Flying During Tornado Season

oldman

Well-known Member
Location
PA
If you have been watching the weather recently, then you have noticed the many devastating tornadoes that have again been plaguing the central states.

When I was flying, I would sometimes have either Dallas or Oklahoma City as my destination. On occasions, those areas would either be experiencing or have warnings of tornadoes in place. To be flying into these locales where these storms are present always presented a bad idea to either attempt to land or land shortly after a storm has passed through. Many times, one tornado is followed by a second one.

For the sake of being safe, it was always a good idea to divert, even if we were not ordered to. I know it’s hard for some people to comprehend when I would tell them that passengers would be very upset when we would divert for safety concerns. Many passengers would rather have “chanced it.”

Pilots want to stay alive as do the passengers and this is why we take no chances, yet some passengers always complained that we should have landed. Really?
 

Do believe most of us would prefer safety protocols be observed. Having once skidded off the runway on landing in high winds I especially like the idea.
 

Don M.

Well-known Member
Location
central Missouri
Having lived in Wichita, KS., for a few years, and just this past week, seeing the damage caused in Jefferson City, MO., I would Not want to fly in/out of an airport that had a recent tornado pass through the area. The debris field of one of these storms can scatter debris for quite a distance, and it only takes a small piece of junk entering a jet engine to cause a major aircraft disaster. Far better, IMO, to suffer some minor travel delays, than to risk being involved in an aircraft crash. At the bare minimum, it can take hours for airport crews to clean the runways after one of these violent storms.
 

oldman

Well-known Member
Location
PA
Original Poster
Here’s a good story. We had just taken off from L.A. and our destination was Miami with a stopover in Kansas City when I received a radio message (or call) from United’s Security desk stating that we needed to either return to the airport or divert to Houston due to weather concerns being issued in the Kansas City area. They had been in a tornado warning and was going to be for the next several hours.

I had the First Officer do the math to figure if we had enough fuel to get to Houston. I was one of those Captains that always ordered more than the extra 45 minutes that United wanted us to. After the First Officer had finished the calculation, he told me that we were good to go.

Because I was flying the plane, I had the F/O announce to the passengers that we would be diverting to Houston due to the weather situation in Kansas City and upon arrival, a United rep would meet with them before deplaning to discuss the return plan. About an hour later, the Purser handed me a sheet of paper marked, “Petition.” They had 180 or so signatures on the petition out of the 230 passengers requesting that we land in Kansas City.

I spoke to the passengers over the intercom and told them that I couldn’t do that even if I agreed with them. I explained that this was a company decision and one that I supported. I couldn’t believe that these people wanted me to risk their lives, my crew’s life and the plane because they didn’t want to be displaced from their intended arrival city.
 

oldman

Well-known Member
Location
PA
Original Poster
Having lived in Wichita, KS., for a few years, and just this past week, seeing the damage caused in Jefferson City, MO., I would Not want to fly in/out of an airport that had a recent tornado pass through the area. The debris field of one of these storms can scatter debris for quite a distance, and it only takes a small piece of junk entering a jet engine to cause a major aircraft disaster. Far better, IMO, to suffer some minor travel delays, than to risk being involved in an aircraft crash. At the bare minimum, it can take hours for airport crews to clean the runways after one of these violent storms.
Don: Were you ever in a tornado? When I lived in Cleveland, I saw one on land and a few out over Lake Erie. The one on land did a lot of damage to trees, but only minor damage to a few houses, such as a roof and some siding. No fatalities, thankfully.

I was in St. Louis years ago when I was still flying for Air Wisconsin and waiting to depart to Louisville. We hadn’t closed the door yet when our gate agent came onboard and told us that we had to deplane because a tornado had been spotted in the area. We ended up having a 2-hour wait and never did see the thing.
 

Don M.

Well-known Member
Location
central Missouri
Don: Were you ever in a tornado? When I lived in Cleveland, I saw one on land and a few out over Lake Erie. The one on land did a lot of damage to trees, but only minor damage to a few houses, such as a roof and some siding. No fatalities, thankfully.

