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Cold Weather + Strong Jetstream = Long Flights

by Jack Penning

kgw.com

Posted on February 20, 2006 at 8:53 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 2:46 PM

The unusually cold weather we dealt with for the last four or five days didn't just affect us on the ground. It's caused havoc in the skies. The jetstream has been unusually strong. It moves from west to east across North America. It's the engine that guides storms around the world... and divides cold air from warm. When planes fly from the east coast to the west coast... they fly against that wind. Normally, the jetstream causes flights from the northeast to Portland to be between 20 minutes and 40 minutes longer than flights going from Portland to the northeast.

For the past week, the jetstream's winds have been blowing at about 180 miles per hour. That means a plane that would normally fly from New York to Portland at 530 miles per hour... flying against the jetstream... is only moving at 350 miles per hour. Much slower... which means flight times are increased by an hour or more.

A good example is Alaska Airlines flight 5, on February 16th. It flies from Washington Reagan National to Los Angeles Int'l. Normally the flight takes 5:46. On the 16th, it took 6:38.

In some cases, the wind is so strong planes have to stop and re-fuel along the way. They just can't carry enough Jet-A to fight the jetstream.

Take, for example, jetBlue's flights from New York Kennedy to Portland on both Saturday and Sunday.

Saturday night, jetBlue flight 165, from JFK to PDX, had to make a fuel stop in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Then, on Sunday, the same flight had to make a fuel stop in Denver.

In fact, the aviation buffs at a great website called Airliners.net found a whole bunch of flights that had similar problems, due to the strength of the jetstream's winds. Here's their list:

Sunday, February 19th:

jetBlue 165 New York Kennedy to Portland (diverted to Minneapolis)
jetBlue 219 New York Kennedy to Oakland (diverted to Minneapolis)
jetBlue 107 New York Kennedy to Oakland (diverted to Minneapolis)
jetBlue 173 New York Kennedy to San Jose (diverted to Minneapolis)
jetBlue 083 New York Kennedy to Seattle (diverted to Minneapolis)
jetBlue 477 New York Kennedy to Oakland (diverted to Minneapolis)
jetBlue 171 New York Kennedy to Sacramento (diverted to Minneapolis)
Song 2071 New York Kennedy to Los Angeles (diverted to Kansas City)
Song 2022 New York Kennedy to San Francisco (diverted to Minneapolis)

Friday, February 17th:

Delta 793 Cincinnati to Salt Lake City (diverted to Kansas City)
Delta 381 Cincinnati to Phoenix (diverted to Little Rock)
Delta 627 Atlanta to Tucson (diverted to El Paso)
Delta 499 Atlanta to Phoenix (diverted to Dallas/Ft. Worth)
Delta 1102 Atlanta to Denver (diverted to Kansas City)
Southwest 343 Philadelphia to Oakland (diverted to Chicago Midway)

Thursday, February 16th:

Delta 381 Cincinnati to Phoenix (diverted to Oklahoma City)
Delta 1091 Cincinnati to Phoenix (diverted to Oklahoma City)
Delta 499 Atlanta to Phoenix (diverted to Dallas/Ft. Worth)
Delta 627 Atlanta to Tucson (diverted to El Paso)
jetBlue 351 New York Kennedy to Burbank (diverted to Las Vegas)
jetBlue 93 New York Kennedy to Oakland (diverted to Las Vegas)
jetBlue 205 New York Kennedy to Long Beach (diverted to Las Vegas)
jetBlue 169 New York Kennedy to Oakland (diverted to Las Vegas)
jetBlue 355 New York Kennedy to Burbank (diverted to Las Vegas)
jetBlue 489 New York Kennedy to Long Beach (diverted to Las Vegas)
jetBlue 306 Washington Dulles to Long Beach (diverted to Las Vegas)
jetBlue 359 New York Kennedy to Burbank (diverted to Las Vegas)
jetBlue 95 New York Kennedy to Oakland (diverted to Las Vegas)
jetBlue 181 New York Kennedy to San Diego (diverted to Phoenix)
jetBlue 221 New York Kennedy to Long Beach (diverted to Phoenix)
jetBlue 219 New York Kennedy to Long Beach (diverted to Phoenix)
jetBlue 481 Boston to Long Beach (diverted to Salt Lake City)
jetBlue 475 Boston to Oakland (diverted to Salt Lake City)
jetBlue 101 New York Kennedy to Oakland (diverted to Salt Lake City)
jetBlue 209 New York Kennedy to Long Beach (diverted to Salt Lake City)
jetBlue 471 Boston to San Jose (diverted to Salt Lake City)
jetBlue 215 New York Kennedy to Long Beach (diverted to Salt Lake City)
jetBlue 357 New York Kennedy to Burbank (diverted to Salt Lake City)
jetBlue 91 New York Kennedy to Oakland (diverted to Salt Lake City)
jetBlue 173 New York Kennedy to San Jose (diverted to Salt Lake City)
jetBlue 107 New York Kennedy to Oakland (diverted to Salt Lake City)
jetBlue 477 Boston to Oakland (diverted to Salt Lake City)
jetBlue 185 New York Kennedy to San Diego (diverted to Salt Lake City)
jetBlue 171 New York Kennedy to Sacramento (diverted to Salt Lake City)
jetBlue 217 New York Kennedy to Long Beach (diverted to Denver)
jetBlue 321 Washington Dulles to Oakland (diverted to Denver)
jetBlue 89 New York Kennedy to Ontario (diverted to Denver)
jetBlue 483 New York Kennedy to Las Vegas (diverted to Denver)

Again, this is not a complete list of all wind-caused diversions. Most airlines dealt with them in some capacity... but information isn't available for each airline. This list is only intended to provide some feeling for the scope of the jetstream-caused flight delays.

You can read much more about this topic at Airliners.net.

Do you have a similar story? E-mail me at jpenning@kgw.com.

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