The Power Of Convective Storms

In June 1981 I was working as a wilderness ranger in the Sandia Mountains just outside Albuquerque. Two hang glider pilots were preparing to take off – as a thunderstorm built up. We warned them not to go, but they didn’t listen.

One of them got taken up to 40,000 feet and landed in a tree frozen solid 10 miles away. The other scraped bottom just over the rocks and barely made it down to Tramway Blvd in one piece.

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26 Responses to The Power Of Convective Storms

  1. Eric Simpson says:

    And Drudge is headlining: No Named Storms First Time Since 1992 at Hurricane Peak…. Whatever happened to the idea that global warming would increase storms? Well, this is actually consistent with the point that there’s been no warming since around 1992, and we’ve been cooling since ~ 2002 or something. The scare mongering doomsayers are a bunch of loons.

  2. Gail Combs says:

    As rah and I were discussing one pilot managed to live through parachuting thru a thunderstorm. We get some beauts her in North Carolina.

  3. rah says:

    Mountains are no place to fool around with the weather. They can kill you in a heartbeat if you lack respect for the situation and may still kill or hurt you even if you do.

  4. John B., M.D. says:

    Alarmists don’t believe in convection as a mechanism of heat transfer – except in the ocean when they say warm water sinks to sequester heat in the deep Pacific, er, uh, I mean Atlantic.
    They also don’t see how greenhouses block convection, thus the poor analogy to CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere.

  5. tom0mason says:

    A good friend of mine learned the hard way about hang-gliding in rapidly changing weather about 20 years ago. He was going for his third run as the thermal seemed to be rising better off the high hills. I look out towards the sea and saw the heavy rain clouds coming. He took-off and caught the thermal, and all seemed OK as he circled higher holding the thermal’s up-draught.
    But all was not at it seem as suddenly the wind shifted and cooled suddenly, and aloft my friend struggled to maintain control. The cold down-draught from the near-by rain clouds had arrived, and rapidly he fell 500 ft or more to the trees a half mile from us. We race down to find him concussed but conscious. Later in the hospital we learned that he had 3 broken ribs, a broken leg, and was under observation for the severe concussion.

    All this from some rain clouds and convection.

    Personally I much preferred gliders or balloons.

    • Gail Combs says:

      You can still get in trouble. Heck a friend was repelling into El Sotano (a monster pit cave in Mexico) got picked up by the wind and slammed into the cliff face. He had his hand broken. No storm, just a ‘little’ wind, in a cave no less.

    • rah says:

      It ain’t just hang gliding. I spent all of my 8 /12 years team time on mountain/alpine/cold weather teams. Got caught in the worst winter storm to hit Bavaria in 50 years while above the tree line on the Zugspitze. Caught on a 1,000′ rock face in the Kaiser Wilhelm range in Austria during a thunderstorm. Lots of other stuff.

      Mountains are wonderful mystical places when things are good. Waking up looking down on the clouds with a herd of raybuck grazing right outside your bivy sac. Skiing virgin white powder up to your waist. And that is why I always stayed on the mountain teams.

      But besides other dangers when it comes to weather the up and down drafts around them and the speed with which the weather can change when your up there will get you.

      • au1corsair says:

        I’ve been stuck on mountains (on official business) when things went bad. No volcano, yet–I wouldn’t be writing this if I had experienced a volcanic eruption while perched on a mountain peak. White-out conditions have their own mystical quality at near-zero with gusts of more than 30 knots. My military unit just hunkered down and rode out the storm–no cold weather injuries! Victory!
        But lightning wasn’t any fun. Army communications does erect lightning protection systems near antenna arrays–for obvious reasons.
        There’s danger on high. Extreme weather and landslides aren’t the extent of the danger. How about UV? At altitude the atmosphere is thinner–the ozone layer doesn’t protect as well as it does at sea level. You real mountaineers know about oxygen deprivation (“mountain sickness”)–are climate scientist all in denial?

        Extreme weather exists for those who get out of their apartments and administrative offices and malls.

        • rah says:

          That is something I was very proud of as a medic. No cold injuries for anyone on any of the teams on which served beyond chilblains, that is except for myself with a little hypothermia. The trick is training.

      • Gail Combs says:

        I have skied the Zugspitze. I have also xcountry skied in Northern Canada -AWESOME! As au1corsair said Extreme weather exists for those who get out of their apartments. Nothing like waking up with a foot of snow on your sleeping bag.

        • rah says:

          We didn’t make it to the ski area near the summit. From the base walked part way up. Then put on the skies. Stayed at a trail hute over night. Woke up and I didn’t like what I saw and didn’t like what I was hearing on the radio either. Advised our new Team Sergeant not to try. He was a very experienced SF soldier and we were lucky to have him but he simply did not have the time in the mountains. By that time I had more time in the mountains than any of them. We had three new guys on the team who weren’t ready. But he decided to drive on. It got worse quickly to the point where I could hardly see the tips of my white skis let alone the trail markers. Could hear avalanches crashing down the steep face to the right as we ascended. Ted and I changed off breaking trail leading the ranger file. It was my forth time ascending that mountain. Us experienced guys could have made it to the lodge before it got impossible but with the new guys no way. Hunkered down for the night behind a boulder. Every man stayed awake all night. Had to in order to keep from being buried. We talked and joked all night checking on each other.

          Next morning equipment buried under 4′ of new snow. Uniforms and bodies wet so that hands became useless in seconds in the wind chill and uniform froze like cardboard. Dug my stuff out and got my MSR stove going and made hot drinks for everyone. Still getting our stuff together when the Bergfuhrer came down in a snow cat and gave us a ride up. They knew we were on the mountain but wouldn’t even try in a snow cat that night.

          Tram closed down due to high winds. Went down by train after they cleared the tracks late the afternoon. Anyone that would have had a down sleeping bag would not have survived that night in it. The snow was pure powder. Impossible to do anything with.

          Back at the Kasern my family quarters were on the third floor. They had piled the snow so high to clear the parking area that my son had his bedroom window open and was jumping out on the side of the mound and sliding down it.

        • Gail Combs says:

          rah, waking with a foot of snow was in flatlands Indiana on a college caving trip. (We were headed down not up.) I would never pull a fool stunt like staying over night in the mountains in winter. The summer is dangerous enough as is day time X-country skiing.

  6. au1corsair says:

    Speaking of heat–how hot is Earth’s molten core?
    I read something like 9800 degrees F. Makes a 2 degree “increase” disappear…

    • KTM says:

      “Speaking of heat–how hot is Earth’s molten core?”

      Although Al Gore didn’t specify whether he was talking about the core or the mantle, he knows that the interior of the earth is “several million degrees”.

  7. Steve Case says:


  8. Chuck says:

    I remember hearing about this as a kid. I didn’t know that they found him in Corrales though!

  9. Alf says:

    And then there are blue thermal days when there is not enough water vapor in the air to create clouds. Some of my best flying over 11000 ft asl. It is all about laps rates not so much temp.

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