What Is Wind Shear?

Tools

By By Steve Pool

SEATTLE - Wind shear can be a pilot's worst enemy in the air. It's a term for any area where you have two different winds blowing nearby -- such as fast/slow, or east/west, or up/down.

These differences cause eddies in the air and strong turbulence.

The most dangerous are areas of strong upward winds near areas of strong downward winds (usually near thunderstorms).

A pilot flying near the ground might encounter a strong updraft. If the pilot then pushes the nose down to counterbalance, then the plane could suddenly enter a strong downdraft that, combined with the pilot still trying to descend from the updraft, can push the plane further down.

But technology to the rescue: Most aircraft are now equipped with wind-shear sensors, and many airports now have wind sensors along the tarmac to help alert pilots to wind shear potential. If a pilot knows it's coming, they can avoid problems.

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