Seasoned Colorado travelers are well aware of what to expect flying in and out of Denver International Airport (DIA). A whole lot of bumps! At times it can be so bad it is like riding a bike down a gravel road without a cushioned seat- fellas, am I right? Okay, it is probably not that serious, but it can be intimidating, especially for those who do not know what to expect when traveling through the Mile High City.
Often referred to as the bumpiest airport to fly into in the United States, trips through DIA usually has passengers on edge. There is an explanation why these pesky potholes put a damper on your arrival and departure in Denver though.
The Rocky Mountains.
While beautiful to look at, Colorado’s geography plays a huge role regarding the turbulence factor. Although these bothersome bumps are typically not dangerous, extreme cases have happened. On a positive note, reports show only three turbulence related deaths since the 1980s. So rest assured, you may spill your overpriced drink in your lap but are overall, safe.
Let me break it down for you.
Picture the atmosphere as a liquid sprinkled with waves and bumps. However, Colorado is different because the mountains divide the state creating unstable air. When the air climbs and descends in response to the topography, it creates the perfect recipe for invisible potholes with a side of “Whoa Nelly,” as opposed to non-mountainous terrain where it’s smooth sailing.
Along the Front Range, though, there is this thing known as, “mountain waves,” which adds a little something extra to the mix. These invisible waves happen when air rises up and over the mountains causing it to accelerate and sink on the lee side of the Rockies.
Have you ever heard of turbulent eddies? When that air sinks, it’s filled with eddies and bumps, specifically if the wind direction is perpendicular to the ridgeline, aka westerly winds streaming off a north-south oriented range. So basically, if you look up and see lenticular clouds, expect bumpier conditions on your flight.
Can I avoid a bumpy ride?
Colorado turbulence tends to be much worse in the winter and early spring as the jet stream moves over the state this time of year. The jet stream causes the air to move faster and more violently, creating stronger, more unpredictable airflow. And you know what that means — giddy-up sugar biscuits — it will be a rough ride!
Additionally, during the spring and summer when wind shear is more prevalent along the Front Range, also aids in that scary ride in and out of DIA. So you are pretty much SOL if you are hoping to avoid it — but you can get lucky!
Do not be afraid.
While pilots are often able to avoid turbulent air, this is not always the case. The good news is, all airplanes are built to support the jarring associated with rough air, and pilots are equipped to fly through it safely. While these sudden jerks are scary, the biggest threat is injuries inside the cabin. If the pilot turns on that seatbelt sign, it is in your best interest to buckle up!
Next time you find yourself onboard a less than relaxing flight, rest assured that your vehicle is safe and sound on the ground at Fine Airport Parking!