Yes....when we lived in Wichita, KS., we sat through several "near misses". Luckily, we escaped any damage, but one time, a tornado came right over the top of us, and destroyed homes and businesses about 1/4 mile on either side of us. The neighborhood we lived in had a tornado shelter, and it seemed like we had to head there at least 4 or 5 times every Spring.

Just last night, another heavy storm came through the area....this time in Kansas City...and destroyed several homes in the western suburbs. The Kansas City airport was shut down for several hours as they had to clean a bunch of debris off the runways. If this weather pattern continues, 2019 may go down as one of the most severe weather Springs on record.
 

StarSong

Senior Member
How bizarre that passengers were willing to risk safety for convenience. It speaks to why ship and plane captains, train engineers, et al., are given full decision power over their vehicles and passengers while in transit. Good grief.

A somewhat similar story that taught me a couple of very valuable travel lessons: in 1981, my husband, baby daughter and I flew from Los Angeles to Oahu, with a plane change to take us to Maui. Virtually everyone was about to start a vacation, and many passengers on that flight were likewise connecting to Maui, including a young man who was greatly excited to be getting married on the beach that afternoon. His fiance and family had already arrived. It was a jovial atmosphere to say the least.

The flight and connector went without incident, but many who were on the first leg of the flight soon realized that our luggage was nowhere to be found. We lined up to complain/register with the harried lost luggage agent. As it happened I was behind the soon-to-be groom. He was frantic because his wedding clothing AND THE RINGS were in his checked luggage, which we soon learned was over the Pacific en route to San Francisco. There was nothing the agent could do. My heart went out to this young man as he sadly turned away and yielded the desk to me. What in the world could I say that would top his misery? (Nothing - I simply gave the agent my hotel info and made do until our luggage arrived.)

The lessons I learned?
1. Never, ever, ever pack anything in checked luggage that you cannot do without when you arrive.
2. Whatever it takes, do not schedule yourself to arrive the same day as the major event for which you're traveling, including a cruise departure, wedding, etc.

p.s. While I knew that the groom-to-be was devastated in the moment, I also knew that he would wind up with an excellent "let me tell you about my wedding" story.
 

RadishRose

SF VIP
Location
USA
Great post, SS. Those lessons are good ones.

I can't even imagine anyone asking someone to risk his life to land in a storm for me!
 

AnnieA

Down South
Location
Down South
No way would I want a pilot to land in weather conditions favorable to the development of tornadoes. Having been directly under one that didn't touch down and at the edge of one that did, there's no way I'd want to be suspended in a metal tube in the air during one.

The one that didn't touch down was freakish. The air on the ground was perfectly still and it was hard to get in a breath ...felt as though breathable air was sucked above us ...maybe it was. But then looking up beyond the stillness to the clouds, all we could see was a roiling of greenish purple and we could hear a loud!!!, sustained wooshing sound.


Passengers that complain about pilots avoiding tornadic conditions should be required to listen to this video:




 

oldman

Well-known Member
Location
PA
Original Poster
For years, airlines have recommended that passengers carry their medications, glasses and at least one days change of clothing in a carryon bag. And yet, we still have people complaining about their meds being in their luggage that was rerouted.

I have known it to happen where passengers board an earlier flight after checking in and their luggage doesn’t get on their earlier flight with them, so they end up waiting at the airport for their luggage to arrive. My neighbor told me that when he flew from New York to Singapore, he flew to Hong Kong and then had to change planes to Singapore.

The plane going to Singapore never left Seattle because of a mechanical issue. His luggage, meanwhile, was placed on an Air China plane and sent on to Singapore. He had to be put in a hotel for the night and catch the plane out the next day. His airline, Delta, compensated him for his expenses.
 

StarSong

Senior Member
Our daughter and her new husband had a second wedding reception (in his Ohio hometown). We brought her wedding gown on the flight, much to the delight of other passengers who eagerly assisted by shifting their carry on luggage to create a flat surface for her gown so that it wouldn't wrinkle.

When we landed and people stood up in preparation to deplane, the passengers in our area started saying to those who stood up, "No, no. Wait for the bride. She needs to get her dress first." A few tall gents pulled it out of the overhead bins. They draped it over her arm so that it wouldn't drag, and everyone gave her plenty of room to deplane.

