Is it safe to fly over a hurricane? A JetBlue plane flew over Fiona

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As Hurricane Fiona moved away from the Dominican Republic, eventually developing into the first major Category 3 storm of the year, more than two dozen flights from the country’s largest airport were canceled. But one got away.

The flight, which was heading from Punta Cana to Newark via JetBlue on Monday evening, took off nearly 5 hours late, just after 7 p.m. It appeared on flight trackers as a lone craft in the middle of a swirling hurricane. This raised alarm among some weather and aviation watchers and prompted a question: Can you fly through a hurricane?

“I saw the JetBlue flight which apparently passed over Fiona and I will say depending on the height of the clouds you CAN fly over a hurricane,” tweeted Nick Underwood, an aerospace engineer who flies to the heart. storms as a member of the Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Hurricane Hunters to collect vital data.

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

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

Flight tracks show that several other JetBlue flights passed through Fiona from Monday to Tuesday.

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

Fiona heads to Canada as threat to US grows from further disruption

The airline was monitoring Fiona to determine routes to safely navigate around or over the system, spokesman Derek Dombrowski said, adding that the airline had canceled many flights that could not take off safely. .

“Each flight is planned by a team of experts who then constantly monitor the progress of the flight and the weather,” Dombrowski in an email. “It’s important to understand that when routing a flight, the direction and height of the weather system is factored 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 vary in direction around it. There are also concerns about updrafts – strong vertically oriented gusts of wind present in any type of thunderstorm. A 2011 FAA report warns of the possibility of “severe turbulence anywhere within 20 miles of very severe thunderstorms”.

“A plane, when high enough, can safely fly above a hurricane as long as it avoids individual thunderstorms that are sometimes adjacent to the hurricane,” a spokesperson told The Post. of the Professional Pilots Association, a non-profit group through which pilots discuss safety. .

Still, such nearby conditions probably wouldn’t make a flight enjoyable, said Randy Bass, a certified consulting meteorologist who runs Bass Weather Services.

“I didn’t want to be on this flight,” Bass said.

Fiona was a Category 2 hurricane with peak wind speeds of 110 mph at its core Monday night, according to the National Hurricane Center. Data shows that the height of its clouds would have made it difficult to avoid any aircraft.

At the time of the flight, clouds around the hurricane’s eye were up to 45,000 feet, while on the outer fringes of the storm, they were between 33,000 and 39,000 feet, according to satellite data. Typically, Category 2 hurricane clouds reach elevations of approximately 33,000 to 46,000 feet.

A map trace of JetBlue Flight 1016 from Flightradar24 shows that the Airbus A320 flew at altitudes between around 30,000ft and 34,000ft as it passed near Fiona.

Even for hurricane hunters, safety is a primary consideration when planning routes to and around hurricanes. The team, which gathers data used to better understand and predict hurricanes, flies its Lockheed WP-3D Orion aircraft into the heart of storms at altitudes of 8,000 to 10,000 feet. To explore conditions above and around hurricanes, he flies his Gulfstream IV-SP plane between 41,000 and 45,000 feet, spokesman Jonathan Shannon said.

Shannon said it would be difficult to estimate how high a plane would need to be above a storm to avoid turbulence, noting that “every storm can be different”.

For better predictions, hurricane hunters probe deep into storms

Hurricane Fiona hit Puerto Rico on Sunday, leaving nearly 600,000 residents without power before displacing neighboring Dominican Republic. Hours before the flight, up to 20 inches of rain was reported on the eastern side of the Dominican Republic, where the Punta Cana airport is located, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC). The NHC also warned of potentially deadly flash and urban flooding in the area.

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