SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- It’s a fairly nice day across New England. Good amounts of sunshine with temperatures slightly below-average. The wind is starting to kick up a little this afternoon, but nothing like what we are seeing 30,000 feet above the surface of the Earth.
The Jet Stream, a narrow band or bands of very strong westerly air currents, is roaring overhead. We talk about the Jet Stream on television often, mainly because it acts as a boundary between warm and cold air. Additionally, it’s the path that storm typically follow when heading to the Northeast.
Just yesterday, a weather balloon sounding from Long Island, New York measured a record for wind speed at a little over 230 mph at 250 millibars, or about 30,000 feet.
Impressively, the 250mb wind reached 200.99 knots; the first time crossing over 200 knots and setting a new record for this National Weather Service office. Records date back to 1957!
The graph also show the ‘relaxing’ of the Jet Stream during the Summer months. The Jet Stream tends to migrate northward during the Summer and therefore, isn’t observed as much over New England at that time.
You may be thinking – why does this matter? I’m on the ground and the wind is only 10 to 20 miles per hour.
While you may have your feet firmly planted to the ground, many are in commercial planes at 30,000 feet! The Jet Stream is providing quite a tailwind to those east-bound.
Peter James, a commercial pilot, tweeted that “never ever seen this kind of tailwind in my life…”
Almost 800 mph now never ever seen this kind of tailwind in my life as a commercial pilot !! (200 mph tailwind ) pic.twitter.com/0XGTkEP9EB— Peter James (@jetpeter1) February 19, 2019
Users on Twitter noted Monday’s Virgin Atlantic 8, a flight from Los Angeles to London, arrived 55 minutes ahead of schedule, only achievable with an incredible tailwind.
758 MPH: The jet stream is so strong over the US right now... that @VirginAtlantic Flight 8 from LAX to London is whipping above Kansas at a ground speed of 758 miles an hour. That's almost the speed of sound... #CAwx @KPIXtv pic.twitter.com/xni0IuKO5Z— Paul Deanno (@PaulKPIX) February 19, 2019
At one point, according to Flight Aware, the jet was traveling at a ground-speed, which is the speed at which the plane is traveling relative to ground level, of 801 miles per hour. For comparison, the speed of sound at sea level is 761 miles per hour.
Worth noting that the actual airspeed of the Boeing 787 was considerably lower and the plane was traveling within normal design limits, below the speed of sound at altitude. The aircraft is rated to travel at approximately Mach 0.8, or 80% of the speed of sound.
That’s why there wasn’t any sonic boom - ground-speed differs from airspeed!
While plenty of east-bound flights are enjoying the extra fuel economy, travelers heading west are not enjoying the same benefits. Especially strong head winds for returning flights from Europe not only increase travel time, but it can cause additional fuel stops in the Canadian Maritimes or New England.
To avoid the 200 mph core of the jet stream, where the winds are strongest, flights between the Europe and the United States have been taking an unusual route, flying closer to Greenland, rather than heading due west across the Atlantic.
In many cases, the upper-level wind is associated with somewhat calm weather. Think of the Jet Stream as a highway. The more bends in the road there are, the slower you have to go to navigate safely. The straightaways are where you can really pick up speed. Same idea with the Jet Stream – with no ridges or troughs, the wind is free to gather strength and speed as it moves across the continental United States.