Extreme West Coast Heat Causes Flight Cancellations - KMSP-TV

Extreme West Coast Heat Causes Flight Cancellations

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Here is something you don't hear every day.  Imagine you booked a flight on an airline from southern California to Minneapolis.  You arrive a couple hours early, you get through security, walk down to the gate, and are told that your flight has been canceled due to weather.  You inquire where this "weather" is located because you look out those huge terminal windows and see nothing but blue sky.  Their response would be, "it's too hot."  Ever happen to you?  Well, it happened to hundreds if not thousands of people in the desert Southwest Saturday.  As the morning rolled into the afternoon, temperatures at several locations like Phoenix, Palm Springs, Yuma, and Death Valley topped 118 degrees.  At this temperature, it actually becomes too hot for some aircraft to fly.  What??? How can it be too hot??  Let's explore the issue.

As the temperature increases, the air becomes thinner or less dense.  This will create less lift for an aircraft.  This means that each aircraft must have more speed in order to get the amount of lift needed for takeoff.  The more speed you need, the longer it takes to accelerate to that speed and therefore the more runway that is necessary.  For many larger airports with very long runways, this isn't usually a problem.  But for smaller airports that have short runways and less leeway for error on takeoff and landing, this can become a big issue.  This happened to at least 18 commuter flights in and out of Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport Saturday according to azcentral.com.  It's usually these smaller planes that get grounded before the bigger ones do.  According to the FAA, each plane has very specific guidelines it must follow to get the plane off the ground.  These rules are based on temperature, humidity, elevation, runway length, weight of the aircraft, engine type, etc…  Many airlines adjust to different conditions by simply removing cargo.  But when it comes to the smaller aircraft, there is only so much cargo that can be removed, so the airlines' last resort is to just ground the plane.  Many of the smaller commuter planes can't fly with temperatures over 120°, but the larger planes like the Airbus A320, or the Boeing 757, take off is possible to about 126°.  Conditions we will likely never experience in Minnesota, but something that is more common in Desert locations like Arizona and California.  This record breaking heat will shift further north in the early part of the week to include Washington and Oregon, but the ridge responsible for all the sweating will break down by Wednesday putting an end to at least some of the searing temperatures.

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