Friday, November 13, 2009

Wall of fog

My overnight went fine. Leaving in the morning (5:45AM departure!) required too much thought.

As we pushed out we got a unrequested print out via ACARS. The print out was weather in base from our dispatcher. Weather was below mins (1/4SM and 001OVC) . The previous forecast on which the flight was planned was a lot. We already had one alternate. But with the new weather, a second might be in order.

Since we had just pushed out and not moved we decided to stay put and work the situation. I pulled the weather in base and a few airports in the area, he looked up the FARs concerning when a 2nd alternate is needed. After a few minutes we had a plan, we needed a second alternate. I typed away on the FMS to send a message to our dispatcher to work up a second alternate. The Captain began taxiing.

We sat at the end of the runway for a few minutes before getting a print out with our new fuel burn info and alternate flight plan. Good to go.

Being a 5:45AM departure it's no surprise we were the first flight out. The departure controller must have still been sleep. The tower handed us off when we reached 4000 feet. I called departure a few times. No response. Back to tower. Told to contact departure again. No response. Back to tower. He cleared us to 15,000. Around 12,000 we were told to switch again and they picked up only to handed off to a center controller right away..

Our ACARS system is very useful. For airports with digital ATIS it can pull and transcribe the ATIS for us. In addition it can keep track of updates. This is useful in situations where the weather in constantly changing.

The flight was planned for 50 minutes. In that time span 6 ATIS updates came out. Weather was going up and down.

As we neared base we monitored to tower frequency for RVR reports.The FAA has a website to view live RVR reports here. The reports were touchdown at greater than 6000, midpoint 800 , rollout 800. Clearly half the airport was covered in fog.

Sure enough there was a low layer of clouds all over the area. Lined up with the runway we could see the approach lights 10 miles away. The control tower was above the clouds. It was a very interesting sight, photo worthy....but we were in sterile cockpit so no photographs allowed.

As we neared the runway we could see a thick wall of fog. After landing we were quickly inside the fog and could see maybe 100 feet in front of us. Just a few taxi lights.

The airport has ground RADAR which is great because the tower couldn't see us. After clearing the runway it took a moment to verify where we were. Taxiway signs were obscured.

Amazingly a few moments later we were in the clear. The fog was thick and patchy.

After parking at the gate I was released for the day. I took the morning to fix that flat tire. One hundred and thirty dollars later it was fixed. It seems the valve that snapped off wasn't just a valve but part of the Tire Pressure Monitoring System for my car. Nice. A whole days pay on one tire.

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