By The CTS Team on June 14, 2017
Category: Aviation Weather

Behind the eye: Pilot preparation for hurricane season

Hurricane season is upon us again. If you fly in susceptible areas, know your organization's plan for these destructive storms.


It is highly unlikely that you will ever find yourself in the situation of actually flying into, around, or near a hurricane. Unlike other weather hazards such as severe thunderstorms, hurricanes take a considerable amount of time to develop and can be predicted days in advance. By the time a hurricane makes landfall, you will normally have had plenty of time to remove yourself and your aircraft from the air.

But that doesn't mean that hurricanes won't affect your operation. The damage dealt by tropical storms and hurricanes can take a considerable toll on aircraft and leave devastation that will potentially alter your flight plans for days, weeks, or even months afterward. Now that we're at the onset of hurricane season once again, let's look at what you can expect from hurricanes, and how you can protect yourself and your aircraft from their potential hazards.

More than stormy weather

A hurricane is a tropical cyclone that occurs in the Atlantic Ocean or northeastern Pacific Ocean. Hurricanes are usually defined by maximum sustained winds of 64 kts or more spiraling around a low-pressure center. The same phenomenon occurring in the northwestern Pacific Ocean is referred to as a typhoon.

In their weaker stages, such storms are referred to as tropical depressions or tropical storms. Though not as damaging as hurricanes, these storms bring strong winds that can produce significant damage. When a storm reaches the level of a tropical storm or hurricane, the World Meteorological Association issues a short, easy-to-remember name.

Hurricanes occur over warm waters and are most common in the north Atlantic from June 1st through November 30th--the aptly named "hurricane season." Hurricanes will begin over the ocean and gradually make their way to land, bringing heavy rain, powerful winds, and large waves to coastal areas. Once hurricanes reach land, they generally begin to lose energy rapidly, but there is plenty of time for them to cause damage before they do.

Plane vs. hurricane

Tropical cyclones of all stripes can cause damage that may impact aviation. Smaller tropical depressions carry slow-moving, heavy rain that can flood airfields and suspend operations for a time. Stronger storms bring heavier winds in addition to flooding, blowing and washing debris onto runways or taxiways or damaging any aircraft left out in the open. The powerful winds associated with hurricanes can even defy aircraft tie-downs or blow the roof off of a hangar, exposing aircraft to the elements or carrying them away.

Since hurricanes can generally be predicted in advance, if you know a hurricane is coming to an area you will be operating in, it is best to make plans to ensure you and the aircraft will not be in the area when it hits, even parked in the relative safety of a hangar. The potential for heavy damage to hangared aircraft is still high in a hurricane, and even if your aircraft remains safe and secure, it is unlikely you will be able to fly it out for some time after the storm if flooding or other damage halts operations. You're better off ensuring your flight ends well away from the path of the storm.

If you must wait out a hurricane with your aircraft, attempt to secure hangar space as early as possible, as most hangars will quickly fill up as pilots rush to park their aircraft out of the rain. In the worst case scenario, if your aircraft must be left outside in a hurricane, follow these tips to help secure it:

The aftermath

Even if you manage to escape the area of a hurricane and hangar your aircraft in a dry area, you may not be able to return to the area for some time. The destruction potential for hurricanes is enormous, and can result in weeks or even months worth of clean-up, rebuilding, and rescue. Areas recently hit by such a storm are frequently under flight restrictions, limiting flight in the area to those involved in rescue and reconstruction efforts. In the wake of a hurricane, be sure to carefully review all area restrictions before flying near or into affected areas.

You may also find upon entering an area recently hit by such a storm that some facilities you normally frequent may be closed. They may have been evacuated due to flooding or other damage, at which point they will revert to an uncontrolled airfield. NOTAMs will indicate to you if an airfield is closed. Some facilities may have their traffic redirected to a different airport instead.

Even if you manage to escape the area of a hurricane and hangar your aircraft in a dry area, you may not be able to return to the area for some time. The destruction potential for hurricanes is enormous, and can result in weeks or even months worth of clean-up, rebuilding, and rescue. Areas recently hit by such a storm are frequently under flight restrictions, limiting flight in the area to those involved in rescue and reconstruction efforts. In the wake of a hurricane, be sure to carefully review all area restrictions before flying near or into affected areas.

You may also find upon entering an area recently hit by such a storm that some facilities you normally frequent may be closed. They may have been evacuated due to flooding or other damage, at which point they will revert to an uncontrolled airfield. NOTAMs will indicate to you if an airfield is closed. Some facilities may have their traffic redirected to a different airport instead.

The NOAA has warned that 2017 may prove an especially strong hurricane season in the United States, predicting an estimated 14 named storms--that's at the level of tropical storm or a hurricane. If you're flying near the coasts from June through November, keep an eye on the forecast and fly out of the way of an impending tropical storm or hurricane before it interferes with your upcoming flight plans.

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