It was really adorable. So many well wishes were extended to us, my daughter and SIL, by passengers, flight crew and cockpit crew. A lovely memory.
 

RadishRose

SF VIP
Location
USA
No way would I want a pilot to land in weather conditions favorable to the development of tornadoes. Having been directly under one that didn't touch down and at the edge of one that did, there's no way I'd want to be suspended in a metal tube in the air during one.

The one that didn't touch down was freakish. The air on the ground was perfectly still and it was hard to get in a breath ...felt as though breathable air was sucked above us ...maybe it was. But then looking up beyond the stillness to the clouds, all we could see was a roiling of greenish purple and we could hear a loud!!!, sustained wooshing sound.


Passengers that complain about pilots avoiding tornadic conditions should be required to listen to this video:






I've never heard anything like this. Terrifying!
 

RadishRose

SF VIP
Location
USA
Our daughter and her new husband had a second wedding reception (in his Ohio hometown). We brought her wedding gown on the flight, much to the delight of other passengers who eagerly assisted by shifting their carry on luggage to create a flat surface for her gown so that it wouldn't wrinkle.

When we landed and people stood up in preparation to deplane, the passengers in our area started saying to those who stood up, "No, no. Wait for the bride. She needs to get her dress first." A few tall gents pulled it out of the overhead bins. They draped it over her arm so that it wouldn't drag, and everyone gave her plenty of room to deplane.

It was really adorable. So many well wishes were extended to us, my daughter and SIL, by passengers, flight crew and cockpit crew. A lovely memory.
This is a wonderful story. People being kind and putting another person first. Thanks for the lift, SS.
 

oldman

Well-known Member
Location
PA
Original Poster
This is a wonderful story. People being kind and putting another person first. Thanks for the lift, SS.
You have all heard of the stories of a plane returning a deceased soldier back to his/her hometown. I think Delta has the contract for most of these trips, but I was involved in returning an Army Corporal back to his hometown in Denver, only because the timetable suited.

We have a protocol for when we are involved in this type of event. Before we depart, we inform all passengers that we have a very special “passenger” onboard and then we give the details. We also advise everyone what their part will be upon landing.

All passengers are requested to remain seated and wait until the deceased person has been removed, which is a formal event of its own. It’s really something to watch. You can tell the men and women in charge of removing the deceased person takes their job very seriously and to heart.

I was very gratified that all of my passengers complied completely and I thanked them for their patience.
 

oldman

Well-known Member
Location
PA
Original Poster
That’s correct, John. And, normally they are under a 1000 feet, so as a pilot, you always have plenty of space to avoid them. The issue is that at this time of the year and in tornado zones, it’s possible that there may be more than one tornado in the same area, or nearby.

So, even though a pilot can circle and maybe land after the tornado has passed and now the pilot believes all to be well, it may be likely that another exists, as long as the conditions are present. Thus, it’s best to just divert and be safe. Otherwise, if the pilot decides to continue to circle, fuel supply could become an issue and then the pilot doesn’t have a choice, except to attempt a landing. To heck with that.

The other issue is that very often severe thunderstorms and microbursts sometimes present themselves. To me, it’s just not worth the risk. To avoid the tornado and think that you’re home free, only then to be pushed to the ground by a microburst, what did the pilot accomplish? Nothing! Radar very often doesn’t show microbursts and this is why we depend on Air Traffic Controllers to keep us up to date. There are a few different weather stations used, no one is better than the other.
 

oldman

Well-known Member
Location
PA
Original Poster
On a flight from Denver down to Miami, we saw a line of thunderstorms ranging from Southern Ohio down through Georgia. Basically, it’s what we call a squall line. Here we are in the middle of July with high heat and humidity on the ground, so we have to expect anything, if we go through it.

Some of those thunderstorms have tops of 50-60,000 ft. Higher than we want to or able to fly. Flying through them is very dangerous. High winds, torrential rains, possible hail and maybe even a tornado at a lower altitude. Torrential rainstorms with hail can easily cause engines to flame out.

