Now that I have almost two whole summers working on my own at Boston Center, I will play the humble role of the seasoned expert and report the trends that I have found. Controllers, please add your two cents if you'd like.....
As promised... The Five Phases:
PHASE ONE - RANDOM
As the morning becomes afternoon, clouds build and turn from cute little cumuli into budding cauliflower. The props start asking for deviations around random clouds that show no signs of precipitation. In another hour, full blown raging thunderheads pop up all over the sky. From the controller perspective, we show many areas of "moderate precipitation," but whether or not an aircraft deviates around it or flies right through it is completely random.
By late afternoon, some small thunderstorms start merging together to form bigger more obvious storms. Patterns develop, and it becomes quite obvious where planes are simply not willing to fly any longer. This brings us to the next phase...
PHASE TWO - WEIRD
Once we figure out where planes will fly, and where they won't fly, it's time to set up some reroutes. This is a very busy time. You start working traffic you don't normally work, and usually not in the direction you're used to working it. Eastbound sectors become two way sectors. Westbound sectors become eastbound sectors. Weird things often happen. Boston arrivals may usually enter your sector from the west...now you're working them all from the south too. Kennedy arrivals may have to be handed off to Cleveland Center going the wrong way (see previous post from earlier in the summer!). Everyone is rerouted over ART. Albany departures won't take a westbound heading...
Phase two gives everyone a headache, because every plane is much higher maintenance. Normally you see ORD in the datablock and you think "stay's level, handoff to Cleveland". Now, you need 40 miles in trail on a reroute to Toronto. You see an ALB departure going to IAD. You think "point out to DNY sector on J6 climbing...." you hear "we don't show that on our route, center" "Oh crap" He's filed over SYR this hour.
Aircraft on some routes refuse to meet standard SOP restrictions for the next sector. Normally, you'd descend a PVD to FL290...well, they need to stay up at FL390 to get over the line of storms. Fine with me...but that starts affecting two or three sectors down the line that aren't designed to have a PVD arrival that high. BDL arrivals start deviating east of course and now an entirely different area in the Center is getting involved.
At some point, all those reroutes stop working (storms are moving)....
Either you set up a whole new set of reroutes and Phase Two continues indefinitely, or....
If you're feeling lucky, the storms will form into a nice line and cut off all the flows into your sector....Which brings us to phase three.
PHASE THREE - SOLITUDE
Phase Three seems great. You're sitting at your once nasty sector, all by yourself, maybe working one or two planes at a time thinking "what are these two planes THINKING! They must have a death wish!" After a while, you really can't justify getting paid to sit around and do nothing....
The kicker: The longer Phase Three remains in effect, the higher the chances of Phase FIVE occurring. We'll get to that later.
PHASE FOUR - RELEASE THE HOUNDS
As the storms pass through, normal routes become available in and out of your sector again. The Ground Stops are lifted and the traffic is coming with a vengeance. Passengers and Crew have been stranded on the hold pad for hours waiting for this break in the weather. Brace for impact. TMU releases the planes with nary a restriction but don't expect the approach control to just take what you've got unless there is some sort of in-trail. Sectors run at high volume for hours on end, often at the end of a night shift. Beware of Overtime looming at the end of your shift in order to keep staffing on hand to keep the sectors open.
If storms back build over the major airports, or the miles-in-trail you gave the next sector doesn't cut it for the approach control...
PHASE FIVE - HOLD IT
These planes have been waiting all day to get in, and now the arrival gate has been slammed shut. It's coming up on midnight, if not later, and everyone is miserable. Aircraft are holding, running low on fuel and duty time requirements, and frankly, its time to go home. The overnight "mid" shift people are taking over, and after a long hard days work, all you have to show for it is four neatly stacked holding patterns full of airplanes. "Enjoy!" as you run for the door...
- All phases do not happen everyday.
- Many nights never make it past Phase Two.
- This may not apply to all areas of the country.
- Phase Five doesn't happen very often, and thusly, phase three doesn't happen very often either.
- Phase Four really sucks and makes us feel very uncomfortable during Phase Three. We know what's coming.
-Phase Three hasn't happened nearly as much this year as the last few years I've been around.
Comments moderated but welcome.
Till next time...