DENVER (CBS4) – You probably don’t think about travel delays when it’s hot, sunny, and dry outside. However, as the summer heat becomes extreme, these delays can occur to those traveling by land or air.
In flight, a potential problem can arise during take-off, especially for the pilot of a fully loaded jet. It can be difficult to get a plane to the ground when temperatures hit the 100s.
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To understand this, we need a short lesson in physics. Specifically, a lesson on air density. To visualize this, imagine the air above a city like Denver as a column.
In cold temperatures, the air is tight, which makes the column short and compact. Air is closest to the ground and that is good for an airplane to take off. The colder the air, the more efficiently an airplane climbs. A fully loaded jet can leave the ground in less than 30 seconds.
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The opposite is true when it’s hot outside. Air rises from the ground and makes the column very tall. This makes the air very thin near the surface, which is a problem for a pilot at take-off. The thin air affects the lift an aircraft needs to leave the ground. To overcome this, it takes a pilot more time to reach a higher speed at takeoff, and that requires extra long runways.
The weight of an airplane also plays a role in this equation. Occasionally, flights need to remove cargo, baggage, and even passengers for a safe takeoff. In Denver we have an additional problem because of our altitude. The air here is already around 15% thinner than at locations at sea level.
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If you’re traveling by land, you need a vehicle that is in good mechanical condition with good tires when it’s really hot outside. When air temperatures hit the upper 80s or more, concrete and asphalt surfaces can reach 150 degrees or more. The heat of the road surface combined with additional frictional heat, especially at high speed, can make blowouts a real possibility.