Down On The Bayou

The rain is coming down in sheets now. I flick the windshield wiper switch on for one pass of the wipers and the outside world momentarily swims into view. The terminal building with water cascading off the roof to the ramp below, looms in front of us with the jetway, our umbilical cord to the rest of the world, stretching out from its side. My side window, covered and protected by the jetway’s loading bridge is relatively dry and clear and as the front windows blur again from the rain I glance sideways and watch the passengers pass by as the board the aircraft.

We are parked in the Cajun Country. The sign on the terminal even says so. Baton Rouge, Louisiana. On the radar map I glanced at before leaving Charlotte two hours ago, the entire state was covered in the browns and yellows of heavy weather returns. We loaded up 30 passengers and enough fuel to get over here, take a look and then bail out to dryer climates if needed and blasted off to the southwest, fighting a 75 mile per hour headwind most of the way. The ride for the first hour was relatively smooth but as we started descending across Mississippi and into the out edges of the weather the chop started up.

Thirty minutes later we were dropping through 10,000 feet trying to avoid the red spots on the radar. By 4000 feet the ground was in sight through a transparent layer of low lying scud. Turning final in a heavy rain squall we passed over the top of a refinery which was belching a cloud of nasty looking gas into the air. With the runway in sight 5 miles away through the swirling clouds and mist I intentionally stayed high and skim the top of the gas venting from the smoke stacks. There was no reason to inhale that stuff if we didn’t have.
Clear of the smoke we dropped down towards the runway, passing over more petroleum storage tanks while the Mississippi River disappeared into the fog to our right. The runway was wet from the rain and as we touched down I could feel the wheels skid slightly. Max braking and thrust reverse quickly slowed us to a taxi speed in time to exit the runway midfield. Turning towards the gate on one of the narrowest taxiways I’ve ever seen in the jet the rain started to increase.

The rain is still coming down hard, driven diagonally by the wind. In the sky over the terminal building roof is a brief streak of light followed seconds later by a rumbling of thunder, audible even over the rain beating down on the cockpit roof. The passengers in the jetway don’t appear to have noticed, which is probably better anyway. People are already out of their element when being herded down the narrow confines of a jetway and into the even narrow confines of an airplane, especially a little one like ours. Add in bad weather and poor visibility and it can lead to overly nervous fliers.

While I make my generic welcome aboard announcement (which in my head sounds pretty much like “blah blah blah”) the FO brings up the latest radar snapshot on his phone. It takes forever to load but when it does, it shows most of the weather still to the south, well off shore. The streak of light in the sky we just saw appears to belong to a single thunder cell that is sitting to the north of the field, well out of our upcoming flight path home. I smile as the jetway starts to lurch backwards away from the plane and the rain starts blowing in the doorway. It’s going to be a bumpy ride out but there is sunny weather waiting for us somewhere downrange.

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