Thursday, April 17, 2008

Weather Planning for a Long Cross Country Flight

There is a lot to planning a cross country, but these days with the internet, there is a lot more available than when I got my private. You can work just with flight service, but that does not give you as many details as possible. If you prepare before a flight service call, you can also ask more intelligent questions. So here are some of the things I do in addition to flight service.

3-5 Days Before
I will check the long term forecast on I will do this not only at my start and destination, but at some of the locations in between. I will usually select 2 or 3 possible paths to get to my destination so I can be flexible for weather.

2 Days Before
I will start looking at couple extra places:
3 day forecast precipitation
3 day surface analysis
Prognostic charts on ADDS (And pick the 36h or 48h forecast)
Graphical Winds Aloft on ADDS (And I look at the graphical version since it has a longer forecast).

The Night Before
When it gets to the night before, I add a couple more things to my list:
TAF Java Tool on ADDS
Winds Aloft in Text on ADDS
Can I get a tail wind in certain paths?
Are the winds over 25knots over the mountains?
Duat Flight Service
look for agreement with other tools and anything extra.)
(And look for TFRs. I have seen this more up to date than the FAA site. Flight Service is the last word.)

Stadium TFR Information
For me, I also have to look at the Denver area Baseball field and Football stadiums for TFRs as well:
Rockies schedule
Broncos schedule
Cu Buffs
CSU Rams
Air Force Academy
University of Wyoming Football

The Morning Of
I will usually call the night before and possibly the morning to Flight Service. The morning of I will check the Metar java tool as well before a call to Flight Service. Remember to ask about TFRs.
Metar Java Tool on ADDS

If IFR is involved, I will check the Metar closely, Radar summaries, SkewT diagrams, and freezing levels in the winds aloft information. Also double check the surface forecast to see where the fronts are; will I be crossing a front?
SkewT diagrams to check for cloud levels, layers, and freezing temperatures.
Site radars on ADDS
Winds Aloft in Text on ADDS
Prognostic charts on ADDS (Look at the latest 4 panel 12/24h prog chart for frontal information)

Quite a few places to look, but I like to be well informed when flying a long ways.

I don't have a Garmin 496 yet, but I want something like that soon. If I am flying west over the Rockies which is the direction I have been traveling lately, I do not want to do much IFR. I may do a trip this summer to the East and then I may fork out the dollars for a 496. It looks like a very useful tool especially to compliment the Stormscope that I have in the plane.



Brian said...

AOPA just put a new web page together to report stadium location and game schedules. Something that I feel has been missing from cross country planning on the internet. If you fly into one of these NFL football, NLB baseball, NCAA college, or Speedways during a game, you could be violating a TFR and Flight Service will not advise you of the TFR.

Jeff Tyler said...

We old folks can remember when a pilot could get all of this info in one place with one phone call, back before we gutted Flight Service Stations...

Brian said...

I kind of like having all the information available on-line even if it is in different places. It makes the call to FSS much easier than before. It was hard for me to listen/write it all down when it was flooding in from the briefer without any advance information. What I miss about the new FSS is the local knowledge. The people really understood the local weather conditions previously, and most briefers do not have the good local knowledge.

clem clements said...

If I could give you a big hug I would. But I hope a huge thank you will do.

I am a new pilot who is also a new airplane owner who wants very badly to fly to a big fly-in next month over 600nm away. And I am not really sure how to prep for it weather-wise. Your suggestions are a huge help - I always call flight service the morning of a x-country; your suggestions will really help me get a better picture of their report and of course the big picture. Thanks again.

Brian said...

Thanks Clem! Those comments are what make it worthwhile.