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Above the Pause

As aviators one of the huge topics you learn about is weather. It is important for pilots to understand weather because we are subject to the weather while flying. Why do thunderclouds and clouds in general stop growing upwards? Well let's dig into some weather theory so we can understand this.

First, we need to know what makes our atmosphere. Our atmosphere has very distinct layers. The first layer nearest the earth's surface is the troposphere. This is a layer that most of our weather happens. It is the layer that we as humans are in when standing on the surface of the earth. Some things that define the troposphere is its temperature. As we go up in altitude the temperature decreases by approximately 2° per 1,000 feet. The top of this layer is roughly 7-10 miles in the air. This is super important for later discussion in this blog. The next layer is the tropopause. This is a layer of our atmosphere that is defined by a temperature pause. This means it doesn't go up or down with altitude gain. The next layer is the stratosphere. This area of the atmosphere actually has temperature gain as you increase in altitude. There isn't a ton of activity in the mid layer. This is approximately 20-30 miles. The next layer is the mesosphere. This layer is defined by temperature decreases again and this is the layer that we see satellites and meteors in the air. The last layer is the thermosphere. This is defined with temperature increases and is the outer layer of our atmosphere.

Now that we know a bit about our atmosphere, we need to understand how air works. Most of you know that when air is super hot it rises. We see this when sitting by a fire. All that hot air rises because the air above it is cold. So the hot air will continue to rise until it cools down to the surrounding air and it will stop rising. Well when major bodies of air are lifted into the atmosphere by cold fronts, low pressure systems, or by mountains like a big ramp, the air begins to rise. Well we discussed earlier that the troposphere continues to decrease in temperature as the altitude increases. So we have created a recipe for this air to not stop rising. As the air rises it cools off and the moisture inside the air becomes to heavy and creates water droplets. Those water droplets form our clouds. As long as we have temperature decreasing and the air can't cool off to the surrounding temperature, the cloud will rise and get bigger.

There is an end in sight though. That is where the tropopause comes into play. We discussed that the tropopause has temperatures that pause. This allows the rising air to equalize temps with the surrounding air. Therefore it stops the air from rising.

This is why jets can fly above the weather. We often fly above storms around 40,000 feet. An example of our flight today shows us flying above the tropopause.

I hope that was informative. Please contact us for more information on flying through weather.

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