Far North Friday #82: The Weather Report
Before I got onto an aircraft in the far north, I would always check the weather.
Checking the weather in the far north of Ontario was not always simple. In the early 2000’s, communication in the far north was challenging. There was no cell phone communication, so it was not possible to check your favourite weather app. If internet was available in the community, it was generally restricted to the administration office and accessed by satellite. So, my weather check usually took place at the airport while waiting for the flight, or from a local community member, or from the pilot while boarding. That was a little late.
In the early 2000’s, the aircraft were small - holding about 10-12 people, including the pilot and co-pilot. Small aircraft bounced around from time-to-time because of turbulence. That was one of my fears - turbulence! Freezing rain was the other.
One day, when leaving Webequie, a fly-in First Nation community located about 525 km (325 mi) north of Thunder Bay (Ontario), the weather looked particularly exciting (Photo 1): low clouds, slight freezing ground fog, but calm. A typical late October day.
Elijah Jacob (Photo 2), Webequie First Nation, provided a taxi service and ran a coffee shop (Photo 3) in Webequie. He drove me to the airport and waited with me. He knew I was not a happy flyer. Every 5 minutes, he would look up and say “Andy, I see a hole in the cloud. The plane will get in and you will fly out.” I kept saying “Elijah, there is no hole in the cloud. All I see is solid cloud cover, plus freezing fog.”
Eventually, we heard the turbine engine. We saw no aircraft. The engine noise got louder, but still no aircraft. Finally, we heard the distinctive “reverse propeller” whosh typical of a landed aircraft slowing down. The aircraft had landed. Like a ghost pirate ship, the aircraft emerged from the ground fog and parked on the airport apron. Elijah laughed and said “see, I told you the plane would land.”
We bid our “see you next time”. I shuffled to the aircraft. I checked the weather with the pilot. “Direct flight to Thunder Bay. We will see the Sun once we climb to altitude.”
Elijah and the pilot were correct. The take off was uneventful and the air was calm. The de-icing devices on the wing breathed in and out slowly, rhythmically, almost calming. The Sun and blue sky above the cloud were a lovely sight.
Many aircraft incidents “in the old days”, pre-my flying days (mostly), were commonly attributed to bad weather. I reassured myself that my ritual of checking the weather before I got onto an aircraft in the far north was well founded. When I was extra worried, I recalled Elijah’s wise words “the pilots are as interested in a safe flight just as much as you are.” But I still check the weather - daily.
4月8/22 (Facebook April 8/22).