Do Planes Fly Above Rain?

For anyone who has gazed out an airplane window during stormy weather, you may have wondered if pilots intentionally fly above rain and storms. With advanced weather radar systems and years of aviation experience under their belts, pilots actually have several strategies to safely navigate flights through rainy conditions.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Pilots use a variety of techniques to avoid turbulence from storms, including changing altitude to fly above or below storm clouds depending on the type of aircraft and weather conditions.

How Storms Affect Flights

Turbulence and safety risks

Storms can have a significant impact on flights, primarily due to the turbulence and safety risks they present. When an airplane encounters a storm, it can experience severe turbulence, which can be unsettling for passengers and potentially dangerous if not managed properly.

Turbulence can occur both inside and outside the storm, making it crucial for pilots to be constantly aware of weather conditions and adjust their flight plans accordingly. In some cases, flights may be diverted or delayed to ensure the safety of passengers and crew.

Storm structure and severity

Understanding the structure and severity of storms is essential for pilots when making decisions about flying through or around them. Thunderstorms, for example, are characterized by intense updrafts and downdrafts, which can create hazardous flying conditions.

Lightning, strong winds, and heavy precipitation are common features of thunderstorms, posing risks to aircraft. Additionally, the severity of a storm can vary, with some being more intense and widespread than others.

Pilots rely on weather reports, radar systems, and communication with air traffic control to assess the storm’s structure and severity and determine the best course of action.

Pilots’ use of weather radar

Pilots use weather radar systems to detect and track storms in real time. These radar systems provide valuable information about the location, intensity, and movement of storms, allowing pilots to make informed decisions.

By analyzing the radar data, pilots can identify areas of heavy precipitation, turbulence, and other hazardous weather conditions. This enables them to adjust their flight paths, altitude, and speed to avoid the most severe parts of the storm.

Weather radar technology has greatly improved over the years, providing pilots with more accurate and detailed information to ensure the safety and comfort of passengers.

Flying Above or Below Storms

When it comes to flying through stormy weather, pilots have to make strategic decisions to ensure the safety and comfort of their passengers. Depending on the size of the aircraft and the severity of the storm, planes may either fly above or below storm systems.

Smaller planes may fly under storm cells

Smaller planes, such as regional jets or private aircraft, may choose to fly below storm cells. This is because these aircraft are more maneuverable and can navigate around specific storm cells with relative ease.

By flying under the storms, pilots can avoid the turbulent conditions and heavy precipitation that can be experienced at higher altitudes. However, it’s important to note that even smaller planes will usually avoid severe thunderstorms altogether, opting for rerouting or delaying the flight until the weather improves.

Larger jets tend to fly above storm tops

On the other hand, larger commercial jets tend to fly above storm tops. These jets are equipped with advanced weather radar systems that allow pilots to detect and track storms from a distance. By flying above the storm, pilots can minimize the risk of encountering severe turbulence and hail that may be associated with the storm cells.

Additionally, flying at higher altitudes can provide a smoother ride for passengers, as the air tends to be calmer and more stable above the storm.

Optimizing altitude for smoothest ride

Pilots aim to find the optimal altitude that offers the smoothest ride for their passengers. This usually involves finding a balance between avoiding the turbulence and precipitation associated with storm cells, while also taking advantage of the more stable air at higher altitudes.

By carefully monitoring weather conditions and consulting with air traffic control, pilots can make informed decisions about the best altitude to fly at, ensuring a safe and comfortable journey for everyone onboard.

Additional Pilot Strategies

When it comes to flying above rain, pilots employ additional strategies to ensure the safety and comfort of their passengers. These strategies include plotting a new course around storm cells, communicating with air traffic control, and making necessary preparations for emergency landings.

Plotting a new course around storm cells

Pilots are constantly monitoring weather patterns and radar systems to identify storm cells along their intended flight path. If they spot an area of heavy rain or thunderstorms, they will work with air traffic control to plot a new course that avoids the adverse weather conditions.

This helps to minimize turbulence and provide a smoother flight experience for passengers.

Communicating with air traffic control

Communication between pilots and air traffic control is crucial during flights, especially when dealing with inclement weather. Pilots will inform air traffic control of their intentions to deviate from the planned route due to rain or storm cells.

Air traffic control will then provide updated information on the weather conditions and suggest alternative routes if necessary. This collaboration ensures that pilots have the most up-to-date information to make informed decisions for the safety of everyone on board.

Emergency landing preparations

While rare, there may be situations where pilots need to make an emergency landing due to severe weather conditions such as heavy rain or thunderstorms. Pilots are trained to handle such situations and will make the necessary preparations to ensure a safe landing.

This includes communicating with the cabin crew and passengers, securing loose items, and preparing the aircraft for landing in accordance with established procedures. Emergency landings are always prioritized for the safety of all individuals on board.


While pilots have an arsenal of tools and tactics to avoid stormy weather, their number one priority is ensuring a safe flight for passengers. Modern aircraft are designed to withstand turbulence, and pilots receive extensive training on navigating stormy skies.

So even if your flight hits a few bumps on your next trip, rest assured the pilots are working diligently to provide the smoothest possible ride.

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