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6 Of The Most Dangerous Weather Hazards In Aviation

You can't control the weather, but you can safely operate around it. Here are 6 of the most dangerous hazards you can face in your flying.

1) Wind Shear

Wind shear can occur at any altitude, but it's most dangerous at low altitudes during takeoff or landing. A rapid airspeed loss on final approach from wind shear can get you uncomfortably close to stall speed. Watch for wind shear reports from other pilots, and add half the gust factor on windy day landings to help protect yourself from a rapid airspeed loss from wind shear.

2) Icing

Freezing temps and visible moisture are the two ingredients you need to get structural icing. Even as things warm up this Spring, you can run into low freezing levels with the right weather system. Make sure you're thinking about how to avoid ice, as well as exit strategies if you do encounter it.

Typically, the most severe icing exists at the tops of the clouds, and most icing bands are no more than 3,000 feet thick. Plan to avoid cruise flight in the cloud tops, and always have an out if icing is worse than forecast.

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3) Thunderstorms

Thunderstorms produce the most severe weather you can find in aviation. And you don't need to be in a thunderstorm to be in trouble. Thunderstorms can launch hail out of themselves up to 20 miles away. Strong downdrafts and microbursts can form underneath them. And severe turbulence is always a possibility near convective clouds.

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4) Wake Turbulence

Every aircraft produces some amount of wake turbulence. Remember the saying "heavy, clean, and slow." That's where the strongest wingtip vortices form. If you're taking off behind a larger aircraft, wait at least 3 minutes for the vortices to dissipate. And if you're landing behind a larger aircraft, fly a higher glide path, and land beyond their touchdown point to avoid flying through their vortices.

5) IMC

Inadvertent flight into IMC is one of the deadliest mistakes you can make in general aviation. According to the Nall Report, VFR flight into IMC accounts for over 25% of all fatalities in GA flying.

If the weather starts deteriorating on your flight, start looking for diversion airports, and don't delay your decision to divert. If weather conditions start falling apart quickly, consider a 180 degree turn, and fly back to better weather.

It can take up to 60 seconds for experienced IFR pilots to orient themselves in the clouds. If you're a VFR pilot, or you're an instrument rated pilot that isn't proficient, you may be getting yourself into something you can't handle (not to mention, it's not legal).

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6) Microbursts

Microbursts pose serious climb performance hazards that you can't outclimb. Microbursts can produce downdrafts of up to 6,000 ft/min, and last time we checked, there aren't many GA aircraft that can climb that fast.

Look for the signs of microbursts. Remember that you might not be able to see a microburst descending out of a cloud, and instead, you'll need to look for signs of it blowing dust up from the ground.

Corey Komarec

Corey is an Embraer 175 First Officer for a large regional airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota, and he's been flying since he was 16. You can reach him at corey@boldmethod.com.

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