TO THE FRIENDLY SKIES: How weather impacts our flights’ safety


BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. – When flying a plane, how important is knowing the weather?

“It’s probably the most important factor that we have as pilots next to the maintenance of our airplanes.”

Joel Kirk, Director of Fairmont State University’s Aviation Center of Excellence

From knowing the wind speeds throughout the different levels of the atmosphere to following thunderstorms along the flight path – knowing the ins and outs of meteorology is one of the first things frequent fliers need to know before adventuring through the friendly skies.

Joel Kirk, the Director of Fairmont State University’s Aviation Center of Excellence, said that Mother Nature could be our pilots’ biggest opponent.

Chief Meteorologist Scott Sincoff speaks with Joel Kirk, the Director of Fairmont State University’s Aviation Center of Excellence

“There is probably no bigger threat out there for us as pilots so what I tell my students at Fairmont State is to become a weather expert. It is the most important thing for all aspects whether we’re going to conduct a flight; and if we’re going to conduct a flight, are we going to do it safely?” said Kirk.

With improving radar and GPS technology, the safety of flight is improving by the day. This helps aviators know in advance if they will be able to safely take off and land.

But like anything, Mother Nature will throw some curveballs at our flying friends, depending on the kind of aircraft that will be flown.

Some of these weather events could include ice and snow; frozen precipitation weighing airplanes down, reducing lift if the ice and snow are on the wing, and making sure that runways are clear of ice and snow to make it safe to land and take off.

Powerful wind gusts throughout the upper levels of the atmosphere could cause turbulence on the aircraft. Strong wind shear and crosswinds also could play a factor.

Visibility also plays a role because the pilots need to see for miles in order for the aircraft to depart and land safely.

However, the biggest weather threat for flying according to Kirk is “Thunderstorms. We don’t like flying airplanes into thunderstorms. What we’ve learned from our meteorologists is that thunderstorms have a lot of anomalies associated with them. In addition to the electricity, the hail, the icing conditions, the winds.”

Dangerous, destructive, and damaging as they may be, it all comes down to one thing: checking the weather to ensure your safety.

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