Nuts, Bolts and Breast Clouds

Written by Walt Rhodes
Sunday, May 30, 2010

Walt RhodesNo more than every 100 flight hours, our airplanes go in for a mandatory inspection. It’s best to have this done before leaving the States so an inspection doesn’t slow progress while on survey. Unfortunately, our survey plane, named Boston by my 4-year-old daughter, didn’t have enough hours since its last 100-hour inspection to justify another inspection before embarking for the North. Closing in on our 100 hours and faced with an ugly weather forecast, we opted for an inspection in Flin Flon, Manitoba. When this far north you always hope for a painless inspection, because getting parts can result in a lengthy delay. So, when the plane is in the hangar and its guts are exposed you cringe when the cell phone rings and the mechanic’s number is on caller ID. I had three such scares, but all resulted in minor maintenance events. The plane was buttoned up yesterday, but not in time to survey.

Last night’s forecast was confirmed this morning. A low pressure system coming out of Saskatchewan was going to produce rain, wind and falling temperatures. Shortly after breakfast, the first sign of impending weather was the clouds.
Flin Flon is easily recognized by the tall smelting tower anchoring the center of town. Hanging over the tower were mammatus clouds, also known as breast or udder clouds because of their appearance. Mammatus clouds are often associated with thunderstorms, but do not necessarily precede severe weather. They are an indication of colder, moist air sinking into dryer, warmer air closer to the surface. However, there is usually wind shear located along the boundary—not good for our smaller airplanes—and once the atmosphere becomes saturated from the overriding air, rain begins to fall, which happened shortly before lunch. The pesky low is forecasted to threaten tomorrow’s flight, too

Unlike 2009, Reindeer Lake was essentially ice free this spring.  (Photo by Walt Rhodes, USFWS)

Unlike 2009, Reindeer Lake was essentially ice free this spring. Photo by Walt Rhodes, USFWS

Mammatus clouds, also called breast or udder clouds, sag over the smelting tower in Flin Flon, MB.   (Photo by Walt Rhodes, USFWS)

Mammatus clouds, also called breast or udder clouds, sag over the smelting tower in Flin Flon, MB. Photo by Walt Rhodes, USFWS

Dodging snow showers over Reindeer Lake along the Manitoba/Saskatchewan border while flying south to Flin Flon, MB.   (Photo by Walt Rhodes, USFWS)

Dodging snow showers over Reindeer Lake along the Manitoba/Saskatchewan border while flying south to Flin Flon, MB. Photo by Walt Rhodes, USFWS

Rapids along the Fond Du Lac River near Stony Rapids, Saskatchewan.  (Photo by Walt Rhodes, USFWS)

Rapids along the Fond Du Lac River near Stony Rapids, Saskatchewan. Photo by Walt Rhodes, USFWS