Aviation Weather

full text of the classic FAA guide


Several Arctic phenomena are peculiar to that region. At times, they have a direct bearing on Arctic flying.


The intense low-level inversion over the Arctic during much of the winter causes sound—including people's voices—to carry over extremely long distances. Light rays are bent as they pass at low angles through the inversion. This bending creates an effect known as looming—a form of mirage that causes objects beyond the horizon to appear above the horizon. Mirages distorting the shape of the sun, moon, and other objects are common with these low level inversions.


In theory, certain energy particles from the sun strike the Earth's magnetic field and are carried along the lines of force where they tend to lower and converge near the geomagnetic poles. The energy particles then pass through rarefied gases of the outer atmosphere, illuminating them in much the same way as an electrical charge illuminates neon gas in neon signs.

The Aurora Borealis takes place at high altitudes above the Earth's surface and thus has been observed as far south as Florida. However, the highest frequency of observations is over the northern United States and northward. Displays of aurora vary from a faint glow to an illumination of the Earth's surface equal to a full moon. They frequently change shape and form and are also called dancing lights or northern lights.


Much more light is reflected by snow-covered surfaces than by darker surfaces. Snow often reflects Arctic sunlight sufficiently to blot out shadows, thus markedly decreasing the contrast between objects. Dark distant mountains may be easily recognized, but a crevasse normally directly in view may be undetected due to lack of contrasts.


Illumination from the moon and stars is much more intense in the Arctic than in lower latitudes. Pilots have found that light from a half-moon over a snow-covered field may be sufficient for landing. Even illumination from the stars creates visibility far beyond that found elsewhere. Only under heavy overcast skies does the night darkness in the Arctic begin to approach the degree of darkness in lower latitudes.

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