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Thunderstorms

Despite what you think, you won't have flown through a thunderstorm.

Even though air regulations require pilots to remain at least 20 miles from storms, many anxious flyers will  still claim that they have flown in, or through a thunderstorm. This false belief is a major cause of a fear of flying and is one of the reasons that fearful flyers don't want to fly to hot destinations! Thunderstorms are like any other clouds that have been formed by local currents of rising warm air.

At least 20 nautical miles from storms

At least 20 nautical miles from storms

During the day, the air is heated by the ground and rises. This air mass continues to rise until it is as cool as the surrounding air; when it reaches this level the moisture in the air is released and forms a cloud. Curiously though under some circumstances the cloud can actually stay warmer than the surrounding air and so it continues to rise. When this happens a thunderstorm can occur.

A thunderstorm starts as an ordinary fluffy cloud but continues to develop rather than reaching a steady state at a lower height. The circumstances for this to occur are infrequent, although in certain parts of the world they are more common because of the land masses or the meeting of different air flows. From the pilot's point of view, the weather radar in the cockpit will show the presence of thunderstorm activity from a distance of 120 miles, which means that the pilots have at least fifteen minutes to plan navigating around them. Pilots will inform air traffic control when they are deviating around thunderstorms and pilots will always inform each other of the height and the extent of any thunderstorm activity.

When lightning strikes an aircraft the plane acts like a Faraday's Cage which means the electricity doesn't go inside but stays on the surface. It leaves the plane via the things that look like paint brushes on the back of the wings near the tips and on the tailplane. Lightning does not affect the flight instruments.

Remember:

  • Your aircraft will not be flown through a thunderstorm.
  • Lightning is not a danger to aircraft.
  • It is likely to be turbulent in the vicinity of a thunderstorm.

(Thunderstorms CD Set Disc 2 Track 10).