Would Someone Please Use an Air Tractor to
Push the Cold Air Out of My World!
Let's get something straight right off the bat in this post...I am not an environmental scientist. As an instrument rated stick, I probably have a much clearer picture of weather than many VFR pilots, and compared to Average Joe on the street, I exist at a significantly higher intelligence level when it comes to the weather.
That said, I am noticing a trend in the weather both here and across the country, and for GA pilots – most without FIKI – that trend is not good. Let me set the stage:
I was raised in California's Central Valley where the weather is as predictable as any I have seen. This bowl of geography between the Sierra Nevadas and California's coast range makes a great place to grow raisins, but a lousy place to try and breathe. I cannot tell you the number of times my car – usually with both windows down because it was 196 degrees in the shade – would be sprayed by a tractor pulling a spray rig rounding an end-row as it belched out God only knows what kind of pesticide. It is also a mecca for aerial applications, with the cotton fields on the west side of the valley thick with AgCats and Air Tractors coating anything in their path with an endless list of the nasty chemicals required to grow the makings of your underwear. Multiply this by 10,000 and add in the lack of air movement due to the aforementioned bowl, and you have mostly gray, often smelly air that is not conducive to the ingestion of oxygen. It is in this environment that I earned my private ticket.Back in the mid-90s when I earned my ticket, and all through my childhood, even a moron could predict the weather in the Fresno area, which lies due east of the Pacific Coast about 1.0 hours by Skyhawk. It seemed that 99.9999% of storms came from the west, so you had to just look and see what KMRY in Monterey or KSFO in the bay area was doing, and estimate when their weather would be your weather. At the rate that most storms traveled, you could see it raining on the coast and have a good four-hour window to get in a nice VFR flight before things got ugly.
But of course, as many of my readers know, I was doing 40-to-life in Fresno and escaped to Oregon. Shhh, they don't know I'm gone. And as a GA pilot in the Pacific Northwest, I have noticed a deterioration in the flying weather here:
When I was a VFR pilot flying mostly for hamburgers around Oregon, it was easy to predict the weather. Again, I live in yet another bowl, this time with the Cascades to the east of the Willamette Valley and the Oregon coast range between KEUG and the Pacific ocean. Generally, it had to be pretty much clear and a million if I was going over to the dry side to Sunriver or over to the coast for beach kite flying. That's because the weather was either really crappy or really nice. Just like you, I usually only flew when it was nice.Fast forward from my arrival in the PNW to today, and I am a happy IFR stick licensed to plow through clouds. I got that rating in March, 2009, and have watched the PNW weather change before my very eyes:
It took me too long to get that rating, mostly due to weather washouts. But now that I am current, I watch things like the freezing levels, because to get out of the Willamette Valley in less-than-VFR weather requires a minimum enroute altitude (MEA) of at least 5,000 MSL. Make that 11,000 or higher if you want to go south or east. This past year, I have seen the freezing level locked onto the 4,000 MSL mark, making flight through clouds out of my home field dicey. With a few exceptions, since about last November, I look at the PDX or OTH winds aloft and see -4C at 6,000. You do the math. Two degrees per 1,000' of altitude for the lapse rate equals 4,000 MSL. Day, after day, after day. Drives me insane.As I sit here pondering this, I think about how I perceive weather overall in the lower 48 to be changing for the worse. Hurricanes seem more powerful, hail is bigger, tornadoes are a daily occurrence. Snow piles up on NYC streets at record amounts. I wonder why, and go to the web where I see this quote in the very first story I find, a foreshadow from 2007, via MSNBC:
"As the world warms, the United States will face more severe thunderstorms with deadly lightning, damaging hail and the potential for tornadoes, a trailblazing study by NASA scientists suggests. While other research has warned of broad weather changes on a large scale, like more extreme hurricanes and droughts, the new study predicts even smaller events like thunderstorms will be more dangerous because of global warming. The basic ingredients for whopper U.S. inland storms are likely to be more plentiful in a warmer, moister world, said lead author Tony Del Genio, a NASA research scientist."There is no end to the number of scientists who say our weather is changing for the worse because of global warming. As we often do, humans want proof that abstract theories like this are in fact true. When those humans are also GA pilots, they just have to stop and look at the weather they have been flying in or around for the past few years. If you are like me, that reflection will reveal more weather delays, more deviations, stronger winds aloft, more excruciating crosswind landings, and more canceled flights due to...weather.
The people who say global warming is crap can believe that notion, it is their right. But I will not be joining their charade, for I care about this planet and know without any doubt that we humans have screwed up the environment of this rock we live on forever. The moves we as a planet make towards a greener world will someday make an impact, but for now, as aviators, I'm afraid this garbage weather is the new status quo.
Sucks, it really does.