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Look for Colorful Skies as Volcanic Ash Causes Airport Delays

Published by on April 16, 2010

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Ash cloud severely disrupts global air travel

EVEN AT this American Mercury editor’s home in Baltimore, the sun seemed an unusual color of goldenrod yellow in the afternoon. The cause? A trace of volcanic ash, though far less than what Europe is experiencing.  Thousands of passengers have been stranded at airports after a cloud of ashes from an Icelandic volcano eruption spread across that continent.

Europe’s air-traffic control center said more than 15,000 flights would be canceled today and several nations have completely shut down their airspace.

Scientists warned that the fallout from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in southeastern Iceland could take several days to clear. Aviation authorities have no firm idea when the skies will clear up sufficiently for normal air travel.

Europe’s three largest air hubs — London’s Heathrow, Paris’s Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt’s eponymous air center — were closed. Airport technicians say that volcanic ash can cause jet engines to malfunction and greatly reduces visibility, in some cases creating fine scratches in aircraft windshields so that visibility remains zero until repairs are made.

Britain, Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Belgium and Holland shut down all or most of their flights.

France, Germany, Finland, Russia and Spain experienced major closures, although Norway and Sweden have began to ease restrictions.

Passengers are understandably becoming frustrated. A customer at London’s Heathrow told The American Mercury via telephone that there’s no information on when her flight will be rescheduled, and that announcements indicate there may be intermittent delays for weeks.

The ash cloud is moving slowly, about 18,000 to 36,000 feet in the air and is generally not visible from the ground, though reports as far away as the U.S. East Coast indicate it is intensifying the colors of sunrises and sunsets and even lending abnormal yellow or orange tints to daytime skies. Most of the ash is over Europe now and predicted winds from the north may make the situation more severe today.

Icelandic airports are, surprisingly, open, as the wind has blown the thicker part of the cloud away from the island nation. The volcano under Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull glacier erupted for the second time in less than a month on Wednesday. Huge pieces of ice as large as buildings crashed down from the glacier on Thursday, as ice that had been frozen for centuries suddenly melted from the hot gas. Hundreds were evacuated due to floods. Roads have been closed in parts of the country due to ash fall, and farmers and animal activist are concerned about possible fatalities of wildlife and livestock due to ingestion of the fine particles.

Though there have been no ash falls reported elsewhere, health authorities are warning people to stay indoors if one begins in your area.

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