Updated: Dec 31, 2020
Thunderstorms are the single most dangerous weather phenomenon for aircraft in flight. There are 3 stages to each thunderstorm.
Here's what you need to know.
Thunderstorms require 3 different formation actions, they are: sufficient moisture in the air, and unstable atmosphere, and a lifting action (some way to raise the moisture rich air to higher altitudes). Once these formations are in place, the thunderstorm will proceed through the following life stages.
THE CUMULUS STAGE
This is the first stage of the thunderstorm. It is dominated by updrafts that create the cloud formations (cumulonimbus clouds) necessary. The continuous strong updrafts prevent precipitation from falling.
THE MATURE STAGE
Once the storm has developed it will enter the Mature Stage. This stage is dominated by both updrafts and downdrafts and is the most dangerous stage. Falling precipitation is the indicator that the storm has reached the Mature Stage. Lightning, severe turbulence, and hail, can all be encountered during this time.
THE DISSIPATING STAGE
Once the updrafts begin to die out, the storm is dominated by downdrafts and enters the Dissipating Stage. This signals that the thunderstorm is "dying out."
The best way to avoid thunderstorms is to delay your flight until the storm has passed. If you encounter a thunderstorm in flight, circumnavigate the storm by at least 20nm. This is because hail can be encountered within a 20nm radius around the storm.
Author - Nate Hodell
CFI/CFII/MEI/ATP - Creator of wifiCFI - Owner of Axiom Aviation Flight School.
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