Easy decision on this one. We diverted to Nashville and waited. Less than 2 hours later, we departed for Miami.
 

johndoe

New Member
You have all heard of the stories of a plane returning a deceased soldier back to his/her hometown. I think Delta has the contract for most of these trips, but I was involved in returning an Army Corporal back to his hometown in Denver, only because the timetable suited.

We have a protocol for when we are involved in this type of event. Before we depart, we inform all passengers that we have a very special “passenger” onboard and then we give the details. We also advise everyone what their part will be upon landing.

All passengers are requested to remain seated and wait until the deceased person has been removed, which is a formal event of its own. It’s really something to watch. You can tell the men and women in charge of removing the deceased person takes their job very seriously and to heart.

I was very gratified that all of my passengers complied completely and I thanked them for their patience.
The movie Taking Chance with Kevin Bacon was about this very subject.
 

johndoe

New Member
When I was in the Air Force, we were flying in a C54 if I remember correctly, to Greece. We confronted a thunderstorm and the pilot said he would try to go over it. The plane was unpressurized so he said we might get drowsy as we climbed. We all conked out. Woke up to some violent ups and downs but we made it. When we landed, we were shown the antenna wire trailing the plane from the tail. The little mast behind the cockpit got zapped by lightening. Ah the good old days.
 

Lara

Well-known Member
Location
North Carolina
Just returned from vacation in Cambria, CA. Both to and from meant a layover in Dallas. Both times was a nightmare and I got a bruised and bloody arm from a sudden surprise of turbulence which a nurse on board treated. Turns out she used to work at the same hospital I worked at on the east coast. We also sat grounded and cramped in a full capacity airplane for 2 hours at the gate with 3 toddlers crying and climbing the seats, then, once in flight we detoured around the weather. It took me 12 hours to get home which should have been 5.

I don't blame the airlines for the weather, nor the injury, but I do blame them for changing my gate to a very far away terminal at the last minute, making us wait for customs to approve "cleaning" because the international plane came from someplace like Puerto Vallarta, then they couldn't find a caterer to change out the food, then a flight attendant "time-out" so we had to wait while they called in a replacement for her. Meanwhile my row of seats all had malfunctioning movie/game screens. The plane had nicely padded leather seats and up-to-date with technology but that was little compensation considering.

Oh, and while we were sitting grounded in the plane for 2 hours, we never saw any employees, no flight
attendants, nothing. But the pilot came on 3 times to explain how poorly the airline (American) was taking care of things and apologizing.
 

oldman

Well-known Member
Location
PA
Original Poster
When I was in the Air Force, we were flying in a C54 if I remember correctly, to Greece. We confronted a thunderstorm and the pilot said he would try to go over it. The plane was unpressurized so he said we might get drowsy as we climbed. We all conked out. Woke up to some violent ups and downs but we made it. When we landed, we were shown the antenna wire trailing the plane from the tail. The little mast behind the cockpit got zapped by lightening. Ah the good old days.

I have to believe that the pilots wore oxygen masks. When a plane goes above 12,500 feet, the cabin must be pressurized to keep from getting hypoxia, or unconsciousness. The longer a plane stays above 15,000 feet, the more likely passengers will suffer inner ear damage, not to mention small blood vessels in the ears and nose rupturing and causing bleeding.

Most thunderstorms are at least 40,000 feet, well above the danger limit. I can’t explain how all of you did not receive any injuries to your ears or nose. It is most likely that you did suffer hypoxia and probably remember very little about your flight.

I always pressurized the cabin as soon as we started our pushback from the gate. That way, the passengers had time for their ears to adjust to the cabin pressure before takeoff. You may have experienced your ears popping while still on the ground. This will sometimes happen when the cabin is being pressurized.
 

oldman

Well-known Member
Location
PA
Original Poster
Just returned from vacation in Cambria, CA. Both to and from meant a layover in Dallas. Both times was a nightmare and I got a bruised and bloody arm from a sudden surprise of turbulence which a nurse on board treated. Turns out she used to work at the same hospital I worked at on the east coast. We also sat grounded and cramped in a full capacity airplane for 2 hours at the gate with 3 toddlers crying and climbing the seats, then, once in flight we detoured around the weather. It took me 12 hours to get home which should have been 5.

