Is it safe to fly over a hurricane? A JetBlue plane flew right over Fiona

With Hurricane Fiona withdrawing from the Dominican Republic, and eventually strengthening into the first major Category 3 storm of the year, more than two dozen flights were canceled from the country’s largest airport. But one made it.

The flight, flying from Punta Cana to Newark via JetBlue late Monday, took off nearly five hours, just after 7 p.m., appearing on flight trackers as the lone vehicle in the middle of a hurricane. This sparked concern among some weather and aviation watchers and raised the question: Can you fly over a hurricane?

Nick Underwood, an aeronautical engineer who flies into the heart of storms as a member of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Hurricane Hunters tweeted to collect vital data.

But he added, “I still wouldn’t recommend this.”

Meteorologists and aviation experts said it’s not unprecedented for pilots to fly near or over storms, and this can be done safely. Pilots can Make decisions based on the weather in consultation with the FAA and their airline experts — as was the case Monday evening, a JetBlue spokesperson said. A JetBlue flight landed safely at Newark International Airport just before 11 p.m. Monday.

Flight tracking tools show that several other JetBlue flights passed through Fiona late Monday through Tuesday.

While the FAA provides some guidance information, it is up to the airlines and the team of meteorologists to determine if the flight is safe enough for passengers.

Fiona heads to Canada as the threat to the United States grows from new unrest

The airline was monitoring Fiona to identify routes to safely navigate around or over the system, spokesman Derek Dombrowski said, adding that the airline canceled several flights that could not safely depart.

“Each trip is planned by a team of experts who then monitor the flight’s progress and the weather on an ongoing basis,” Dombrowski said in an email. “It is important to understand that when directing the flight both the direction and altitude of the weather system are taken into account in our decision making.”

Major hazards in flying near or during hurricanes include lightning, hail, and winds, which are stronger near the storm’s center and vary in direction around it. There is also a concern about updrafts – the strong, vertically oriented blasts of wind found in any type of thunderstorm. An FAA report from 2011 warns of the potential for “violent disturbances anywhere within 20 miles of very strong thunderstorms”.

A spokesperson for the Professional Pilots Association, a nonprofit group through which pilots discuss safety, told The Post.

Randy Bass, a certified consultant meteorologist who operates Bass Weather Services, said such close conditions likely wouldn’t be a fun ride.

“I didn’t want to be like this Bass said.

Fiona was a Category 2 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 110 mph in the middle of Monday evening, according to the National Hurricane Center. The data suggests that higher clouds would have made it difficult for any aircraft to avoid them.

At the time of flight, the clouds around the eye of the hurricane were as high as 45,000 feet, while on the outer edges of the storm were between 33,000 and 39,000 feet, according to satellites. data. In general, Category 2 hurricane clouds reach heights of about 33,000 to 46,000 feet.

The assigned route for JetBlue Flight 1016 from Flightradar24 shows that the Airbus A320 flew at altitudes between about 30,000 feet and 34,000 feet as it passed near Fiona.

Even for hurricane hunters, safety is the number one consideration when planning routes in and around hurricanes. The team, which collects data used to better understand and predict hurricanes, flies its Lockheed WP-3D Orion aircraft into the heart of storms at altitudes between 8,000 and 10,000 feet. To explore conditions above and around hurricanes, spokesman Jonathan Shannon said she flies her Gulfstream IV-SP at 41,000 to 45,000 feet.

It would be difficult to estimate how high any plane would have to be above the storm to avoid turbulence, Shannon said, noting that “every storm can be different.”

For better forecasts, hurricane hunters search the depths of storms

Hurricane Fiona hit Puerto Rico Sunday, nearly 600,000 residents were left without power before moving to the neighboring Dominican Republic. Hours before the flight, up to 20 inches of rain was reported on the eastern side of the Dominican Republic, where Punta Cana airport is based, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC). The National Health Commission also warned of life-threatening flash floods and urban flooding in the region.

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