The Liberty Gazette
December 16, 2014Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: Weather began to fascinate me when I started to learn to fly. Until then, whatever was going on outside was important only to the degree it affected my plans, and seemed too mysterious to understand. Once I was forced to learn a little about it, the whole topic became beautiful and intriguing.
When a person begins flight training they study a comparatively small section of understanding weather, mainly to keep out of the trouble that comes with thunderstorms, hail, and ice. When we say "icing" we’re not referring to the better part of the cake, we’re speaking of moisture on the airplane that freezes, affecting the flow of air, hence affecting flight characteristics. A plane loaded with ice will not fly.
One part of weather that can be entertaining is clouds. My sister amazed our mom when she came home from Kindergarten one day with words such as cumulonimbus, stratus, and cirrus rolling off her little tongue. At a basic level, clouds can be fun – even kids’ stuff.
I have a sweet friend in central Ohio who often shares pictures of clouds. She’s not a pilot and doesn’t know much about clouds, but she appreciates them, always describing the shapes as everyday things. We’ve all played that game before – name the cloud shape – but my friend Deborah has so much fun with it that when I stumbled upon some like-minded folks in England I was eager to share my new find: the Cloud Appreciation Society. You can join for about ten US dollars and connect through the clouds with more than 36,000 other Appreciators "fighting the banality of blue-sky-thinking."
The Cloud Appreciation Society’s manifesto includes the statement that, "We seek to remind people that clouds are expressions of the atmosphere’s moods, and can be read like those of a person’s countenance." True dat, as they say east of here.
Mike: Those expressions mark localized changes to the physics of the atmosphere. The types of clouds tell us what kind of flying conditions to expect. Glider pilots look to clouds as markers for updrafts (good) or downdrafts (bad), and "cloud streets", lines of clouds that provide lift for a long distance. I’ve stayed aloft for hours in a glider gaining altitude quickly under one cloud and then racing to the next. When clouds begin to "boil into the stratosphere," it is time to avoid them.
Linda: Sometimes what the meteorologists predict and what’s actually going on are a little different, especially at altitude, so we share information with fellow pilots with something we call PIREPs, which stands for Pilot Reports. We can call up Flight Service on the radio while flying and report the weather and flying conditions we're actually experiencing and that may not be included in current weather information. Air traffic controllers encode the information and publish it for all other pilots to read, including a "Remarks" field that holds up to 77 characters. A pilot is well advised to keep remarks relevant and concise. Perhaps the pilot who reported, "…and a cloud that looks like a puppy," forgot about that relevant part, but he or she might enjoy the Cloud Appreciation Society.