Chaos over Oklahoma

United flight #967 was en route from Washington, Dulles to Los Angeles, when at 38,000 feet over Missouri, it encountered severe turbulence. My first thought was that the plane flew over/thru some thunderstorms. But, as I started to look at the radar and the flight path more and more, something seemed to not pair up correctly. Check out the map below.

The turbulence occurred just outside of St. Louis, Missouri. Turbulence over The Central Plains is nothing new, but look where the turbulence happened, and look where the storms were. So, what happened here? There was about a 100 mile difference between the strongest storms and the turbulence. While the FAA is investigating the incident, it’s easy to see that while the plane may not have been directly over storms, that the storms to the west may have played a role, indirectly. You see, the atmosphere is a fluid. If you place a big rock in a river, the water will divert around the rock, creating rapids. In this case, my speculation is that the storms were creating little “eddies” in front of the storms, much like you would see in a river and that the plane flew right through one of these “eddies”.

What is interesting to see is that the plane immediately dropped 360 feet and within 2 minutes, had dropped another 1600 feet. The 1600 foot drop was likely the result of the pilots requesting a decrease in altitude. 45 minutes later, the plane was in Northern Oklahoma, just northeast of Cherokee, before it would get the clear to divert to Denver International Airport.

So, why did it not go to Will Rogers Airport when it was clearly closer than Denver? The reason, and again I am just speculating here, is because Denver is a hub for United, meaning that the man power would be available, the gate space would be available and it would be easier to swap airplanes. The lesson learned here? Even if you’re not flying through storms, but you can see lightning out your window, even way in the distance, go ahead and buckle up.



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