Santa may get some help from the jet stream

Weather Wednesday

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FARGO - In February of 2019 a Virgin Atlantic 787 set a new air speed record for the jet at 801 miles per hour. This was clocked over Pennsylvania, pilots even commented on the incredible speed on Twitter. And it was a remarkable feat: the flight from Los Angeles to London typically takes 11 hours but the Dreamliner only took nine hours and fourteen minutes to make the trip.

This was possible thanks to a powerful jet stream propelling the plane faster. Here on Earth we have four main jet streams: two subtropical jet streams near the equator and two polar jet streams, one near the south pole and one closer to Santa near the north pole. The jet stream is a narrow band of strong winds higher up in the atmosphere, often 30-35,000 feet above Earth, which is where commercial airlines often fly.

Think of the jet stream as an escalator, if you are like a plane and moving in the same direction as the jet, you can reach your destination faster. On average the jet stream moves about 110 miles per hour but large temperature differences between cold and warm air like we get in the winter can increase the jet stream speeds up to 250 mph. That’s quite the helpful tail wind whether you are traveling in a plane, or in a sleigh.

Jesse Ritka is a StormTracker meteorologist and holds the AMS Certified Broadcast Meteorologist seal of approval.

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