Go or No Go: home for the holidays

It’s the week of Thanksgiving, and your mission today is critical for staying married: you’ll be flying with your wife from your home outside San Francisco to visit the in-laws in Seattle for turkey day. It’s a longer flight, just over 3 hours in your Cirrus SR22 from KPAO to KBFI, but it’s one you’ve done a few times before so you know what to expect. The weather is typical for late fall in the Pacific Northwest, with scattered rain and windy conditions, but your SR22 is well-equipped, with a glass cockpit, WAAS GPSs and TKS known ice system. You are instrument rated and current.

Your flight is scheduled to depart in an hour (1730Z). Read the weather briefing below, then decide if you’re flying or driving.

Overview

Your route will take you through a few lines of rain as you fly up the Pacific coast.

Route of flight

The surface analysis shows a cold front with an occluded section moving in from the ocean.

Surface analysis

The 12 and 24-hour prognostic charts show the weather continuing to move through Oregon and Washington as it slides east.

12 hour prog chart

24 hour prog

Radar

There are two distinct bands of rain across your route of flight, although they don’t appear to be convective right now.

Radar image

Icing

Airframe icing is always a consideration this time of year, and a look at the icing AIRMETs shows some activity.

ice AIRMETs

There are some Pilot Reports of icing, although most are above your typical cruising altitude.

Icing PIREPs

The CIP forecast product suggests that you might be able to stay out of the ice if you can cruise below 7000 ft.

5000 ft. icing forecast

7000 ft. icing forecast

Turbulence

It looks like there will be a few bumps today, as well, with some strong surface winds.

Turbulence AIRMETs

Text Weather Reports

The weather at your departure and destination isn’t bad, with good visibility and relatively high ceilings. But in between, conditions are worse at Medford, OR and getting worse at Portland, OR.

KPAO 201547Z 16012KT 10SM BKN022 OVC035 15/12 A3015=
KPAO 201447Z 15013KT 7SM BR FEW007 SCT015 BKN023 OVC035 15/12 A3014=
KMFR 201627Z 00000KT 2 1/2SM +RA BR FEW029 OVC039 11/09 A2980 RMK AO2
    PRESRR P0016= (SPECI)
KMFR 201553Z 18005KT 7SM RA OVC055 12/09 A2974 RMK AO2 PRESRR SLP068
    P0021 T01170089=
KMFR 201453Z 06003KT 5SM RA BR OVC055 10/09 A2974 RMK AO2 SLP067
    P0020 60043 T01000094 55007=
TAF KMFR 201120Z 2012/2112 VRB03KT P6SM SCT015 OVC040 TEMPO
     2012/2016 -RA BKN015
     FM201800 VRB03KT P6SM -RA SCT015 BKN025 OVC040
     FM202300 VRB03KT P6SM -SHRA SCT025 BKN050
     FM210500 VRB03KT P6SM -RA SCT025 OVC040=
KPDX 201553Z 11012KT 10SM OVC033 09/08 A2963 RMK AO2 RAB06E23 SLP031
    P0000 T00940078=
KPDX 201453Z 12013KT 10SM SCT039 BKN050 OVC070 09/08 A2967 RMK AO2
    SLP048 60018 T00940078 58017=
TAF AMD KPDX 201438Z 2015/2112 11008KT P6SM -SHRA SCT025 BKN035
     OVC060 TEMPO 2016/2018 BKN025
     FM202200 20011KT P6SM -RA SCT025 BKN060
     FM211000 18014G25KT P6SM -RA SCT020 OVC050=
KBFI 201553Z 00000KT 10SM SCT050 07/05 A2960 RMK AO2 SLP024
    T00670050=
KBFI 201453Z 13005KT 10SM SCT065 BKN150 08/06 A2963 RMK AO2 SLP034
    60000 T00780061 57014=
TAF KBFI 201140Z 2012/2112 15005KT P6SM VCSH SCT040 SCT060 OVC200
     FM201500 15004KT P6SM BKN120 OVC200
     FM201900 18014G22KT 5SM -RA BR BKN030 OVC045
     FM202200 18015G24KT P6SM -SHRA SCT020 BKN035
     FM210500 16006KT P6SM VCSH SCT035 BKN100
     FM211000 16004KT P6SM -RA BKN040 OVC060=

You Make the Call

It’s time to decide. This is certainly an IFR day and there might even be some ice in the clouds. But you’re instrument current and have a capable airplane. Can you go? Should you go? Add your opinion below.

56 Comments

  • You didn’t give us enough information to make the call.

    1.) What are MEAs?

    2.) what is FIP by hour up to 5 hours past proposed dept time.

    3.) I would like to see soundings along the route before and after proposed dept time also.