I don't blame the airlines for the weather, nor the injury, but I do blame them for changing my gate to a very far away terminal at the last minute, making us wait for customs to approve "cleaning" because the international plane came from someplace like Puerto Vallarta, then they couldn't find a caterer to change out the food, then a flight attendant "time-out" so we had to wait while they called in a replacement for her. Meanwhile my row of seats all had malfunctioning movie/game screens. The plane had nicely padded leather seats and up-to-date with technology but that was little compensation considering.

Oh, and while we were sitting grounded in the plane for 2 hours, we never saw any employees, no flight
attendants, nothing. But the pilot came on 3 times to explain how poorly the airline (American) was taking care of things and apologizing.
Oh boy. It sounds like you suffered through a nightmare of a flight. With all the bad weather in the central U.S., I’m not surprised. I never liked flying through Dallas in the spring due to the violent weather that is often present in the spring. I would guess that you had the long walk to the changed gate, so as to give maintenance a chance to prepare the cabin and Customs an opportunity to clear the plane for any allergens or other anomalies. Also, airports do not like to move planes just for a gate change. They do what they can to avoid adding traffic on the tarmac.

Under newer FAA guidelines, passengers cannot be held on a plane sitting on the tarmac for more than 3 hours on domestic flights without allowing them to deplane at the gate. I hope they at least offered everyone water or drinks and snacks at the minimum. When I had my plane in a similar situation, I would take on the responsibility of ordering the F/A’s to offer water and a snack. It just makes good PR and basically costs the airline very little. I never received any negative feedback from my supervisor for doing this. We always carried more than enough water, drinks and snacks to go around a few times. However, I still remember that one time when we ran out of coffee and had a very unhappy pilot (me).

As for your injury, did you require stitches or follow-up with your doctor? If you did, you should be compensated monetarily for any money that you paid out of pocket, plus travel money to and from the doctor or hospital. My advice to you, if you want to pursue this matter, is to secure an attorney that is specialized in aviation cases. The reason for this is that these types of attorneys have the proper connections to airline attorneys and in some cases, already have a relationship established with them. Also, aviation attorneys are more likely to be more fair to both sides than an “everyday” personal injury attorney, who mainly deal in auto accidents. Make sense? For the lack of the entertainment system not working, I would have asked for a travel voucher. Often, airlines will offer a $200.00 voucher if their system is down or for any other lack of amenity.

Lastly, I am sure that you appreciated your pilots for getting you to your destination safely (for the most part). It takes an unbelievable amount of skill to fly around storms. I applaud those pilots for not going through them, which may have made your trip even worse. Turbulence exists all around a storm, both the leading and trailing edges. There has only ever been just a very few instances where turbulence has caused a plane to come down.

I apologize for the long post.
 

oldman

Well-known Member
Location
PA
Original Poster
I’m sitting here watching “Air Disasters” on the Smithsonian Channel and the show today is about flying and landing during thunderstorms. Like I have written here many times, if I had my druthers, I’d rather land during a snowstorm than a thunderstorm. Thunderstorms just have too many variables from torrential rains, winds, sliding or hydroplaning on runways, just very unpredictable.

With a snowstorm, as long as the airport does their part to keep the runway clear, pilots only need to be concerned with the wind factor, which today, is much more easier handled.

When I was flying the B-747 from O’Hare to Honolulu, we left Chicago during one of the worse snowstorms in Chicago’s history. We were so fortunate to be flying one of the best jumbo jets of its time, which made getting the plane in the air a lot easier than I had anticipated. Right after we had departed, O’Hare had shut down temporarily due to snow on the runways.

Once we were airborne, the Purser called us on the intercom and said that we had a lot of relieved passengers. I guess a lot of our passengers were very concerned as to whether we would get airborne or not. She said a lot of them had their eyes closed and she could tell they were praying. I asked her “What about you?” She said that she never doubted that we’d get airborne.
 

Lara

Well-known Member
Location
North Carolina
Thank you, "oldman", for some good suggestions I never thought of. One thing for sure, I didn't blame the pilot for anything. He was as just as disgusted with AA management as I and the rest of the passengers.

He did the best he could and I complimented him personally on how well he flew the plane and for the safe landing.
 


Top