LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) — Normally when we talk about the jet stream, we talk about the impact that it will have on our temperatures. But what if I were to tell you that the jet stream can also have a big impact on airplanes? It’s something that we have seen across the globe this past week.
Often in the fall and winter, meteorologists will reference the jet stream, because it can be a very important tool when it comes to forecasting temperatures changes and even precipitation for a certain area. But last week, the jet stream had a major impact on something else, airplanes.
Let’s backtrack a bit and talk about what the jet stream is first. It’s that band of fast-moving air that sits around five to nine miles above the Earth’s surface. It serves as a boundary between warm and cold air, so now that we are in the fall and entering the winter season, we have a big temperature difference between the cold poles and the equator, so as a result our jet gets faster.
Normally we have winds in the jet stream around 80 to 150 miles per hour, but last week we reached speeds of 200 miles per hour because of that major temperature difference.
And since planes fly in the same level of the atmosphere as the jet stream, whenever they are both oriented in the same direction those planes get a huge boost. Which is exactly what happened to a few transatlantic flights last Wednesday.
One example of this, is an American Airlines flight that was traveling from New York City to London’s International Airport. That puts their flight path directly over that exceptionally strong jet stream.
This caused the plane to reach speeds of nearly 780 miles per hour. For reference, normally planes travel at speeds of 550 miles per hour. So, this cut the trip’s duration by nearly an hour.
Now aviation meteorologists know this, so whenever they can, they will use the jet stream as almost a GPS for pilots. But of course, this is only the case for planes that are flying west to east since that is the direction in which the winds of the jet stream flow.
It’s the opposite for commercial pilots that are flying east to west, where they try to avoid flying directly in the jet stream as much as possible.