Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Weather Avoidance: Back To Basics

Ten simple steps to enhance your weather planning and avoid Mother Nature’s worst

Aviation Digital Data Services (ADDS) may be the best aviation weather site on the Internet. They have vast amounts of information, a ton of useful reports and graphics for pilots, and so much more that you could devote an entire article to the site. One highlight is their new "Flight Path" JAVA tool that depicts information about weather along your route. It's free at

3 See The Big Picture: Print out a copy of the FSS briefing. The purpose of printing a standard briefing from DUATS ( is because it's difficult to absorb all the information by telephone alone; it's easy to miss something. It should be noted that both DUAT and DUATS are provided by the FAA, but each is slightly different in the way it presents information. DUATS recently updated their website to include new features. Either site will provide a textual briefing you can print and review.

L-3 Avionics System's Stormscope hit the 60,000th-unit-manufactured mark just last year. The weather-mapping system has become something of an industry standard since its introduction to general aviation in 1976. For pilots who want real-time lightning and thunderstorm information, nothing beats the up-to-the-minute Stormscope display.

The Stormscope is what's known as a "spheric" device. It detects lightning activity in real time by analyzing the radiated signals of electrical discharges from storm cells.

Stormscope, by detecting the electrical activity present as the storm builds, can provide an accurate view of areas that should be avoided. The unit processes both azimuth and range data to determine the location and intensity of dangerous thunderstorm cells—presenting the findings in real time.

Because lightning signifies the beginning and most dangerous phase of a thunderstorm (including severe turbulence and up and down drafts that could break up an aircraft), detecting it in real time is critical. Only a spheric detector can map all the stages of a thunderstorm, allowing pilots to avoid areas that would be hazardous to the aircraft.

Traditionally, lightning information has been available in the cockpit from ground-based detection equipment through data-link subscriptions, usually packaged with other products such as NEXRAD and METARS. The problem is the data is usually at least a few minutes old, sometimes more. And while data link provides many useful tools for the pilot, its NEXRAD imagery shows only precipitation—which doesn't always signify a thunderstorm. Stormscope can detect where storms are building, and will show lightning before NEXRAD shows precipitation.

Stormscope displays lightning in 25, 50, 100 and 200 nm ranges, and is designed so it can interface with most modern MFDs. It also can be set up as a dedicated display or overlaid on moving-map displays on popular glass cockpit systems like Garmin, Aspen, Avidyne and many others. The Stormscope processor updates the MFD every two seconds, and each strike remains on the display for approximately 3 minutes, depending on the frequency of strikes.

Stormscope comes in three variants. The WX-500 is designed to interface with MFDs, while the WX-950 is an "always-on" dedicated display. The WX-1000 interfaces with L-3s "Skywatch" traffic advisory system and can be configured to display on an EFIS or radar indicator. It also comes with added features like programmable checklists, selectable ranges and views, and a timer for approaches.

The capabilities of the Stormscope system are impressive and useful. Pilots can turn the unit on while on the ground and scan lightning activity up to 200 nm ahead to help make go/no-go decisions. When the unit is used in combination with data-link products such as NEXRAD, it becomes an essential tool for keeping flights away from the nasty convective stuff. As over 60,000 pilots have discovered, Stormscope—for under $6,000—is an excellent addition to any cockpit. Visit


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