by Dan McDowell
Miunnesota DOT Office of Aeronautics
Published in Midwest Flyer – October/November 2017 issue
It is almost a standard part of nearly every comedy program on TV these days to have a character experience a moment of ‘life imitating art.’ And if done well, it can be pulled off as a very funny situation. But when it happens in real life, it often isn’t funny at all, at least not at the moment when it occurs. I’ll explain this at the end of the article.
One of those life things that can sneak up on you and bite you in the empennage during our frosty season from October to March, is “black ice.” It can form when the air temperature is at, or below freezing, but is above the pavement temperature. The air can no longer hold its moisture and that moisture quickly condenses on the pavement.
Black ice generally forms with a relatively smooth, flat surface that visually presents the appearance of nothing more than a shallow puddle of water or a shiny, wet area or a black spot on the road, taxiway or runway. You should also know that black ice is not black at all. In fact, it is actually transparent. Thus, it can be exceedingly difficult, at best, to see black ice in daylight hours, and nearly impossible to see especially at night on roadways, taxiways, runways, sidewalks, and even porch decks. Keep in mind also that it does not have to be snowing or raining for black ice to form.
It is very important for aviators (and drivers) to maintain a heightened sense of awareness of winter’s rapidly changing weather patterns and their impact on local surface conditions. It is also important to maintain awareness that black ice can be present on any paved surfaces. Thus, when you are preparing for flight, you should maintain a heightened level of awareness as you drive to and from the airport, and as you taxi for takeoff and after landing.
When conditions are conducive to black ice formation, remember that even though you may not have experienced black ice on your well-traveled roadways, the possibility still exists that black ice may be on your airport roadways, taxiways and runways. Staying alert and aware of current and changing weather conditions is critically important to your safety and the safety of your passengers.
Last November, I experienced black ice in an ‘up close and personal’ manner. I stepped on what I thought was simply a wet spot on my front porch deck, after checking four other wet spots that were in fact wet spots! The fifth one was black ice. I slipped and in the end did significant damage to my right knee. Earlier that day at the office, I had started drafting an article for the Tech Bulletin about the dangers of black ice. Irony? Karma? Bad Luck?
Whatever the case, I was off work nearly 6 months because of the injury. So the point is, black ice, or any ice, when stepped on unexpectedly, can cause you to fall and possibly sustain serious injuries.
We are well into the frosty season and I urge you to be careful out there when walking, driving, or flying. It only takes a few seconds to have your life changed in a huge way. Oh, by the way, the answer is ‘yes,’ I do laugh at the irony of the original article I wrote last November 23rd, and the end result. Now more than ever, I am practicing what I am preaching!