Wind rarely seems as threatening as other weather when flight planning, because you can’t see it. But as every pilot learns, wind is real; it can be helpful or hazardous, and often portends changing conditions.
We’d planned Christmas in Tucson, but holiday snow was forecast, urged along by a powerful cold front. Indeed, Christmas dawned snowing and blustery. Surprisingly though, Flagstaff’s forecast called for midmorning clearing. Sure enough, at precisely 10am sun warmed our yard, blue sky pierced the clouds, and ceilings rose along our route. So we packed and took off.
Ceilings again lowered as we flew south but so did the terrain, so we cruised comfortably to Tucson for a family holiday dinner. Based on a sunny forecast, we planned to brunch and hike the next day before heading home.
The next morning, however, we were wakened by a smartphone weather alert. Despite yesterday’s clear-skies forecast, Flagstaff now expected morning snow flurries, followed by northeasterly 35-knot wind gusts tumbling from the mountains. What’s more, 40-knot headwinds would plague our normal 8500-foot cruising altitude. I suggested staying another night, but Jean wanted to return for the neighborhood holiday party. That meant departing immediately in hopes of beating the winds home…
**Read Greg’s entire column, “INCHES OF RUNWAY“**
Photo: “Down I flew, carrying partial flaps with knife’s-edge readiness to go around because something bad was surely imminent.”
(This column first appeared in AOPA Flight Training magazine.)
©2018 Gregory N. Brown
If you enjoyed this story, you’ll love Greg’s book, Flying Carpet: The Soul of an Airplane. Autographed copies available!