At one time or another, we’ve all been caught in, or have been endlessly regaled by the stories of a family member or friend who found themselves stuck in, a tailback that was the direct result of inclement weather.
And the weather doesn’t get much worse than winter blizzards that can deposit a foot of snow in an unbelievably short amount of time and can bring traffic everywhere to a standstill. While snow can wreak havoc on almost every form of road-based transport, the same isn’t true if you’re traveling by air.
Every modern aircraft has been designed and engineered to keep flying in all but the most dangerous and difficult of weather conditions and can carry on flying through near-horizontal rainfall and the most ferocious of blizzards. It’s perfectly safe to fly in both rain and snow, and both civilian and military aircraft were built to be safe to operate in the most extreme winter conditions.
After all, in an airplane or a helicopter can fly to the North Pole and back again, they’re unlikely to be stopped by a snowstorm in Chicago. If there was even the slightest possibility of flying in the snow being dangerous, then no airline would ever take to the skies if there was even the remotest possibility that their aircraft might be damaged by or could be at risk by flying in the snow.
Can Planes Take Off In Rain And Snow?
If it’s safe for a plane to fly in snow, in order for it to do so, it’ll need to take off and land while it’s snowing, or has recently been snowing and there’s still snow on the ground. This means that planes can, and often do take off while it’s snowing and raining without any difficulty and it’s usually perfectly safe to do so.
In fact, most airports, even in the most severe snowstorms can remain operational and will only slow flights down or delay them because they’re struggling to keep their runaways clear and not because a plane can’t take off.
The only time an airline will cease operations during snow, and ground its aircraft is when the temperature becomes prohibitively low and the cold makes normal operations incredibly difficult or next to impossible.
Having said that, aircraft that are based in the Antarctic and in the Polar regions or areas that are frequently blanketed in snow, are often retro-fitted with landing skis instead of traditional landing gear which makes it easier for them to take off and land in snow.
The biggest danger facing any aircraft that takes off while it’s raining is the possibility that it might skid on the surface of a runway while it’s wet and slide off said runway while it’s taxiing to its take-off point.
As this possibility doesn’t pose any real threat to either the aircraft or its passengers, ninety-nine point nine nine times out of a hundred it is deemed absolutely safe to take off while it’s raining.
Can You Fly VFR In Snow?
While it’s perfectly safe to fly in the snow and while snow is falling, a lot of pilots don’t like to, and won’t fly VFR (Visual Flight Rules) while it’s snowing. Snow can be quite disorientating and it’s easy to lose your position in the sky relative to the ground if you’re attempting to fly VFR when the heavens open and snow begins to fall.
Thankfully, due to meteorological information being constantly updated and continually available, pilots are always aware of the possibility that it might snow at some point during their flight and can change from a proposed VFR flight to an IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) if snow is likely to be a problem.
If it does begin to snow while you’re flying, just remember that your instruments, your artificial horizon, and your autopilot are all on your side, and switch to an IFR flight plan instead of using a VFR one. It’ll be far safer, and easier, to fly while it’s snowing if you do.
Do Planes Still Fly In Snow?
Snow and winter weather conditions don’t, and won’t stop, aviation. The only time that snow stops planes flying and grounds helicopters are when it becomes too cold to safely operate either as the lower temperatures might cause fuel to freeze and fuel lines to ice over and potentially rupture and crack in the same way that household pipes can during winter.
It’s perfectly safe for planes to fly while it’s snowing, which is why airlines are rarely troubled by snow. Even though most pilots won’t fly using VFR when snow is falling, the majority of them are happy to fly using IFR as they know that it’s perfectly safe to do so and that the aircraft that they’re flying has been designed to fly in even the most severe weather conditions.