Snow-Wing Flights Make Flakes
Reported November 2011
BOULDER, CO (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- When it comes to flying, there are 23,000 scheduled take offs and landings each day in the U.S. Now some of those never make it off the ground due to bad weather—but what if we told you, some bad weather is caused by those planes? We’ll show you how the plane you are in could be causing a change in the local weather.
It looked like something out of sci-fi, in 2009 thousands thought a UFO landed in Moscow, but what could this be? After careful observation, scientists determined that the strange looking sight in the sky was actually a hole-punch cloud caused by planes—taking off and landing can cause a hole-punch cloud.
"Basically, what it means is an aircraft puts a hole in a cloud,” Andrew Heymsfield, an atmospheric scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research told Ivanhoe.
Atmospheric scientist Andrew Heymsfield says clouds—caused by planes can also impact our weather -- causing it to rain or snow under the right conditions. A plane creates what's known as a "hole punch" cloud. As it punches through the cloud, the plane causes a drop in temperature turning the cloud’s water droplets into ice. The result is a hole of blue sky in the air and snow on the ground below.
"You need cloud and you need it in the right temperature range," Heymsfield said.
Temperatures have to be between 15 and minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit. In some cases, planes can cause snowfall at a rate of two inches per hour. The phenomenon is most common in places like Alaska, Colorado, and the arctic or Antarctic. It can happen more often than you might think.
"We've documented in the wintertime, as much as 20-30 percent of the time over major airport, these cloud layers can persist," Heymsfield added.
The length of the holes can be more than two miles wide and 60 miles long. Professor Heymsfield was lucky enough to see one himself.
"I saw it in Denver actually. I was on my bicycle, and I said, 'oh, my goodness. This is wonderful’. I finally get to see one," Heymsfield added.
It’s a spectacle where modern-day transportation affects our every-day climate.
Heymsfield says people on the aircraft are not aware when this phenomenon occurs. It can happen during take-off or landing.
The American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorological Society contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.
Click here to Go Inside This Science and View Video or contact:
Dr. Andrew Heymsfield
National Center for Atmospheric Research
Snow-Wing: UFO Or Cloud?
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