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Mountain Waves: a common phenomenon among mountain flying

Published: Oct. 13, 2021 at 7:09 PM MDT|Updated: Oct. 13, 2021 at 7:26 PM MDT
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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KJCT) - Both the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration are still investigating the plane crash Monday morning. The crash occurred in a remote area near the Grand Mesa near Jerry Creek Reservoir.

A common phenomenon known as Mountain Wave is a common factor in mountain flying, especially with smaller planes. Mountain waves are similar to waves in the water, which rise & descend.

“It’s just like water going over a rock, and our big rocks out here are the mountains,” said Pilot Wade Tagg. “So as the air flows over the mountains, it comes back down over the other side of the mountains.”

The closer a plane flies to a mountain the more likely they are to experience these mountain waves, and the higher the wind, the stronger the wave.

“The wind is coming down, so the plane is trying to climb up & trying to beat that wind,” said Tagg. “If you have an airplane that can climb fast enough & strong enough to beat the wind, then it’s okay. But even in a high powered single piston airplane you might not have enough power. It can even happen to a jet.”

Mountain waves can exist at both low altitudes & high altitudes in various mountain ranges. They become more of an issue in low altitudes for smaller planes due to the limit in power to climb.

There are a few things that aviation meteorologists look for when it comes to strong mountain waves developing.

“When it comes to Mountain Waves developing there’s a few things we look for,” said Meteorologist Brad Miller. “One of those things, winds blowing perpendicular to whatever Mountain range it is. In this case, the Grand Mesa. Winds were coming in from the southwest so they were blowing right towards the edge of that. Also we look for stronger winds towards the top of the mountain.”

One visible sign of possible mountain waves in the area are lenticular clouds which are caused by air flow coming over the mountains & making a wave.

Again, at this time, the cause of the plane crash has not been determined. The “mountain wave” is only a possible cause.

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