Training and Safety Tip: When Time Happens Between Reporting Points

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But what happens when next to the METARs and TAFs of your departure and destination airports, there is only one reporting station along your route?

This happened to a pilot who relied on reported weather along the route to be only marginal VFR near this reporting point about two-thirds of the way. Unfortunately, this was not the case and the pilot unwittingly flew under visual flight rules (VFR) into instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), a true emergency. Don’t take this lightly as most pilots who fly VFR in IMC do not survive. Although this pilot survived by climbing through the clouds, NASA’s ASRS (Aviation Safety Reporting System) report indicates that the pilot did not have a clear idea of ​​the thickness of the cloud layer. Fortunately, the layer turned out to be only a few thousand feet thick, and the aircraft broke above and flew to its destination without further incident. The pilot was also unclear about the weather products and tools reviewed in the online briefing and subsequent telephone briefing.

Here is a great tool to see forecast weather conditions over a wide area: the Aviation Weather Center Graphical forecasts for aviation (GFA). Enter your route using the flight path tool, and once your route is displayed on the map, zoom in to see details. Menu buttons at the top allow you to view every weather condition that could affect your flight, and a sliding timeline shows you the forecast conditions predicted for the duration of your flight. One feature that would have helped the pilot who filed the ASRS report is the “Clouds” forecast. As you zoom into the flight route, you will see forecast cloud bases and tops. Each menu option provides a specific key so you can easily understand what you are looking at.

GFA information makes it easier to stay VFR and avoid becoming a VFR accident statistic in IMC. Just take the time to compare your flight itinerary with the expected conditions. The weather may change, but you’ll be better prepared to deal with it when it does. Consider providing a pirep (pilot weather report) to help your fellow pilots as well.

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