    4.) IR imagery in motion

    5.) metar/tafs along route

    • I will add that based upon what you have showed us it certainly looks dicey and a challenging flight at a minimum. It’s very possible this is a no-go but we need more information to definitively say.

      Based on what you have shown us, I vote no-go.

      • I used http://www.wxrewind.com to look at more wx information on this day of flight yesterday 17-21z and I would definitely not go on this flight.

        MEA in Northern Cali and Oregon area go as high as 10k’ before lowering near Seattle. This put you forecast potential for SLD icing.

        Southern Oregon had a moderate clear 12k’ ice pirep

        SE WA had a severe pirep at 4k’

        Convective watch valid concerns me about convection. There is too many negatives in this flight and it tips well in favor of clearly a NO-GO!

  • It would be a “No Go” for me (and my family). Too many “If’s”! Say Happy Thanksgiving on Facetime, or whatever, and try again when you can have a “plesant” flight.

  • Looks like the winds and mountains are going to make for a rough ride (too rough). Ice protection (whether FIKI or inadvertant) on a normally aspirated single engine piston airplane lacking the ponies to climb above the ice is really best used to get out of ice, not get in it.
    No go for me. It’s time to go to Denny’s for an open faced turkey sandwich, mashed taters and punkin pie. Skype the in-laws.

  • I think it’s probably a go. In your favor: very capable airplane, current pilot, known route, plenty of bail out options along the way. Yes, it’s going to be a little bumpy, but the ice doesn’t look like too much of an issue and the weather is great if you need to land short or divert (ceilings and vis).

    Not a silky smooth flight, but totally safe and a great example of why you get an instrument rating.

  • Not a pleasant flight for some passengers, but doable. I would stay West of the charted flight along the coast, as 5000 feet appears to be below icing levels. MEA’s are available most of the way at 6000.

    AHP

  • I’d say this one is a go. This is why you got your instrument rating! You should be able to stay under the icing and there’s nothing convective, so other than a few bumps it should be an alright ride.

  • I’d go, however, would need a bit more info. I’d want more ride reports, and ice and layer reports. For now, the ride would be the most significant issues. I just don’t like to bounce around in light to moderate for 3 hours, however, I suspect there may be a good altitude to minimize the bumps, and would want to know that.

    I don’t see ice as an issue with this plane. However, I’d much rather take my Baron.

  • I would go via Southwest or Alaska airlines.

    Anytime you have known icing potential, turbulence, and low pressure systems passing though combined with crossing mountains your asking for trouble.

    You have an SR22, you can afford a ticket on a carrier if it really means saving your marriage.

  • My questions would be how uncomfortable would it be for the passengers because of the potential turbulence. With the southerly flow, it might not be too bad. The ceiling and visibility forecasts are OK. Icing with a FIKI equipped airplane shouldn’t be an issue and there are outs just in case. Might need to deviate to the east in Oregon to get around the heavier rain. It might be the kind of day where you could find a altitude that’s between layers with some rain and a bit of wind. I’d go.

  • My wife would make that call easy….fair weather flyer all the way and NEVER when turbulence forecast….For myself, I don’t like single engine IFR when combined with the chance if icing and frontal activity. No go…

  • If it were just me in the plane, I’d launch and keep a weather-eye out for a place to land. But that wouldn’t make it a family trip, would it? Regardless of my or the aircraft’s capabilities, my wife prefers to fly only in “the same weather you’d drive a convertible with the top down.” We’d fly commercial, drive, or stay home.

  • If the “mission today is critical for staying married” reconsider the marriage since no marriage’s viability should depend upon an airplane ride..

    • Exactly what I was thinking as I read all of this.
      If the marriage is that fragile it’s time for a different wife anyway – LOL

  • Nope… it’s a no-go. (I’m a CFI/CFII/MEI with about 1650 hours.) AMTRAK has a nice train that runs up that way (I live in Seattle.) I look at FIKI gear on a light single is an escape tool, not a “launch into icing” force field. It’s nasty weather any way you look at it. Note the occlusion offshore, headed onshore, and the secondary trough forming on the prog. charts. You know the old saying: better to be on the ground — or the train — looking up and wishing you were in the sky, than the other way around.

  • Having flown that route many times as an airline pilot, now retired, if I go, I’m going commercial airline or automobile. Too many ifs and I don’t like taking chances with my family. Sure, maybe you can make it, but it will be a meserable flight, and what if you don’t make it. That’s permanent!!!

  • I fly between the Bay Area and Portland often in a turbocharged mooney. I *never* want to be in clouds west of Shasta. Mea is at least 10k and upslope icing is almost a certainty between redding and Medford. No go

  • I fly Remo to Portland often and I would not go. Flying over the Sierras is a real risk for ice under the stated conditons. Not worth the risk. I would pick up the phone and make reservations on SouthWest. Not to mention I dislike flying in marginal conditions when I have to be somewhere.

