When planes can't climb above the clouds

HOUSTON - Once in a while, the atmosphere will create a large cloud. So big, even airliners designed to fly high in the stratosphere can not climb above its reaches. Typical storm clouds range from 30,000 feet to as high as 50,000 feet, if it's severe. Today in the Panhandle of Texas convective storms clouds punched 70,000 feet high as intense updrafts, moving at over 100 mph, formed due to a, "dry line", which plowed tropical Gulf moisture skyward until it was stopped by the bounds of our atmosphere itself.

At 70,000 feet, as indicated by radar, that's some 40,000 feet higher than the border of the troposphere (where 99.9% of, "weather" happens). There's certainly no oxygen up there to sustain life. In fact, at 60,000 feet, you hit what's known as the Armstrong Limit, where even if you're sporting a positive oxygen pressurize mask in your fighter jet, only a space suit would save you if your cockpit were to lose pressure. At that altitude, your blood and tears would literally boil at room temperature. If you were a pilot and this happened, you might first notice the saliva on your tongue start to fizz in your mouth, like you were eating rock candy. Then it'd all go black ...

What was remarkable to me was that these storm clouds were reaching nearly 2 miles above the Armstrong Limit, "boiling point"! This is an altitude where not only is there no air to breathe, but the sky at Noon directly above you is jet black, as you peer into the vacuum of space high above. It's the approximate altitude which only the SR-71 Blackbird and U-2 could fly. No plane without a rocket can go higher than this (at which point it becomes a space craft).

So... for commercial flights this afternoon over the TX Pan Handle Panhandle (I blame auto-correct on my iPhone for that Twitter spelling error), the only option was to navigate around storms. That meant awkwardly funneling into the same areas before going back to the desired latitude for to complete their cross-country routes.

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter for more cool weather tidbits like this, through your week!

-Brooks

 

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