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When wild weather happens

The recent deluge of rain that hit the south Florida area—26 inches of rain in less than 24 hours—was called a one-in-one-thousand-year event. It seems like there have been more of these of late than we are used to seeing.

Flight Training September 2023

The rain in this case shut down the Ft. Lauderdale airport for the better part of thirty-six hours. I flew down there a few days later, and the impact was still plain to see. At least one runway had no ground-based approaches, leaving only RNAV/GPS as an option, and there was a 1,000-foot closure of the east end of 10L/28R. Roads in and out of the airport were still partially shut down. Various taxiways around the airport were closed, and there were large areas of standing water in places where it isn’t usually seen

Last summer, Florida got hammered by a massive hurricane, and had the storm above had the winds of a hurricane or a derecho, there is no telling how bad the damage might have been. With storms showing increasing intensity of late, severe weather is going to continue to wreak havoc with airline and travel schedules. Compounding problems this summer was the FAA’s shortage of air traffic controllers, especially in the busy northeast corridor.

Airlines are usually pretty quick to get updates about impacts on their operations, the airports they serve, etc., but they miss things on occasion. Further, the local employee base can be reduced as those folks deal with their own personal crises. It’s imperative that pilots check notams carefully before heading to airports in the path of a storm. Reading the ATIS online can help sometimes more than the notams, because the ATIS is updated hourly, if not sooner, and is written in something resembling English.

Similar issues affected the west coast this winter too, as they got hammered by Pineapple Express rainstorms. Roads were closed, airports were slowed down, and ground equipment was knocked out of service. It can happen anywhere, and it will. As you move into bigger equipment, it’s imperative that you pay close attention to the little details that affect your flight. Larger airplanes can only use certain taxiways and gates. Some airplanes may be able to do LPV approaches (Localiser Performance with Vertical Guidance), and others may not. Out of service approach lights can raise minimums too much to make an approach viable. At night, not all taxi lights may be available. Debris can wind up in odd places, and it may not be what you’re used to seeing.

Most airlines are on top of things when it comes to the aftermath of a storm, as are most airports. But things can be missed, and the more severe the storm, the more likely not all of the information you will want will be available. Utilize multiple sources of information, including phone calls. Plan for the best and expect the worst.

And above all, stay safe.

Chip Wright

Chip Wright is an airline pilot and frequent contributor to AOPA publications.

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