Black Ice – Nearly Invisible!

One of the preparations for winter flying should be the heightened knowledge and awareness of rapidly changing weather patterns and their effect on area surface conditions.

Aviators and drivers have had to deal with the inconvenience and potential danger of a phenomenon called “black ice” since hard surface runways, taxiways and roadways were invented. Black ice can be nearly invisible on paved surfaces, or can appear to be a shallow puddle of water on the paved surface.

It usually forms when the air temperature and the dew point meet. For this to happen, the air temperature is at or below freezing, but is above the pavement temperature. Then the air can no longer hold its moisture and that moisture condenses on the pavement. The ice can form with a very smooth, flat surface that visually appears to be nothing more than a shallow puddle of water. It does not have to be snowing or raining for black ice to occur.

It can be very difficult at best to see black ice, especially at night on roadways, taxiways, runways, and even sidewalks. One way to make a valid assumption that black ice might be present is to look at your vehicle windshield wipers and side mirrors if your vehicle has been parked outside of a garage or parking deck for instance. You may also see evidence of the potential for black ice by looking for small icicles hanging from tree branches and ice formed on fences and railings.

Even if you do not see hints of black ice presence, it is very important to maintain that awareness that it can be present on any paved surfaces. It is just as important to drive safely as you head to and from the airport. Bear in mind that a heightened level of awareness must be maintained as you taxi, takeoff and land at your airport.

When conditions are conducive to black ice formation, remember that even though you may not have experienced black ice on your well-traveled roadways, the possibility may still exist that black ice may be on your airport taxiways and runways. Staying alert and aware of conditions in the ground, as well as on the ground, is critically important to your safety, and the safety of your passengers.

Finally, if you own a vehicle that is capable of four-wheel drive or is simply front wheel drive, you are just as much at risk for losing control of your vehicle on black ice (or normal ice) as a rear-wheel drive vehicle (MnDOT Office of Aeronautics).

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This entry was posted in February/March 2013, MN Aeronautics Bulletin, Sections and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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