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

8 Escape Route: Know where the weather will be good near your route. Have fuel reserves planned so you can reach alternates without running below legal reserves. Know frequencies and runway data, or use cockpit resources to get this enroute.

9 Re-evaluate: Once in flight, constantly check weather along your route. Once in the cockpit, the electronic goodies you have onboard will determine how much information you'll have at your fingertips. But remember, this also means monitoring ATIS/AWOS/ASOS along your route to get current conditions. You can call En-route Flight Advisory Service (EFAS, also known as "Flight Watch") on 122.0 in the continental United States from 5,000 AGL to 17,500 MSL to get timely flight advisories. Also, Air Route Traffic Control Centers (ARTCC) and many terminal radar approach facilities have the capability of reporting the intensity of radar weather echoes, though their primary responsibility is traffic separation.

Today's glass cockpits provide NEXRAD (Next Generation Radar) precipitation and wind information using a network of 159 high-resolution Doppler radar sites. Cockpit displays also can show METARS and TFRs using datalink to satellite services. NEXRAD has changed the way we fly. The trick is to know that this data is not real-time. Radar images are five to eight minutes old, so pilots shouldn't use NEXRAD as a means of making tactical decisions, such as where to weave around a thunderstorm.

10 Trust: Finally, trust what your eyes see. Look outside the cockpit to determine if conditions match what was forecast. Weather changes rapidly and you' ll know about conditions at your position before anybody else, no matter how well your aircraft is equipped.

More To Learn
Scott Dennstaedt confirms there's much to learn about weather. "Your certificate doesn't mean learning stops," he says. "Weather takes training and learning." He recommends the classic Jeppesen's Aviation Weather by Dr. Peter F. Lester, as well as Robert N. Buck's Weather Flying. Dennstaedt concludes, "Weather planning is ultimately more about making safe compromises between time, altitude and route."

Enhance Your Weather Toolbox
If you think you know your weather products, you'll be surprised at what additional resources are available. Sure, some of the resources below require pilots to "dig in" a little to learn how to interpret them, but many are more accurate than what you're used to and can be used for better forecasting. This list includes some favorites of our weather expert Scott Dennstaedt. For pilots who are willing to expand their knowledge and do a little learning, these supplemental products will add muscle to your weather briefings.

RESOURCE PRODUCT USE Surface analysis chart—with animation Information about the movement, or lack of movement, of major weather systems Quantitative precipitation forecast Precipitation forecast to examine the potential for precipitation along your route 12-hour forecast of fronts, precipitation and weather Includes precipitation type and intensity, as well as possible thunderstorms Unstable lifted index Convection/thunderstorm forecast Aviation weather center Current and forecast products including icing, convection, turbulence and winds Thunderstorm outlook Forecast for convective turbulence Rapid refresh weather-prediction system A series of graphics representing rapidly updated, highly accurate forecast models Maximum icing severity More accurate, higher-resolution forecast of icing Global forecast system Detailed, accurate forecasts of sky cover, visibility, temperature, dew point, wind Aviation weather workshops Member site, but includes vast amounts of free information


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