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Sequatchie Skies
by Dan Shell
March 17, 1996

Every once in a while, when the air in the valley is allowed to heat sufficiently through the day, the cooling that comes with the lowering sun brings a strange and wonderful phenomenon. As the earth turns away from the heat source, the valley releases its store of energy in one great gasp. It's the stuff of which hang-glider pilots' dreams are made, as the resulting mass of rising air can provide a smooth flight of a couple or more hours. It is also a condition for which the Sequatchie Valley is notorious around the country. This valley was even cited as an example in a meteorological book by renowned hang gliding author Dennis Pagen.

We were graced with just such a "wonder wind" Sunday afternoon. The day had started southwesterly. Mark Furst even got in a soaring flight at the Southwest Site before the wind turned too westerly. As the wind blew more across the valley after mid day, the air was not "flushed" as quickly and therefore allowed to warm under sunny skies. After eyeing the windsock at Henson's, kicking a few rocks, and debating the probability of a wonder wind, Mark and I began setting up in the late afternoon.

Furst was first and struggled for a while along the north face right of launch before finding anything substantial. I waited for more wind, but still had to scratch along the north face in the light breeze to get up. It didn't take long for others to notice the improving conditions and airborn gliders. We were joined quickly by Clark Harlow, Jeff Laughrey, Steve and Kathy Lee, Phil Proctor, and Kenny Sandifer. Clark entertained us with some LOOPS in the smooth air. Steve and Kathy flew south to Centerpoint and faced a challenging return in what had become, by this time, a northerly wind. Others enjoyed performing aerobatics for an audience gathered on a neighbor's deck. By sundown lift was abundant, widespread, and smooth, continuing out past the edge of the escarpment. A fun time was had by all!

The forecast for this week calls for rain and thunderstorms (some possibly severe) late Monday and Tuesday with quickly falling temperatures and a possibility of snow Wednesday. We can expect the desirable northwesterly winds in pursuit of the frontal passage Thursday, but it's likely to be strong and cold. Keep an eye on it and if it's good we'll see you in the sky!