr.erau.edu/aviation_weather
_hazards.ppt
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University has
a degree program in Meteorology.
Check us out at http://meteo.pr.erau.edu

Thank you

Any questions?
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