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

4 Standard Briefing: Even with its limitations, the standard FSS briefing is useful, especially for getting the latest information. Knowing the difference between "standard" (for most flights), "outlook" for flights more than six hours in advance and "abbreviated" briefings only to update specific items from a previous briefing, is important.

5 Go Or No-Go: Never count on the aircraft's capability to compensate for your own lack of experience. Dennstaedt maintains, "You don't get knowledge from experience. Instead, you apply knowledge you've learned and apply it to then gain experience." Make the decision based on fact, not emotion.

6 Prepare Passengers: The pressure to get passengers to their promised destinations has killed a lot of pilots. The key is to set expectations beforehand so the pressure is off. If passengers know they might have to spend the night waiting out the weather, they're less likely to pressure the pilot to get there. Remember that the best weather avoidance tool is waiting it out on the ground.

7 Last-Minute Update: Use the strength of the Flight Service briefing—fresh updates—to better prepare for the flight. Get an abbreviated briefing just prior to takeoff.

What Your Weatherman Won't Tell You
Global weather changes are making scientists take notice
For the first time in recent history, severe weather events are starting to draw attention. The recent re-routing of airline flights over the North Pole due to freak solar-flare activity and the unexpected winter tornados in North Carolina and Alabama are just a few of hundreds of severe weather events in the past 24 months that suggest something's going on.

The National Weather Service (NWS) just released their "severe weather summary" for 2011, showing it was the worst year in recorded history for tornados in the state of Alabama. To put that into perspective, 62 tornados struck Alabama on a single day in 2011—April 27th—killing 248 people and injuring 2,219 others. The devastation included two EF5 tornados, with winds in excess of 200 mph.

Weather Services International (WSI) released a report in late January, saying the period from February to April of 2012 will have colder-than-normal temperatures across the entire northern U.S., with above-normal temperatures in the south-central and south-eastern states. WSI says it's all part of a pattern of changing weather across the country.

Climatologists worldwide are seeing changes in weather patterns that signal more severe weather around the globe. John Harrington, Jr., a Kansas State University professor and synoptic climatologist, is one of many scientists noticing significant changes in the jet-stream patterns in the upper atmosphere. "The fact that this (severe storms) is happening all in one year and in a relatively short time frame is unusual," said Harrington.

An unusual recurrence of a weather disruption known as "La Niña" is also part of the changing weather. It occurs when the ocean surface temperatures off the coast of Peru are colder than normal. That sets off a series of changes to weather patterns around the globe; especially severe worldwide droughts.

According to NASA, climate-change evidence is both compelling and disturbing. Global sea levels have risen 6.7 inches in the last 100 years. Worst still, the rate of rise in just the last decade is nearly double that of the entire last century. NASA says the Earth's global surface temperature has risen significantly since the 1970s, with the hottest 10 years on record occurring in the past 12 years. Warmer oceans, declining arctic-sea ice and glacial retreat all are undisputed evidence that our climate will continue to change dramatically. Visit to learn more.

The short-term effects of these changes are already being seen. NASA says North America will see decreasing snowpack in our mountains, and increased frequency, duration and intensity of heat waves across the nation, as well as more severe thunderstorms, tornados, and more flooding. For pilots that means an increased responsibility for getting a thorough and complete weather briefing from several sources, as well as investigating in-cockpit technology solutions.


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