Learning Experiences

August 2009 Issue

Blinding Ice

It was late March, and an early spring blizzard was lashing the Rockies before heading toward the upper Midwest to wreak further havoc. Warm moist air to the west of the mountains was being pushed upgrade by the prevailing winds; as the air expanded, it cooled, resulting in a major dump of powder on the appreciative ski areas, but rather nasty weather for travelers. Splat! The windshield in front of me went from dry to a solid block of ice in less than a second—and I couldn’t see a thing. One moment I was cruising along, admiring the Rockies just west of the Eagle County (Colo.) Airport, and the next I was totally blind. I had been monitoring the ceiling—progressively lowering as I climbed along the west side of the mountains, and the OAT, which had been dropping and now read 28 deg. F. A sudden gout of water had hit the windshield, and the already super-cooled liquid had frozen into an opaquely solid mass as soon as it hit. Indeed, the change from liquid to solid was so instantaneous the ripples caused by the impact were preserved. As a relatively new pilot, I fly for fun, in VFR weather and remain in awe of those who would stray into the path of ice—known or even just possible.

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