• What is a storm and how is it formed?

Meteorology is a fundamental factor when planning a flight. It is primordial for pilots to be able to identify the different meteorological phenomena, such as storms. But do you know exactly what a storm is and how it is formed?

Well, carry on reading, as, in this post, we talk about cyclones, commonly known as squalls or storms.

What is a storm?

A storm is a mass of air in which the pressure is lower than the air surrounding it. In fact, in some English speaking countries, storms are also termed low pressure centres.

When we come across a high pressure situation, we call it an anticyclone. Storms, on the contrary, are areas characterised by low atmospheric pressure, to which gales are associated, as well as a notable decrease in temperature and the appearance of rain, snow or hail, in some cases.

How are they formed?

We have already mentioned storms are, essentially, areas in which the atmospheric pressure is lower than the air circulating around them.

Well, its formation is related to the movement of two air masses, a cold and a warmer one. Whereas warm air will climb, cold masses go down; this decreases pressure and creates a low pressure area.

Why does it rain during a storm?

Storms cool and condense air, giving rise to cloud formation and eventually, rain. Precipitation increases when air is cold and damp and squalls are the key to this process as they provide ideal conditions for the formation of rain.

And why are storms given names?

When storms reach a considerable magnitude they are named great impact storms and are given names. They can be randomly chosen or assigned a name in something’s or someone’s honor.

Lately, people’s names have frequently been used and you can most probably remember famous recent tempests such as Flora (2018), Filomena (2021) or Gérard (2023).

Significant weather charts or SIGWX

As we have already said in another one of our posts, pilots have significant maps or weather charts at their disposal, where all important meteorological phenomena are reflected.

Storms show as ‘L’, for low, for being low pressure areas while anticyclones come up as ‘H’, for high.

Significant weather charts are emitted by the Meteorological State Agency (AEMET) and are valid for 6 hours.

Is it safe to fly within a storm?

Commercial aeroplanes can fly totally safely within a storm; The main reason in avoiding them being to make the flight as comfortable and relaxing as possible for passengers.

An interesting fact.- The commercial aeroplanes used at the moment can even fly within a hurricane so there’s no reason to panic.

It can be done but IMC flights are required

If we fly within a storm we will be under IMC, i.e., under instrumental meteorological conditions.

Under these meteorological conditions, pilots only have to follow directions from their flight instruments as the scarce visual references they have could be misleading and make them suffer a sensory illusion.

Instrument flight is practised in one of the last stages of training, in the MEP/IR course. For safety reasons, flights in real IMC conditions are only performed in the simulator.

Storms, a phenomenon to avoid en route

Knowing what a storm is and how it is formed is essential for airlines so that they can plan their routes away from undesirable meteorology.

Additionally, it is important to bear in mind commercial aeroplanes are equipped with a meteorological radar so pilots can ”see” the areas with severe precipitation and request adjustments to their routes from air controllers.

We hope you’ve found this article interesting. If you’d like to find out what a METAR is and what it’s for, what icing on aeroplanes’ is or if you’d like to know more about Earth’s atmosphere, we suggest you take a look at our aviation blog.

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