Looking south from my window. This thickening middle cloud, altostratus, means continuous precipitation is hours away. Note the tower on the hill.
The relatively new terminal of St. John's, Newfoundland. They only have three gates. It's a beautiful building, but guess what, it's too small! Expansion is on the way!
Can you say snowstorm? (Day 3 of 4)
A winter storm warning was talk of the town. The onset was just prior to our launch for Toronto. I could see it’s classic formation as it crawled northeastward. Cirrostratus dominated the Eastern sky. South from my hotel window classic middle cloud, altostratus, said snow was imminent. Calm waters prevailed in St. John’s harbour as the ridge of high pressure succumbed to one hell of a low pressure system. For those with barometers in St. John's, their barometer would be falling. Not off the wall, but indicating a significant pressure drop.
As we drove to the airport light snow began to fall confirming the weatherman’s accuracy and mother nature readiness to pounce.
As passengers boarded, visibility reduced from unlimited to ¾ mile in light snow and blowing snow. We would need a take off alternate if visibility went below ½ mile (standard take of visibility in Canada). CYQX (Gander) just miles north of Torbay would suffice.
Question: What's the difference between blowing snow and drifting snow?
Out comes the dreaded and now detested deicing checklist. It’s off to the deice facility we go. Type 1 and type 4 is the requisite. As we get sprayed I mentioned to the F/O, one either encounters nasty weather for take off or for landing in this meteorological armpit. (Sorry Chris but your province is the focal point of three tracks of low pressure systems with St. John’s probably hosting the nastiest weather in North America) It’s not for the faint of heart pilot. Funny, I’ve flown in and out of here with four different companies. You would think I would learn. :)
But it’s the people that make it difficult for me to bid around this place. I won’t mention about the “cougar” effect. No, I’m not talking about Cougar helicopters, which fly out of here taking personnel to off shore oil rigs. I’m talking about what is noticed in the local establishments while their hubbies work in places like Fort McMurray, Alberta. I’ll stop there. J
As we backtrack on runway 16 Mother Nature is lashing it’s fury with low visibility in snow and gusty winds. It’s serious because we delay the take off flap setting to reduce possible ice contamination. It will also include standing on the brakes and revving the engines up to 70 percent. As I diligently taxi to the button, the in charge calls asking whether were deiced. Huh? He mentions ice and snow were adhering to the windows. I said the wings and tail were done.
I remember a pep talk I received the day I went captain for a previous company. "Doug" he said, "you will encounter situations where it may be uncomfortable, but it's not unsafe." Let's just say no coffee was required as adrenaline kept us both perky. :)
The flaps are lowered, the APU is started as we need every bit of power from the engines. The APU will supply the air conditioning packs instead of bleeding air from the engines.
I turn the aircraft around into the wind staring down runway 16. The markings are barely noticeable in the snow. The sweepers did a run down the runway, but the wind already had it’s way.
It's time to set 70 percent power. The engines are like two chained ferocious pit bulls taunted by Captain Doug. They wanted to leap. In fact, the aircraft did lunge a little with the brakes set. I told my F/O….”okay, we are out of here!” We lunge forward. I counteract the gusty winds by quickly correcting on the pedals not allowing any deviation as we thrust down the white covered runway. I use peripheral vision to ensure we are centred between the runway lights. There's no centerline lights on this runway and the markings are buried in snow.
The F/O calls V1 and then “rotate.” I keep extra speed and rotate a little slower ensuring those deiced wings bite into the air. Plus airspeed is a pilot’s friend. Up she goes, and yes Julie, it climbed like a home sick angel. :)
Below us...the deep relentless frigid waters of the North Atlantic is obscured in cloud. Then light to moderate turbulence hits associated with a low level jet stream. St Almos fire flashes across our windscreen. A call comes from the back saying residual deice fluid has infiltrated the cabin. I turn the air flow to high to help dissipate the rather acrid smell.
We top the cloud at 30,000 feet indicating that was one hell of a weather system.
Now it’s day four. Just got a datalink. Crew sked wants to send us to EWR (Newark) and back instead of Montreal. Means we will be home earlier with draft pay. Better call home to give a heads up. LOL
The life of an airline pilot…