Aeronautical Decision Making: Hurricane Edition

By Scott Spangler on October 3rd, 2022

It seems a safe assumption that the only people who have not yet seen the spectrum of aviation damage wrought by Hurricane Ian are those have endured its torments and await reconnection to their electrical and data grids. The rest of us have witnessed the destruction at almost every turn thanks to our connections to various news and social media networks.

Regardless of how Mother Nature has reconfigured a number of airplanes, the question that arises from each of them is What was aeronautical decision-making process that led them to ride out the storm rather than run to some safe roost beyond Ian’s reach? My motivation here is not criticism but curiosity.

Given an airplane’s aerodynamic proclivities, an unsecured airplane is at risk whenever the ambient windspeed exceeds the airplane’s stalling speed. To a point, effective tiedowns will keep an outdoor airplane in place to a point, but when the breeze is blowing 150 mph or so, Kevlar tiedowns or some secret hurricane knot will not keep Mother Nature from tearing their attachments from the airframe.

Staying put seems more reasonable if the airplane lives in a closed structure that meets Florida’s hurricane building codes. But in a number of images of them, their doors were probably removed by flat plate lift they generated as Ian passed through, suggests that they were not totally safe from injury. Yes, tornadoes caused a lot of the damage, but there is a difference between a standalone Midwestern tornado that is rarely more than a mile wide and scribes a single line across the landscape and the tornadoes spinning out of a 150-mph storm that is a hundred miles or more in diameter.

Certainly, those living in the storm’s path had adequate warning, enough time to make a run for it before the weather became unflyable. Even the local news here in Wisconsin provided enough forecast information that getting out of town was advised and recommended. When NOAA hurricane hunters repositioned Kermit, their WP-3D, from its Lakeland, Florida, homebase to Houston, Texas, that seemed a significant action worth uncounted warning words.

For some, procrastination certainly played a part in their aeronautical decision making. Given the number of interviews of people who decided to ride out the storm in their homes, self-delusion seems to be another possible factor because almost all of them said, “We didn’t think it was going to be this bad.” Really? Given all the warnings and forecasts shared by every media meteorologist in the nation? Did they think that Ian was some woke weather-guesser conspiracy?

Logically, the only reason for staying put that seems valid is the airworthiness of the pilot or aircraft. In this situation, other considerations are more important than an airplane. If there are others I am not aware of, please share them in the comments. I’d really like to know because this information goes into the decision-making database I’ll draw from should I face a similar situation. Ultimately, making the correct decision is important because, after we make them, we are fully responsible for their consequences. –Scott Spangler, Editor



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4 Responses to “Aeronautical Decision Making: Hurricane Edition”

  1. Airdoc Says:

    I find your article troubling, it’s obvious with this stupid inane article you’ve never dealt with hurricanes. Easy to criticize all of us when your up in Wisconsin wondering how the Packers will win or where to get the next bag of cheese curds.
    Yeah easy for the US government to fly that lonely P3 out…. Lots of resources for that. And the flight crews get put up in 5 star hotels while we all suffer our individual fates.

    Let’s see, hurricanes are incredibly unpredictable. Do I save my airplane, my boat or even my car or do I save my family, help my friends and try to secure my home as best I can, some of us have small businesses….. you know guys like us who run FBO’s. Worry about their families much less worry about what’s gonna happen with the bug smashers.

    Some of these owners got killed trying to save what little they had and the last thing on their mind was that Cessna 172.

    You need to get a reality check! Did you notice the business jet elite’s got their precious outta town.

  2. Scott Spangler Says:

    You are correct that I have never directly faced a hurricane. And I realize that addressing the decision-making process in such a situation involves many variables, and as I tried to express in my curiosity quest, many aircraft owners had to consider other priorities more important than their airplanes, but surely not all of them, and it was their thinking that motivated my questions. Thanks for taking time to read my story, and to comment on it.

  3. Kent Shook Says:

    “Given all the warnings and forecasts shared by every media meteorologist in the nation?”

    The big issue here is that “every media meteorologist in the nation” has been crying wolf for years in an effort to get more viewer eyes on them. We even name winter storms now, and have new words like “snowmageddon” and “snowpocalypse”. And we get alerts for “possible extreme thunderstorms!” when nary a sprinkle actually appears.

    So is it any wonder when these same folks change from breathlessly ranting about relatively minor events to breathlessly ranting about hurricanes that people ignore them?

  4. Scott Spangler Says:

    You make a good point about how the meteorological media hyperbole might influence the average citizen, but pilots are (or should be) more atmospherically astute, and with access to weather information, should be able to disregard the hyperbole.

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