  • Because of the mountains and ice, I would not fly this route.

    On the other hand, I faced this once and flew up the coast past the weather at 3,000 ft. If clear as I crossed the band of weather I would climb or stay low and cross back into the valley about Newport (ONP) proceed over Portland and North relatively low. As long as I was above freezing the only problem would be a thunderstorm which you can usually see and or ATC would point out. I might have to set down, but my experience is this is very typical weather and safely doable.

  • In an SR-22, the answer is no-go. For those who say go, I’d have to ask why do you want to do this? You’re willingly taking on a number of risks, any one of which could easily kill you, and for what? Ask yourself what you’re trying to accomplish. If your mission is to get together with family for a nice Thanksgiving in front of the fire watching your favorite NFL team get beat, then this is the not the way to approach it.

    If, on the other hand, you wish to demonstrate what a great pilot you are and the capabilities of the $400,000 airplane you mistakenly bought a few years back and are now struggling to justify while scaring the bejesus out of your family, then by all means launch. It’ll be a memorable flight if you live to tell about it. And if you don’t, well the rest of the world will mourn your passing and of your family and be consoled with the assurance that you died doing something that you loved.

    Pilots who crash in bad weather are typically buried 3 days later in the sunshine!

    Incidentally, if you had purchased an aircraft more suited to these types of weather conditions (for the same or less money) you could make this flight with ease, cruising in pressurized comfort in the flight levels above the clouds and make an autopilot-coupled approach that would be a breeze. But that’s a story for another time.

    • I hope that aircraft you are talking about has 2 x turbine engines preferably with heated wings and onboard wx radar. You will need to get to FL230 to get above the potential for icing and you’re still going to have to descend through forecast SLD potential with a hint towards embedded convection.

      However, we all view the risks differently. You certainly made some good points, all of this strikes to why all pilots need much better wx knowledge like you get from http://www.avwxworkshops.com. The FAA wx teaching to pass tests are completely inadequate and most CFIs are equally uninformed.

  • “If it ain’t a Boeing, I ain’t going”

    This is a “family trip for fun & pleasure”, right??

    I and family will take a train …. me, sit back, relax …. good meal and martini. Family …. safe and sound.

  • I have flown that route in bad weather(not as bad as predicted on this deal) and I will stay home. I have encountered ice on this route in the clouds at 8,000 in May. No thanks.

  • I live up north, too, after learning to fly out of KOAK. I’ve made the trip quite a few times, and I would not go. I don’t have a fast and powerful aircraft, but even if I did, I have immense respect for the trouble one can encounter over the Siskiyous, where air churns in new and exciting ways on nice days, let alone in this stuff. Knowing the terrain, the rest of the trip would be doable with some dodging around, but that first part is a stopper.

  • I hate to drive, period. I would much rather do the flight, but looking at the whole scenario, this guy will be leaving the hanger door closed regarding this trip. Living here in Western NY, we see this type of unpredictable weather all the time. Mother nature is a nasty lady some times!

  • I’d go. But I would go high. Put on the nasal cannulas, and climb. If no turbo, 16,000. With a turbo, 18,000. Look at the bright side, with this weather, you are going to have a nice tailwind.

    • Gary:
      Just curious, what advantage would you get going high, unless you knew you could top it? I wouldn’t think turbulence would be a big thing on the west side of the mountains but ice could be greater up high.

      I would definitely go, or else sell the plane and take up an accepted safe activity like reading about pilots at the library.

      • The freezing level is pretty high, but it is still well below the airplane’s capabiity. And that area down low always has lots more water content than the area up high. I have found I can usually find an altitude between layers, or get sufficiently cold that the water has already turned to ice and doesn’t adhere. (2 C times 6 – thousand feet – is -12C. I would be hoping to get -15 C or lower before I topped out.) Backup plan is to turn on the TKS. One of the nice things about TKS is that it is effective.

        And the freezing level is quite close to the MEAs. In cells, we get depression of the freezing point, (temperatures drop 3 to 5 F in the cell) which will take our nice ice free flight into icing at lowest altitude.

        A part of my answer is from personal experience flying the western side of the Cascades. Usually, we can top this kind of weather. As moisture goes, this isn’t heavy for the west side of the Cascades. I have seen and flown precipitation in the yellows. Light and dark green are comparatively light.

        I guess the bottom line is that these are normal sort of instrument conditions that the SR-22 with FIKI option is capable of handling. The pilots job is to find a condition that avoids or minimizes the icing and provides an acceptable ride. The challenge of doing this well is part of the attraction of flying.

