Planes Hit 800 mph After Crazy Event Over Atlantic

Washington, D.C. – For those flying over the Washington-Baltimore region late Saturday, they may have experienced almost a rollercoaster ride as gusts roared to speeds of 265 mph at an altitude of 35,000 feet. This took place as a powerful jet stream swept over the area, allowing multiple commercial aircraft to reach speeds exceeding 800 mph.

The National Weather Service office serving the Washington-Baltimore region stated that the high winds were the second-highest recorded since the 1950s. The only higher wind speed recorded at a comparable altitude was recorded at 267 mph on December 6, 2002.

The Weather Service wrote on Twitter that for those flying eastbound in this jet stream, there would be quite the tailwind. To further emphasize this record-breaking flight, Flight24, from Washington Dulles International Airport to London, took off at 10:45 p.m. Saturday, 45 minutes ahead of schedule.

Boosted by the extreme tailwind, the Virgin Atlantic jet reached a peak speed of 802 mph at 11:20 p.m. Saturday, according to data from the online tracker Flight Aware.

Although the flight’s peak speed of 802 mph was higher than the speed of sound (767 mph), the aircraft did not break the sound barrier. This is because its ground speed, a measure that combines the plane’s actual speed and the additional push from the wind, was still slightly lower than the speed of sound. The surrounding air was just moving unusually fast.

Other flights were also affected by the powerful jet stream, such as United Airlines Flight 64 from Newark to Lisbon, which departed at 8:35 p.m. Saturday and had a ground speed of 835 mph. The flight arrived 20 minutes ahead of schedule. American Airlines Flight 120 from Philadelphia to Doha, Qatar topped out at around 840 mph, ranking among the highest speeds for commercial flights.

The high-speed flights come just weeks after a China Airlines flight reached a speed of 826 mph over the Pacific Ocean, also propelled by a tailwind. This was thought to be an informal record for commercial flight speeds, not including supersonic Concorde flights.

The current powerful winds were detected by a weather balloon launched from the Weather Service’s office in Sterling, VA. The office launches weather balloons every 12 hours, providing crucial data used to predict weather patterns.

At 7 a.m. Sunday morning, the 38,000-foot weather balloon from Sterling recorded winds of 246 mph, still showing that the high winds were persistent in the Mid-Atlantic. The contrast between very cold air over the Northeast and mild air over the Southeast caused the fast high-altitude flow, leading to extremely high speeds for the flights.

This also played a role in why the Washington area received less snow than initially predicted. With the storm passing by relatively quickly, the snow only lasted a few hours, resulting in just a dusting to a couple of inches in most areas.

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