Fiona grounded dozens of flights. A JetBlue plane flew right over it.

More than two dozen flights were canceled at the country’s largest airport as Hurricane Fiona pulled away from the Dominican Republic, eventually strengthening into the year’s first major Category 3 storm. But one made it out.

The JetBlue flight from Punta Cana to Newark took off about five hours late Monday, after 7 p.m. it appeared on flight trackers as a lone plane in the middle of a tornado. This caused alarm among some weather and aviation observers and begged the question: Can you fly through a hurricane?

“I saw a JetBlue flight that apparently went over Fiona and I’d say depending on cloud top heights you can fly over a hurricane,” tweeted Nick Underwood, an aerospace engineer who flies into the heart of storms as a member of the National. Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s hurricane hunters to gather vital data.

But, he added, “I still wouldn’t recommend it.”

Pilots flying close to or over a storm is not unprecedented and can be done safely, meteorologists and aviation experts said. Pilots can The Federal Aviation Administration and its airlines make decisions based on the weather in consultation with their own experts — as was the case Monday evening, a JetBlue spokeswoman said. The JetBlue flight landed safely at Newark International Airport just before 11pm on Monday.

Flight trackers show several other JetBlue flights that passed through Fiona late Monday through Tuesday.

While the FAA provides some advisory information, it’s ultimately up to the airlines and their teams of meteorologists to decide whether an airplane is safe enough for passengers.

As new unrest threatens America, Fiona turns to Canada

The airline was monitoring Fiona to determine a path to safely navigate around or over the system, spokesman Derek Dombrowski said, adding that the airline had canceled several flights that could not safely depart.

“Each flight is planned by a team of experts who then continuously monitor the progress of the flight and the weather.” Dombrowski said in an email. “It’s important to understand that both the direction and height of the weather system during flight are factored into our decision-making process.”

The main hazards in flying near or through a hurricane are lightning, hail, and winds, which are strongest near the center of the storm and vary in direction around it. There are also concerns about updrafts – strong vertically oriented bursts of wind in any type of thunderstorm. A 2011 FAA report warned of the possibility of “violent turbulence anywhere within 20 miles of a very strong storm.”

“A plane can fly safely above a hurricane when it’s at a high enough altitude, as long as it avoids personal thunderstorms adjacent to the hurricane,” a spokesman for the Professional Pilots Association, a nonprofit group through which pilots discuss safety, told The Washington. Post.

Still, those nearby conditions probably won’t make for a pleasant flight, said Randy Bass, a certified consulting meteorologist who operates Bass Weather Services.

“I didn’t want to be on that flight,” Bass said.

According to the National Hurricane Center, Fiona was a Category 2 hurricane Monday evening with sustained winds of 110 mph. Data shows that its cloud height would have been difficult for any aircraft to avoid.

At the time of the flyby, clouds around the eye of the hurricane were as high as 45,000 feet, while over the storm’s outer edge it was between about 33,000 and 39,000 feet, according to the satellite. data. In general, Category 2 hurricane clouds reach altitudes of about 33,000 to 46,000 feet.

The mapped track of JetBlue Flight 1016 from Flightradar24 shows that the Airbus A320 flew between about 30,000 feet and 34,000 feet when it passed Fiona.

Even for NOAA Hurricane Hunters, safety is a top consideration when planning paths in and around hurricanes. The team, which collects data used to better understand and predict hurricanes, flies its Lockheed WP-3D Orion aircraft over the center of storms at altitudes of 8,000 to 10,000 feet. To scout conditions above and around hurricanes, it flies its Gulfstream IV-SP aircraft between 41,000 and 45,000 feet, spokesman Jonathan Shannon said.

Noting that “every storm can be different,” Shannon said, it’s difficult to predict how high any plane needs to be above a storm to avoid turbulence.

For a better forecast, hurricane hunters investigate storms in depth

Hurricane Fiona Defeated Puerto Rico On Sunday, it left nearly 600,000 residents without power before moving into the neighboring Dominican Republic. Hours before takeoff, 20 inches of rain fell in the eastern part of the Dominican Republic, where the Punta Cana airport is located, the National Hurricane Center said. The Center has also warned of life-threatening flash and urban flooding in the region.

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