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I know there are winds and other effects at very high altitudes but how high can storms with lightning and rain be?

Bottom line, let's say you are flying a craft with the ceiling of a U-2, can't you fly over any storm?

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    $\begingroup$ I believe that the X-15 could fly high enough to not worry about weather (considering that it actually reached space). $\endgroup$ – cpast Nov 25 '14 at 20:42
  • $\begingroup$ @cpast, I'm asking about the weather not which craft(s) can outfly it. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Peters Nov 25 '14 at 20:51
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    $\begingroup$ @cpast: There are weather effects in space $\endgroup$ – dotancohen Nov 26 '14 at 9:27
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Severe convection will have anvil tops at the tropopause and overshooting tops can penetrate much higher (severe thunderstorm warnings often use a value of 60,000 ft for threats to aircraft). How high the overshooting tops can get is a balance of the positive buoyancy during parcel ascent against the negative buoyancy once it gets into the warming stratospheric air.

A U2 could overfly these storms, but most aircraft are not designed for stratospheric flight (due to the temperature increasing with height in the stratosphere) and any commercial aircraft will be unable to go over these storms.

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  • $\begingroup$ Why do you say the temperature increases with height? Doesn't it get colder when you go higher? Or are you talking about something like friction with the outside air? $\endgroup$ – midnightBlue Nov 26 '14 at 18:55
  • $\begingroup$ @midnightBlue in the stratosphere temperature increases with height due to absorption of shortwave radiation by ozone. $\endgroup$ – casey Nov 26 '14 at 18:57
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    $\begingroup$ Ok! So basically there is less absorption of the radiation the higher you go? $\endgroup$ – midnightBlue Nov 26 '14 at 19:03
  • $\begingroup$ @midnightBlue See srh.noaa.gov/jetstream/atmos/atmprofile.htm $\endgroup$ – casey Nov 26 '14 at 19:06
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No. Sprites, also known as upper atmosphere lightning, occur from 31 to 56 miles AGL. (source: Wikipedia) So weather phenomena routinely exceed your U2's altitude by a lot!

Now are Sprites dangerous to flight? Unknown. I know of no case where an aircraft has been hit by a Sprite.

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    $\begingroup$ 31 miles is well above even the U2's flight ceiling, so while it's not true that you could always go up to escape weather, Sprites aren't really an issue. I hope that made sense. $\endgroup$ – raptortech97 Nov 25 '14 at 17:07
  • $\begingroup$ Nifty, so these Sprites are the only weather phenomena that could potentially hurt me? Also, the wiki article does cite this as a possible incident involving a balloon... $\endgroup$ – Matthew Peters Nov 25 '14 at 20:56
  • $\begingroup$ Aren't aircraft (at least large metal skinned aircraft) generally immune to lightning? Would a sprite strike be any different than a 'normal' lightning strike (which relatively common)? $\endgroup$ – Johnny Nov 26 '14 at 1:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Johnny Yep, the Faraday Cage. Lightning may cause damage to the surface it touches, especially in composite materials, but electronics are protected and a strike isn't going to bring down an aircraft. $\endgroup$ – Rhino Driver Nov 26 '14 at 5:20
  • $\begingroup$ @SHAF unless the EM fluctuation fries them $\endgroup$ – ratchet freak Nov 26 '14 at 9:10

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