Who Would Fly On A Weather Day Like This? Flying From Seattle to Miami - With All The Weather In Between
So, the cool thing that the AWC's Flight Path Tool does (and I wouldn't recommend using it unless you know what you're doing), is that it shows a cross-section of your flight route from sea-level to about 44,000 feet. Most airplanes won't travel any higher than that altitude. Using these cross-sections, pilots can then find the best-suited flight level for a comfortable, safe, and fuel-efficient flight.
The wind barbs are depicted (they look like arrows without a head). Each thin feather on them represent 10 knots of wind, each half-feather an additional 5 knots, and each flag (filled-in triangle) represents 50 knots of wind. To make things more confusing, these winds in the cross-section are not blowing in the vertical axis, but the horizontal. So, for instance, a barb pointed down is flowing from north to south, while a barb pointed right is depicting wind flow from the west to the east. These, of course, just like speed, change with altitude. This is known as "wind shear", and can create turbulence.
If you notice the brown spikes in the cross-section - that's terrain (mountains and such). To fly from Seattle to Miami, we have to fly over several mountain ranges, including the Rocky Mountains, and those get pretty high in elevation. Wouldn't want to fly into one of those...
The first cross section (above) shows temperature through the atmosphere. A common misconception is that the troposphere ends and the stratosphere begins at a specific fixed altitude - and this is not true. High Pressures and Low Pressures determine the placement of the tropopause, which delineates the stratosphere from the troposphere. Under High Pressure, which is common during this time of year over the Rockies, cold air from the stratosphere sinks. Under Low Pressure, like today east of the Rockies, warm air from the troposphere rises. We can see that very clearly in this cross-section, where I've drawn in where the current tropopause exists.
Next, we see a depiction of relative humidity through the atmosphere- a great indicator of clouds versus dry air. From this image, it looks like the flight route may be just above the clouds (at 30,000 feet) over the Rockies, but once you make it to the Southeast United States (roughly Arkansas), we'll probably hit some clouds at whichever flight level we choose.
Turbulence is always on the mind of anyone flying. With strong winds through the West, it will probably be a bit bumpy on takeoff and through the intermountain west, especially since a cold front if moving through the region perpendicular to the mountain ranges (which causes a pretty bumpy ride). The bigger story, however, is the turbulence in the same place we caw the clouds, and the big jump in the troposphere/stratosphere delineation (and the strongest wind speeds and direction change). Not surprisingly, this is also where some pretty violent weather is expected today. Since that's the case, it's probable that air traffic controllers will route air traffic away from this area.
- Meteorologist Dan Schreiber
Also posted at DanielSchreiber.org
Dan Schreiber is a freelance meteorologist with experience