Nov 20, 20194 min
Updated: Apr 14
Like in any other aviation activity, weather plays a major role in a skydiving operation. And when it comes to weather dependency, a safe skydiving is like sailing. Even in normal conditions, small changes in wind direction or cloud cover can impact the little decisions we make on each jump to execute the safest possible tandem skydiving experience for our students.
Part of being a safe skydiving center involves knowledge of little things most people wouldn't think to notice, and as things can change rapidly some weather questions can be difficult to answer but easy to address in the moment. While this is a good thing for your actual tandem experience, sometimes the vagueness can leave the first time skydiving student feeling in the dark about the weather conditions. Here's a bit of a run-down.
At Skydive Hollister we only send jumpers up if the weather conditions are favorable, and luckily we are located in a micro-climate area of the valley which provides an amazing and reliable weather condition. Different from the shore area, daily marine layers do not affect our operations as much, and when it does, the shape of the valley allows the clouds and fog to be quickly blown. Another great aspect of Hollister weather is that the valley protects us from the heavy winds coming from the Pacific. This not only allows us to carry our operation on a more controlled environment but also allows us and our customers to keep jumping even on days that most skydiving centers in Norcal are on a weather hold.
With all that in mind, we wanted to take some time to explain skydiving and the weather from a skydiving operator’s point of view so that you may better understand how operations can be affected and how lucky we are when it comes to the weather in Hollister.
This is an easy one. None of us want to be jumping in the rain. Jumping in the rain is not fun. Jumping in the rain is not safe. Baseball games and picnics get cancelled when it's raining.
But, if you must know, falling through precipitation can be quite painful. When you figure that freefall occurs at 120mph or so, way faster than a water drop falls, you can imagine yourself going for a stroll outside during a category 5 hurricane and pointing your face into the wind, and yes, If that's not enough, the aerodynamics of rain-soaked ram-air parachutes are not encouraging at all. Parachutes can start to accumulate water inside the cells if the precipitation is heavy enough, which would turn the parachute into a water balloon. Ouch.
When you meet your instructor for your first tandem, feel free to assume that they hate the rain probably even more than you.
Skydiving and the clouds would be another easy subject if it was left up to skydivers - we really just need to see where we are going. However, we are required by regulation to observe the same visibility limits as a private pilot without an instrument rating or a flight plan. These rules spell out how close we can get to a cloud and what the minimum visibility is (how hazy or not is the unclouded air) at different altitudes.
For those of you who are not pilots, this means that there are countless occasions when we are barred by regulation from operating in conditions that look perfectly good to us and perfectly good to a non-skydiver. The typical consumer weather forecast usually just says something vague like partly sunny/cloudy, etc. so, it is best to rely on the information you receive from an instructor or the drop zone staff.
From about April to November of every year, the only clouds we will see in the Hollister valley will be the morning fog and the heavy clouded weather by the shoreline. We really don't need any rules to tell us that jumping in the fog would be unwise. The good news is that the fog breaks pretty early in the day leaving only blue skies until sunset, which means that the fog may only delay your flight time instead of causing a need to reschedule. And from December to March we have to deal with some clouds, besides the fact that occasionally those can hold us grounded some times, it’s really fun and beautiful having the opportunity to fly by those magic floating bodies of steam.
There are no regulations regarding skydiving and the wind, but this doesn't stop strong winds from grounding operations. The biggest safety concern in high or gusty winds is the landing. Winds that are too strong, too gusty, or too swirly all add unneeded elements of danger to the tandem skydiving experience for student and instructor alike.
Jumping in winds that are too strong exposes each participant to an increased risk of minor to serious injuries at the point of landing. Even after a soft touchdown in high winds, there is an increased risk of injury until the parachute is fully collapsed, the student harness is disconnected from the instructor's system, and both parties are clear of the landing area.
So, if we are reluctant to take you on a tandem in high winds, the biggest reason is that you can get hurt even if the skydiving part itself went well. The good news about high winds in our valley is that they are usually short lived. It is better to take the delay in winds than to need a trip to the emergency room after your first tandem experience.
In short, we take many factors into account when deciding whether the weather is safe to jump, and if we give the green light to skydive, we're confident and you should be too. The weather in Hollister is amazing!