Weathering the Flight

  • Mar 01, 2016

Since planes literally fly through storm clouds, it’s no surprise that severe weather has the chance to damage aircrafts on a regular basis. However, severe weather can also impact planes when they are resting on the ground. We took a look at a few recent cases where dangerous weather conditions interrupted flights and damaged planes around the world.

19 August 2015: A flight from Rome to Milan was interrupted by a violent hailstorm that forced an emergency landing in Naples. The AZ2016 Alitalia aircraft took off at 8:30am local time and was forced to turn around and land just a half hour later.


Hail completely shattered one of the cockpit windows and virtually destroyed the nose of the aircraft. All 110 passengers on the flight landed safely without any injuries, although some were so shaken they opted to take a bus to their final destination rather than another plane.

The above video powered by Earth Networks Total Lightning Network shows the intense storm making its way southeast across the Italian peninsula. During a 12 hour period, Earth Networks lightning sensors detected over 35,000 separate lightning strikes in the region. As you can see from the video, there was a large amount of in-cloud (purple) lightning during this storm. Monitoring in-cloud lightning is so critical when it comes to aviation safety because it’s often a precursor to other dangerous eathre conditions like the hail that battered this plane. You can also see a much stronger storm system to the right over the Adriatic Sea. While tracking storm cells, Earth Networks sent out over 30 Dangerous Thunderstorm Warnings (purple polygons).

19 October 2015: A Qantas plane had a close call with lightning as it landed in Sydney during a thunderstorm that injured two people elsewhere on the ground.

While this lightning strike appears to have just missed the plane, if a lightning bolt does strike a plane it typically leaves no evidence as the charge just passes through one end to the other. In fact, this is a very common occurrence in the commercial aviation industry but most passengers don’t even notice!


Earth Networks Total Lightning Network detected a large amount of in-cloud lightning making its way towards Sydney and the rest of the coastline during the time of the close call.

28 November 2015: An American Airlines flight was forced to make an emergency landing at Heathrow Airport in the UK when hail shattered its front windscreen on its way from Milan to New York. The hail also damaged the plane’s wind turbines.

Just like lightning striking planes, hail damaging planes is also a common incident that is reported about once every two weeks. Although flight delays due to less than ideal weather conditions can be frustrating for the average traveler, they are a necessary precaution. Earth Networks Aviation Solutions provide advance severe weather warnings to protect crew and passengers and safeguard capital assets in commercial aviation.

20 February 2016: While aircrafts in the sky seem like the best target for dangerous weather, planes on the ground can also be damaged by severe conditions. On the evening on 20 February and the early morning hours of 21 February, a severe storm destroyed five light planes at an airfield in southwest Sydney.

plane down

Strong, cyclone-like winds lifted blocks weighing more than 100 kilograms from the ground and send them flying into buildings and planes.

While the lightning in the above video might not seem like much, it’s the presence of the in-cloud lightning strikes that offer significance to this incident. As mentioned above, in-cloud lightning is a precursor to other forms of dangerous weather like the high winds that sent planes and cinderblocks into the air during this case. Unfortunately, one person at the airfield sustained minor injuries during the windstorm that lasted only minutes.