Monday, February 09, 2009

Weather Junkies

Despite the best efforts of our beloved forecasters to abstain from the recreational use of addictive and mind-altering controlled substances, I'm afraid that this past weekend they fell off the wagon, and they fell hard. Many local pilots want to know where they are getting their stuff - because it seems like it must be pretty good. In any case, we were fortunate to have the company of visitors Alaska Jack and Oxnard Otis to help us make the most of the weather in spite of the drug-addled prognostications.

We owe Alaska Jack our gratitude for his bravery in opening Friday's contraband forecast package. In their stupor, the forecasters had called for moderate trades, but instead we got a freakishly gusty sea breeze at Kahana with clouds that were racing offshore. After a lot of waiting and watching, Jack decided to fly anyway, in the interest of scientific research. While he described parts of the flight as nice and smooth, he described other parts as not so nice, more turbulent and sinky, and we were all glad we had a test pilot like Jack around to do that kind of crucial research. He stopped short of conducting the final experiment - he landed on the beach at Punaluu instead of Kahana. So now we know beyond a doubt that it's possible to fly Kahana in a sea breeze even with nuking offshore clouds - and Jack certainly did get mighty high in the process - but I still wouldn't want to try it. Otis and I both hiked down, and Nick declined to hike at all.

Otis treated me to lunch at Bobo's as thanks for leading him up to launch to bake in the hot sun while watching Jack show us that it wasn't flyable for anyone but world class comp pilots. We all drove out to Tantalus later, a much better site to fly in a southerly sea breeze, and we met Jaro and Jeff up there, but even though the cycles were promising, no one was quite convinced enough to give it an actual try.

Despite another hallucinatory forecast for moderate trades, Saturday dawned eerily windless and still, with a thick low cloud ceiling. The pilots who were lured out to Makapuu for an early session were denied, except for Frank, who scored the lucky launchable moment from Cactus. Many pilots chased it out to Kahana, where the clouds had finally cleared up enough for Otis and me to consider hiking up to high launch. It was kind of easterly at first but seemed to clean up later on. At least the clouds weren't racing offshore! They were incredibly low, however, soaking the summit of Puu Piei in mist for much of the day.

I helped Otis launch first, into a smooth medium breeze, and I followed as he began to climb out. But after I'd only made a couple of passes above launch, I heard Otis announcing over the radio that he was safe and on the ground - albeit perched atop the knife-edge ridge just below the apex of our launch slope, at around 900 feet. It was his first top-landing ever, a last minute brake input executed as an emergency measure to avert a higher velocity encounter with the terrain, as he found himself scratching a bit closer and deeper than might have been necessary. I urged him not to consider relaunching from up there, and he agreed to hike back down to high launch before trying again.

Jeff, Jim and Scot joined us and launched as Ginny hiked up, and we had fun buzzing some hikers who had almost made it to the summit of Puu Piei as the low clouds swirled around us. Oh, that glorious white stuff! But before long a huge squall line came in and forced all the airborne pilots to the beach, and Ginny and Otis had to hike down. We retired to Bobo's to wait out the squall line, but after a while we decided we'd chased it enough, and I headed home to get ready for the party. Soon after that, Berndt and Wayne came out and scored a nice afternoon fix just before rushing out to join us at the party. Nick, Ray, Jorge and Fireman flew the late shift at Makapuu before joining us as well.

The party was great - thanks to everyone who came and made it such a fun night. 25 pilots, spouses, family members and friends shared a festive evening at Bob's place. You might say we partied like prognosticators. Frolicked like forecasters. Worked it like the weatherman.

On Sunday, the weather gurus persisted in their euphoric binge, once again calling for moderate trades. The early crew at Kahana dutifully hiked up the regular launch ridge, but by the time the breeze filled in properly, it turned out to be more northerly than anyone expected, more of a post-frontal flow, and the conditions were quite spicy and laminar on the regular ridge. Everyone got off okay (except for Scot who launched with a cravat and barely made it to the beach), but subsequent pilots (including Scot) hiked up the north ridge and fared very well from there.

In fact, Scot and I were stoked to cross the bay and begin a magnificent tour of Koolauloa, from Kualoa to Pounders. New pilot Larry (who lives next to Pounders) kindly gave us a ride back to Kahana. Otis enjoyed his longest flight ever, followed by an exciting downwind landing in the surf at the edge of the LZ, but he danced his way onshore and managed to keep his wing mostly dry. Nightshift came out after everyone else had left and flew the last of the smooth northerly flow alone, landing just as the moon was rising to illuminate the clouds.

We may never know just what our forecasters have been smoking over the last few days. Moderate trade winds on Friday were sea breezy with a strong southerly cloud flow. Moderate trade winds on Saturday faked us out with a light and variable start to the day, but then half-heartedly materialized unsettled and rainy with a super low cloudbase. Sunday's moderate trade winds turned out to be northeasterlies.

But after a long weekend of wreaking havoc on their brain cells, surely those forecasters must be done partying by now, and we can expect their forecasts to be clean and sober for the work week. Although I'm guessing that stuff takes a while to wear off, because I couldn't help but notice that today's forecasted light trades turned out to be suspiciously southwest all day. Let's just hope those guys can shake those monkeys off their backs and turn them loose into the sky where they belong.

(Thanks to Jeff for giving me the original idea for this story. As always, he's the real genius behind this website.)


Jetlag7 said...

Wow alex, ive been reading your stories for a while now and they are always good, but this one is fantastic! You should really consider writing a book based on your flying experiences...
Im gatering a group of Arkansas and Missouri pilots together for a trip out there in March(15-22). So be prepared for an onslaught of crazy mainlanders to reign down upon the tiny island of Oahu with one goal in mind: To o.d. on that crazy Hawaiian stuff that ya'll are hoarding to yourselves!
-Paul Condron

Anonymous said...

Great story...hope to be living the Oahu dream in a few day :)


Anonymous said...

Isn't it the same pool of experts who can't get tomorrows weather right that tell us with absolute clarity what climate change is going to be doing to us in 10 YEARS.