Most planes are able to fly over tropical storms and other bad weather, with tropical storms and other harsh weather conditions primarily impacting planes on the ground.

Modern planes can fly through most storms, but they avoid doing so due to potential damage to the plane, and to avoid discomfort for passengers.

For safety, airports may shut down and cancel all flights during tropical storms, thunderstorms, and very heavy rainfall, though they can wait for the conditions to improve if they expect them to be short-lived.

Not All Planes Can Fly Over Tropical Storms

Small Planes

Some small planes can fly over tropical storms, while others cannot.

A small plane’s instruments, engine, and service ceiling decide whether it can safely fly over a tropical storm.

Popular small planes like the Cessna 172 can fly over tropical storms. 

Private Jets

Private jets cruise at very high altitudes and are equipped to handle most bad weather.

Private jets have fast climb rates that let them fly above the clouds and completely avoid bad weather and tropical storms.

Commercial Airliners

Most modern airliners cruise around or above 35,000 feet in the air.

This means that they can easily fly over most storms unless the storms form at very high altitudes, in which case they’ll adjust their flight path.

Boeing 747 plane on the ground

Military Planes

Most fighter jets are all-weather aircraft, so they can fly in or over harsh weather, including tropical storms. 

How Planes Are Able to Fly Over Tropical Storms

Tropical storms mostly impact planes on the ground, causing airports to close, while also preventing airliners from landing or taking off.

But, most tropical storms have no impact above 30,000 feet, so most planes just fly above the storms. 

Modern planes have reinforced wings that can fly in crosswinds as high as 40mph, though tropical storms can have maximum sustained surface winds of 74 mph or greater, so pilots will want to climb over the storm. 

Modern planes also use diverter strips, which prevent lightning from damaging the plane

Planes Can Fly Through Tropical Storms

Planes can fly through tropical storms, though most pilots will fly above or avoid them since it’s easier and safer than flying through the tropical storm itself.

Flying through tropical storms results in severe turbulence, potential damage to the plane, and passenger discomfort.

So, it makes no sense for planes to fly through tropical storms if it can be avoided.

Planes Won’t Take Off During Tropical Storms

Pilots will avoid taking off in tropical storms due to the reduced visibility, having less control of the plane, and the risk of flying debris that could crash into the plane.

Planes grounded due to the rain

Most airlines ground all flights during tropical storms to avoid these risks.

Nor Will Land During the Storm

Pilots will avoid landing during tropical storms due to visibility issues, having less control of the aircraft, flying debris, microbursts and wind shear.

Most pilots will land at an alternative airport when there’s a tropical storm over their destination, or wait for the storm to pass.

Airports May Shut Down

Airports may shut down during tropical storms and other extreme weather conditions, with all flights being canceled, and passengers being issued travel waivers as compensation.

Planes Will Fly Over Snow Storms

As snow normally forms at around 4,500m, while most planes fly above 30,000m, planes can safely fly above snow storms and completely avoid them.

Planes are also designed to handle extremely cold weather conditions due to the altitude planes cruise at.

A plane flying over a snowy mountainous region

This can be as cold as -60°C (-76 Fahrenheit).

At most, snow storms impact planes on the ground and decrease visibility at low altitudes, preventing planes from safely landing.

But Sometimes Not in Heavy Rain

Most modern planes, even small planes, can fly during heavy rainfall.

But aviation authorities strongly discourage flying during heavy rain because of the reduced visibility pilots will have to deal with.

Heavy rainfall also causes reduced friction on runways, which can impair a plane’s ability to take off and land. 

Nor in Thunderstorms

Planes can fly in thunderstorms, but they mostly avoid them.

Planes usually just fly above thunderstorms, though they can technically fly through them with passengers experiencing turbulence.

Most airports will simply delay flights while they wait for the thunderstorm to pass, instead of shutting down and grounding all flights.

A plane flying during a thunderstorm

Microbursts and wind shear are the most dangerous aspects of thunderstorms for pilots, which will prevent them from taking off and landing.

In conclusion:

  • Most planes simply fly over tropical storms, and other harsh weather conditions, instead of flying through them.
  • Most planes can fly through any weather conditions, but they prefer to fly above and avoid dangerous weather for practical and safety reasons.
  • There is no benefit in flying through a storm instead of above it.
  • Tropical storms and other harsh weather conditions mostly impact planes on the ground, preventing them from taking off, as well as planes looking to land.

Helen Krasner holds a PPL(A), with 15 years experience flying fixed-wing aircraft; a PPL(H), with 13 years experience flying helicopters; and a CPL(H), Helicopter Instructor Rating, with 12 years working as a helicopter instructor.

Helen is an accomplished aviation writer with 12 years of experience, having authored several books and published numerous articles while also serving as the Editor of the BWPA (British Women Pilots Association) newsletter, with her excellent work having been recognized with her nomination of the “Aviation Journalist of the Year” award.

Helen has won the “Dawn to Dusk” International Flying Competition, along with the best all-female competitors, three times with her copilot.