August 9, 2008

My head hurts.

Ok, Ok. Its summer, we get it. Between moving into a new place north of Manchester, to working 6 days a week, I haven't had much time to spare to update the blog here.

Its been a rough couple of weeks. The weather has gone from anything between solid lines of tornados to huge areas of dreary embedded thunderstorms. I can't remember the last time it didn't rain around here. The toll collected from the controllers around the center has been steep. We've had 12 operational errors in the last 14 days, with 9 days in a row at one point. Somehow, my area has escaped without one during this time. We've had a few close calls though, and with hardly a day off to recover, its a struggle to keep the focus level high.

Its been so busy I can't pick out one good session to write about.

Instead, in the theme of this headache of a post, I'll explain some of the things that cause such mental turmoil.

Last week ended with a few long lines of weather that didn't have any breaks to speak of. So, with no way to get from one side of the squall line to the other, airplanes just wait on the ground for the storms to pass their destination. This is fine, until the storm passes around 10pm, and everything is done with their shift. Some people have to stay late on OT, and help the midnight shifters work all the traffic that we didn't work during the daytime. The supervisors go home, Traffic Management goes home, and here come all the planes. Fantastic.

The squall line situation is better than what we had this week. With a squall line, everything is cut and dry. Either planes are going through on certain routes or they're not. They don't depart unless they're on a route that is going to keep them away from the line of storms. The main variable is the actual location of the line, and when it passes though the NY Metro area. Those two factors decide how crazy it will get late at night.

Lately, we've had widespread overcast IFR conditions with embedded thunderstorms. Small individual storms are dotted all over the landscape at random intervals. The kicker is, pilots can't see them visually and they don't always get a good look on the radar, due to the low visibility and rain. There is no sure shot way to get out of the center and on course. The best anyone can do is just try to space departures out enough so we can let planes deviate as best they can around the cells. Delays were routinely up around 3, 4, even 5 hours long to get out of New England airports, from what I understand. Meanwhile, the scope is filled with our crummy Nexrad display and data blocks flying all over the place, looking for holes. As planes slowly climbed though layers, they would see a new buildup and ask for a deviation. Then they'd go around that cell and see the one behind it and want to turn the other way. On and on for each plane for hours on end. We normally use 2 frequencies for Watertown/Utica, but we asked the sector around us to only use Watertown's frequency, so planes wouldn't talk on two transmitters at the same time. This made it a LITTLE better.

Its hard to convey the type of brain cramping you get when you're working 25 airplanes, and they're all deviating in different directions (although they're all trying to go west in general). There is no pattern. That's why summer traffic sucks. I'll leave it at that.


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