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Is It Safe to Fly Over a Hurricane? A JetBlue plane flew right over Fiona

Is It Safe to Fly Over a Hurricane?  A JetBlue plane flew right over Fiona
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As Hurricane Fiona pulled away from the Dominican Republic and eventually strengthened into the first major Category 3 storm of the year, more than two dozen flights were canceled from the country’s main airport. But one made it.

The flight, which flew from Punta Cana to Newark via JetBlue late Monday, took off nearly five hours late, just after 7 p.m. It appeared on flight trackers as a lone vehicle in the midst of a swirling hurricane. It set off alarms from some weather and aviation observers, raising a question: can you fly over a hurricane?

“I saw the JetBlue flight that appears to have passed over Fiona and I will say depending on the cloud level you can fly over a hurricane,” tweeted Nick Underwood, an aerospace engineer who is a member of the National The Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Hurricane Hunters fly to collect critical data.

But, he added, “it’s still not something I would recommend.”

It’s not unprecedented for pilots to fly near or over storms, and it can be done safely, meteorologists and aviation experts said. pilots can Make decisions based on the weather in consultation with the Federal Aviation Administration and with their airlines’ own experts — as was the case Monday night, a JetBlue spokesman said. The JetBlue flight landed safely at Newark International Airport just before 11 p.m. Monday.

Flight trackers show several other JetBlue flights flew through Fiona Monday through Tuesday.

While the FAA provides some advisory information, it is ultimately up to the airlines and their team of weather forecasters to determine if a flight is safe enough for passengers.

Fiona races toward Canada as the threat to the US from new disruptions grows

The airline has been monitoring Fiona to determine routes for safe navigation around or over the system, spokesman Derek Dombrowski said, adding that the airline has canceled many flights that cannot safely depart.

“Each flight is planned by a team of experts, who then continuously monitor flight progress and the weather,” Dombrowski said in an email. “It’s important to understand that when planning a route, both the direction and elevation of the weather system factor into our decision-making.”

The main hazards of flying near or through hurricanes are lightning, hail, and winds, which are strongest near the center of a storm and change direction around it. There are also concerns about updrafts – strong, vertically directed gusts of wind that are present in any type of thunderstorm. A 2011 FAA report warns of the possibility of “violent turbulence anywhere within 20 miles of very severe thunderstorms.”

“An airplane high enough can safely fly over a hurricane as long as it avoids the discrete thunderstorms that sometimes occur alongside the hurricane,” said a spokesman for the Professional Pilots Association, a nonprofit group where pilots discuss safety. opposite The Washington Fast.

Still, such nearby conditions probably wouldn’t make for a comfortable flight, said Randy Bass, a board-certified consulting meteorologist who operates Bass Weather Services.

“I wouldn’t have wanted that on this flight,” Bass said.

According to the National Hurricane Center, Fiona was a Category 2 hurricane with maximum winds of 110 miles per hour in its core Monday night. Data shows that the height of its clouds would have made it difficult for any aircraft to dodge.

At the time of the flight, clouds around the eye of the hurricane were as high as 45,000 feet, while at the outer edges of the storm they were between about 33,000 and 39,000 feet, according to the satellite given. Generally, Category 2 hurricane clouds reach altitudes of about 33,000 to 46,000 feet.

A mapped trace of JetBlue Flight 1016 from Flightradar24 shows the Airbus A320 was flying at altitudes between about 30,000 feet and 34,000 feet when it flew past Fiona.

Even for the NOAA Hurricane Hunters, safety is a top priority when planning routes in and around hurricanes. The team, which collects data used to better understand and predict hurricanes, flies their Lockheed WP-3D Orion aircraft into the heart of storms at altitudes of 8,000 to 10,000 feet. To study conditions above and around hurricanes, it flies its Gulfstream IV-SP aircraft at an altitude of between 41,000 and 45,000 feet, spokesman Jonathan Shannon said.

Shannon said it’s difficult to estimate how high an airplane would need to be over a storm to avoid turbulence, noting that “every storm can be different.”

For better predictions, hurricane hunters examine deep inside storms

Hurricane Fiona battered Puerto Rico Sunday, leaving nearly 600,000 residents without power before moving towards the neighboring Dominican Republic. Hours before the flight, up to 20 inches of rain were reported on the eastern side of the Dominican Republic, where Punta Cana Airport is based, according to the National Hurricane Center. The center also warned of life-threatening flash floods and urban flooding in the area.

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