If your flight woes messed up during the holiday rush, chances are it’s because of the weather. Yep, it’s the big player causing about 75% of all flight delays in the US, says the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). But not all weather is equal when it comes to messing with your travel plans. Here’s what you need to know, from the not-so-bad to the absolute worst, according to Kyle Struckmann, the top aviation weather person at the National Weather Service.
4. Wild Winds
Wind isn’t just a breeze when it comes to flying. It’s a big deal for takeoffs and landings. See, planes like a good headwind—that’s what helps them smoothly lift off or touch down. But if there’s not enough wind or it’s coming from the wrong direction, things get dicey. Crosswinds, especially, can mess up landings by forcing planes to approach the runway all wonky. Trust me, it’s not a fun ride, and in some cases, planes can even miss the whole landing strip!
3. Low Visibility
When you can’t see much, flying gets tough. Fog, heavy rain, or snow causing low clouds—these things make it hard for pilots to see. Even with all the fancy gadgets, pilots need good vision near the runway. Why? Well, they’ve gotta spot potential hazards that the gadgets might miss, like other planes unexpectedly hanging around.
2. Snow and Ice
Winter’s favorite troublemakers: snow and ice. On the ground, it’s about clearing runways so planes can grip safely. Up in the air, it’s all about stopping ice from piling up on the plane. Ice on the wings messes with a plane’s performance—it messes with the airflow and makes the plane heavier. Not a good combo when you’re trying to stay up in the sky! And when planes have to come down through freezing air, they’ve gotta do it quick to avoid ice buildup.
These are the absolute worst for flying. Thunderstorms in the holiday season? Yeah, they’re not great. They bring turbulence that can seriously rock a plane, plus there’s hail and lightning—no fun at all. The crazy winds in thunderstorms create havoc for planes, causing bumps, drops, and sometimes injuries. Pilots usually take the long way around thunderstorms to keep everyone safe, but that means more time in the air and delays getting back down.
So, when it comes to messing with your flight plans, weather’s the real troublemaker. From wind playing tricks with landings to thunderstorms causing chaos in the sky, it’s a wild ride out there!