Monday, October 29, 2012

October 29th, 2012

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Why do the minor rains appear to be so much wetter than the major rains? I really don’t know the answer, but I do feel the mud beneath my feet! The rains of the last couple of weeks have created some inconveniences at the airfield – including water levels at one end of the runway reaching heights sufficient for a marker board to ‘rise-up-and-float’ to a new location! Disruptions due to ‘soft- and wet-field’ that affect airfield as well as flying operations is only to be expected when you operate a grass runway. Fortunately, Ghana still enjoys more ‘good days for flying’, especially from a grass strip, than most of Europe!

The weather has also affected the progress of George and Joerg on their trip from Juist in Germany to Accra, Ghana. They found themselves ground-bound in France due to cloud layers blocking their passage over the Pyrenees Mountains last week. As with all these things, a little patience pays off, and a spectacular day of flying greeted them after some rest. We hope to soon receive some spectacular dry days of November flying, in the last ‘good air’ before the Harmattan reaches down from the Sahara and chokes us!

Aviation, Maritime operations and Farming are the ‘weather dependent’ operations of the world. Bad weather has the potential for loss of property and life at the extreme end of the spectrum, and with disruption to operations, associated loss of productivity on a regular basis, not to mention inconvenience at all other levels.

It is said that the British complain most about the weather. It is probably true – but then anybody who has ever stayed in the UK, for more than a couple of weeks, will understand why! Some Brits believe that the island nation has four seasons… per DAY. It can go from dark and dingy to bright and sunny, through wet and windy, to bitterly cold, and close with a balmy evening in the available daylight hours of their latitudes

Here in the Tropics it is a bit more ‘overall’ predictable, and our ‘wet and dry’ seasons creat less disruptions – and best of all, are never anywhere near as cold as the higher latitudes!

Southern Ghana’s diurnal pattern of twelve hours of light, and twelve hours of darkness, give or take an hour, the whole year around has its benefits. Our days are predictable, and we can plan a pattern that works throughout our year. Compare our comfort of regularity against the short cold winter days of Europe, with the sun rising as late as 8am and sleeping again by 4pm, contrasted by the long summer days of the sun sliding past the horizon after 9pm and sneaking up to great the world long before 5am! I like the regularity of where I live, but I must admit to missing the long summer evenings – those lazy summers when we would fly after work, touching down as the last rays of sun kissed the golden-brown barely, bowing in the gentle breeze. However, I do not miss the three months of ‘wet field’ that would plague the winter flying operations – nor the dressing in salopettes, gloves and a woollen hat in order to fly! I hide my memories of freezing fog, along with the nightmares of my childhood, in a closet in the rearmost part of my brain – never to be stirred without a shiver or two!

Sadly, the recent heavy weather here has affected the crops, in many parts of the country – already challenged by the extreme dry spell earlier this year; the extreme wet now, is providing a fresh round of conflict in the farmers arm-wrestle with nature!

One thing that the ‘erratic weather in Europe’ enjoys, that we do not, is ‘long range weather forecasting’. The approximate temperature, rainfall, wind speed and direction is all available with amazing accuracy days in advance. Farmers even plan when to plant and harvest based on the weather forecast from BBC Radio 4!

The weather in our part of the world is incredibly hard to predict in detail. The satellite images help, but do not come anywhere near reliable for a prediction past a couple of hours. Consequently, too many days are planned out, only to be scuppered by sudden winds and water droplets, mini-rivers and minor-floods in the workshops. This morning the Satellite image was clear. Now, before 2pm, I am writing ‘under-fire’ from raindrops, some even appear to be as big as a small bucket! The good thing is, after a couple of hours the sun will be back out, and apart from the mud under-foot, work can go on – at least in the hangars.

I do believe that the weather is getting a little more extreme here. We are recording higher wind speeds on our weather station, and the roof seems to vibrate a bit more when the gusts hit the buildings. I cannot tell for sure, but it seems to me that the lightning bolts are more, and the thunder louder – but, that is only anecdotal, and we must await the annual reports from the Meteo office for the ‘official record’.

With few days left before the Harmattan wraps us up for the end of year celebrations, we are preparing for some special flights, in distance, duration and altitude. Preparation of the aircraft is being hampered by the weather, and we will need near perfect days to carry out the 12 hour non-stop flight we are planning. We will watch the skies in preparation.

As I train young people in meteorology, for their pilots licences, I rarely find a ‘pre-existing weather interest’, perhaps due to the lack of weather rhymes in the system?

So, to see if we can boost the ‘weather interest quotient’ of Ghana, I would like you all to share the following rhyme with as many people as possible and to see if we can raise our eyes to the heavens and with it the understanding of weather and how it affects us all – and the very fact that we have no control over it, but we can observe and learn a great deal from it – as we weather the storms of our daily lives!

Whether the weather is cold,
Whether the weather is hot,
We'll weather the weather
Whatever the weather,
Whether we like it or not!

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

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