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3 Reasons Microbursts Are More Hazardous In The Mountains

Microbursts are dangerous anywhere, but in the mountains, they pose an even greater threat.

1) Dry Climate

The southwestern region of the United States has the driest climate in the country. As a result, even light rain can create strong downdrafts as rain evaporates on its way to the ground. This creates virga and dry microbursts, which are microbursts without precipitation that can be difficult to detect visually, especially from lower altitudes.

2) Valley Wind Break-In

Microbursts are most commonly found in the dissipating stage of a thunderstorm. On flat ground in most of the United States, a microburst will disperse in all directions. However, in the mountains, the slopes restrict where the downdrafts flow.

The valleys act as a funnel that redirects the downdraft parallel to the valley walls. Since the energy of the downdraft isn't able to be dispersed in all directions, the flow of air racing down the valley is accelerated, posing a wind shear risk to your aircraft.

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3) Degraded Climb Performance

If you're climbing over mountains, then odds are you're at a fairly high altitude. Depending on the type of aircraft you're flying, you may be nearing the limits of your aircraft's climb performance. Combine this with downdrafts associated with microbursts (which can be over 6,000 ft/min) or virga, and your aircraft's performance limitations can easily be exceeded.

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Have you seen a microburst in flight? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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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 corey@boldmethod.com.

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