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4 Ways To Recognize Mountain Wave From The Air


As fall arrives, the jet stream starts moving south, creating more cross-barrier flow over the mountain ranges of the US. The next time you fly near mountainous or hilly terrain, look for these indications of mountain wave activity.

1) Pitch Oscillations

Mountain waves, like any wave, have troughs and ridges. As you encounter a mountain wave, your aircraft will pitch up as you fly into the ridge, and pitch down as you fly into the trough. Depending on the strength of the wave, your oscillations can range from minor pitch oscillations, to pitch changes in excess of 7.5+ degrees.


2) Airspeed Oscillations

As your pitch changes, your airspeed will also change. As you approach a ridge, your aircraft pitches up, causing your airspeed to bleed off a few knots. The opposite happens as your aircraft enters a trough and pitches down. Depending on the severity of the mountain wave, the changes in airspeed could range from 2-3 knots in light wave, to 15+ knots in stronger mountain waves.


3) Cross Barrier Flow

Mountain wave formation is most likely when the winds aloft are traveling at fast velocities, perpendicular to a ridgeline. The next time you are flying, take a look at the wind direction and speed readout on your aircraft and compare it to the ridgelines you plan to cross. This can help you assess the likelihood of mountain waves forming along your route.


4) Wave Clouds

The easiest way to detect mountain waves before you actually experience them is simply by looking at the clouds. There are a few cloud types that are generated by the presence of mountain wave. For example, standing lenticulars or rotor clouds are a direct indication that mountain waves are present.


Have you ever experienced mountain waves? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Be more comfortable flying around the mountains this fall.

It's easy to think that mountain weather only happens in places like the Rockies. But the hills of Eastern Ohio can produce the same types of weather year-round. If you've ever flown near the Appalachians, you probably experienced mountain weather, even if you didn't realize it was happening.

Whether you're flying on the East Coast, the Coastal Ranges of California, or any of the rough terrain in between, Boldmethod's Mountain Weather course makes you confident and comfortable flying around the mountains.

You'll learn how to evaluate mountain weather during your planning and while you're in flight. You'll also learn how terrain generates updrafts, downdrafts, turbulence, and storms, and changes the direction of the wind throughout the day.

Plus, for less than the cost of a cross-country flight, you get lifetime access to tools that increase your confidence and make your flights more fun.

Ready to get started? Click here to purchase Mountain Weather now.

Corey Komarec

Corey is an Airbus 320 First Officer for a U.S. Major Carrier. 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

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