Airplanes and Cold Weather

Temperatures in the area are expected to plummet this week. Low temperatures are forecasted to be below -10° Fahrenheit this weekend with below normal temperatures continuing into next week. With frigid temperatures, our neighbors may not only feel a change, but may also hear a change. 

Temperatures and humidity affect the way sound waves travel through the air. On a day with cold temperatures and low humidity, sound waves travel farther before dissipating. This is one reason why aircraft sounds you hear on a bitterly cold day may vary from the same aircraft on a warmer day.   

Cold temperatures are not new to Minnesota. The coldest measured temperature in Minnesota was a whopping -60° Fahrenheit which occurred on February 2, 1996 in St. Louis County. Three years ago, the coldest game-day temperature for any Super Bowl was recorded when the mercury only reached 9° Fahrenheit in Minneapolis. The last polar vortex to hit Minneapolis was in 2019 when the temperature fell to -28° Fahrenheit at the end of January.  

While cold temperatures do allow sound waves to travel farther, there are also some benefits for airport neighbors impacted by aircraft noise. Cold air has higher density which leads to higher performance by jet aircraft. Higher air density improves acceleration, reduces runway lengths needed during take-off, and increases lift and altitude gained as aircraft fly away from the airport. Sub-zero temperatures have been known to increase altitudes by 500 feet just two-and-a-half miles away from the airport compared to summer months.