A land renowned for its independence and diversity, Newfoundland is home to a fascinating array of climates and weather. Its geography explains many of the unique features of the province's climate. The island covers 5 1/2 degrees of latitude, about the same as the Great Lakes. Its southern extremity lies close to the forty-seventh parallel, approximately the same latitude as Seattle and Paris. It covers an area of 108 860 square kilometers, with elevations ranging from sea level to above 800 meters. There are few physical barriers to protect Newfoundland from weather systems sweeping across it. Its situation on the eastern side of North America favors strong seasonal contrasts in the visiting air masses.
Summers are short and cool. The glacial Labrador Current holds July average temperatures in coastal areas around 56 F, 14C, but inland averages may climb over 60 F, 16 C. Sunny summer days in Newfoundland, however, are among the most delightful anywhere in Canada. With afternoon highs around 70 F, 21 C, they are warm enough to be comfortable and yet cool enough to allow someone to stay outside all day comfortably. Summer 1987 was especially pleasant across central Newfoundland. Record high sunshine, scanty rainfall, and seasonable temperatures pleased most residents and tourists. The highest temperature ever recorded on the island was a steaming 96F, 36 C, occuring at Botwood, northeast of Grand Falls, on August 22, 1976.
Climatically, Newfoundland is the most maritime of the Atlantic Provinces, and this is evident in all seasons, but especially in spring and summer, which are quite cool by Canadian standards.
Gander has a unique aviation history that is evident throughout the town, as most streets are named and dedicated to famed fliers such as Alcock & Brown, Earhart, Lindbergh and Wright.
Weather: as of 06:00
GMT June 7, 1997
What about the weather in the route of flight? The helicopter may be in top condition, the crew may be rested and ready, but what may they face outside of man's control?
For one, the wind and weather. The North Atlantic is influenced by the northeast trade wind, the Gulfstream, circulating in a clockwise direction. As L'Esprit d'Intertechnique 1997 departs from New York, depending on local weather conditions, the prevailing winds should generally be blowing northerly. This quarterly tail wind should help the crew maintain fuel as they make their way to Frederickton, New Brunswick and later to Gander, Newfoundland in Canada's Maritime Provinces.
According to Frank Jensen, President of the Helicopter Association International, "Flying from West to East, they're looking for favorable winds. If the winds turn around and become a headwind, it could be a problem."
Why is that a problem? Scott Barnes, a former military helicopter pilot and author of numerous articles for helicopter magazines, says, "If you have planned on a quarterly headwind and you end up with a full headwind, you're flying slower and that affects fuel burn. The pilots can control that internally by adjusting the torque on the engine. But they can't change the weather. That's the one unknown."
Barnes continued, "The pilots can adjust altitude to find a better wind." Even that effort could create a problem. "Being at sea level allows them to get more speed out of the aircraft because the air is thicker, but you also burn fuel like crazy. You get better fuel flow at higher altitude."
Over water, conditions can vary widely. Barnes adds, "The Gulfstream should give them a tailwind most of the way. But they may get some cyclonic spinoff and who knows what they'll get until they come toward Ireland as the Gulfstream comes back down from the Pole. They could have new storms off of the Irish coast."
There is a low pressure system currently sitting over parts of the North Atlantic. Barnes feels that "temperature differentials could mean mid-afternoon thunderstorms." Winds and storm conditions can be generated causing helicopter and refueling ships to travel out of the storm area in order to affect the refueling process. Helicopters in hover mode create large amounts of static electricity. While grounded to the refueling stations to prevent sparks from creating explosive conditions, an electrical storm in the area creates a whole new set of problems. "Most refueling regulations," according to Barnes, "preclude you from refueling if you have lightning within 5-10 miles."
Visibility is also a weather influenced factor. Fog is not unusual. "They may have fog that they'll have to pass through to refuel," said Barnes. "When warm moist air meets cold air you get fog or clouds." The exact conditions of the North Atlantic during June.
Jensen adds a postscript to the influence of weather factors. "There are no other factors other than bad weather, visibility or the seas being rough."
Weather will have to cooperate to help L'Esprit d'Intertechnique 1997 achieve a successful transatlantic crossing.
One other weather-related factor - the ocean temperature. In the event of an emergency requiring a water landing, the cold water will play a major role in the survival of the pilots. While the aircraft has a liferaft complete with emergency beacon, if the pilots end up in the water, hypothermia could set in very quickly.