Looking back 20 years, on average, there were about five GA thunderstorm accidents per year. Surprisingly, that hasn’t changed much in two decades! That corresponds roughly to one accident per month during T-storm season. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not a lot. But unlike landing accidents where almost everybody walks away (not my definition of a good landing), a thunderstorm tangle has a 75 percent fatality rate. Also, every flight has a landing, but not that many flights encounter CBs. Confounding factors make comparable assessments difficult!
So the numbers are flat, but my statistically unproven hunch is that we are doing much more flying in thundery weather thanks largely to datalink. In-cockpit weather—displayed on portable or panel-mounted devices—has revolutionized the ability to see and avoid boomers. Use the tool intelligently lest optimistic interpretations lead us where angels fear to tread. On board radar is also a tremendous help in-close, but it also has to be used smartly.
One of my favorite mentors, Captain Bob Buck who wrote the book on weather flying, gave the big storms anthropomorphic characteristics. He described them as “treacherous.” Why? Because while having similar characteristics, no two storms are exactly alike. To misquote Forrest Gump’s mother, “You never know what you’re going to get.” What looks like something you’ve seen before may be quite different. Bad can go to worse to impossible literally within a mile.
True skill lies in avoidance. We’re kidding ourselves upon escape from an encounter that it was due to airmanship. Lady luck merely smiled.
Enough philosophy! Cruise over to the Air Safety Institute Storm Week page for an all-inclusive look at a multitude of courses, case studies, and quizzes. There’s also a webinar registration for Wednesday, June 11 at 7 p.m. EDT to join Dr. David Strahle and me for a look at in-cockpit weather with an emphasis on datalink. It will be recorded if the timing doesn’t work for you. AOPA President Mark Baker and I took a looong trip in a Cessna Caravan from St. Louis to Frederick and we discuss the tools used in this “Flying the Weather: T-storm Toolbox” video.
There were a lot of storms! This year—let’s try to reduce the CB encounters and accidents to an all-time low. We want and need you flying with us next year.