        • Why go over the mountains. Just fly over the coast (right on the beach) at lower altitude and the ice-problem goes away. You can rejoin the valley a little south of Portland where there is also a low spot in the cascades.

          • That assumes good VFR along the beach/coast. I don’t think that assumption is valid given the current and prog charts.

          • Not really. You can file IFR (airport to airport or Victor Airways) using you GPS’s and clear everything comfortably at 4,000 ft. My recollection when I did this I had Ice at one point at 3,500 ft and ATC could see me and cleared me down to 2,700 ft as a minimum rather than turning back and landing nearby. At the lower levels I was in and out of the clouds and in fact there were two other planes (one my way and a Bonanza going the opposite way) flying the same course.

          • Well, I suppose if one is desperate enough to see the in- laws as to jump through the hoops all the way there then go for it. I’m not…:)

          • Well, I suppose if one is desperate enough to see the in- laws as to jump through the hoops all the way there then go for it. I’m not…

  • As a student pilot my vote is to go with jaded look at the weather. May be that you could squeak by
    Some of the weather, but discretion is the better part of valler in this case.
    Save the marriage, and verry possibly your lives DON’T GO! Do not become another statistic.
    Your inlaws will appreciate you more if you don’t kill their daughter.

  • Good thought-provoking exercise John. Everyone has, or should have, their own personal minimums, which for me vary depending on the route and the passenger manifest. So for me, this was an easy one. No-go for several reasons, most prominate of which is my family’s intolerance for in the clouds and rough ride. Passenger vertigo a real possibility. If it were just me on the flight, I would still vote no-go: It would be my first flight in that part of the world. I’d want decent wx for that.

  • Every decision to fly is a risk benefit tradeoff. The usual benefit of enjoying flying / getting somewhere outweighs the risk of crashing. When you add potential bad weather, the risk increases but the benefit doesn’t.

  • Nobody mentioned that occluded front. That can cause some of the meanest turbulence you will find outside a thunderstorm and I have heard airline pilots report “cells popping up all over the place” when passing through an occlusion with no convection. The good news is that occlusions usually move rapidly and this flight would certainly qualify for a “start” with “continue” evaluated all along the way.

    • The real “threat” on this particular flight was the potential for embedded convective turbulence along the Washington/Oregon coast. John was missing this from his “briefing”, but the SPC and AWC both had a risk of convection (likely embedded) along the proposed route of flight during the late morning and early afternoon.

  • Definite no-go: severe rain offshore in WA will be in flight path when in WA, forecast of sustained winds exceeding 30 kts. Moderate headwinds along route, icing conditions would increase along route, very good chance of freezing rain in SW WA & poor visibility. Between Portland & Olympia there are not high quality airports to risk low/no visibility approaches. I am a student pilot.

  • That’s an interesting interpretation, Scott. But I’d like to have Dick confirm whether or not it was a real flight and give his own learned opinion on the decision, hypothetical or otherwise. That’s particularly because I live in Seattle and have traveled that route before myself, albeit in summer, with only slightly crappy weather. Only about 250 hours under my belt, and virtually starting over after a layoff of about 40 years, plus or minus (I do have 2 degrees in Aero Engineering and have worked for several aircraft companies and — gasp — for the FAA.

    • Certainly it could have been a “real” flight Ken, but this kind of “thought experiment” is quite common throughout the online pilot community as a point of discussion. As a CFI and former NWS meteorologist, I use a similar approach with my online students. The goal is to teach them how to integrate all of the data to make a decision that is commensurate with their own level of risk. I get to do this mental exercise several times a week with my students. Unfortunately, most certificated pilots don’t acquire the appropriate level of knowledge or weather acuity during their primary training.

    • Ken – I work with pilots at all experience levels including those who recently got their private certificate all the way through 20,000+ hour retired airline captains. Most have sought me out to help them better understand weather. Most are flying smaller general aviation aircraft and want the most utility out of their aircraft while maintaining the highest level of safety.

      With these pilots I spend an hour discussing their goals, risk level and mission. I also try to assess their weather knowledge. Then I come up with a loose syllabus that will increase their knowledge. We work through the syllabus typically at a slow pace (one hour per week). During this time, they will likely be looking to make flights; these make an excellent opportunity to integrate all of the training we’ve done up to that point. The end goal is to end up with a greater confidence when you make a decision to launch. I teach pilots how to use some of the best weather on the Internet that has the highest spatial and temporal resolution.

  • Quick gut response from glancing over the charts: I’m not worried about the visibility, and I suspect that any convective activity will be localized enough to be avoided (or to allow landing for a couple of hours to wait it out), but the flight looks to me like a stress sandwich:

    Top slice: You have to stay high to avoid the hills.

    Bottom slice: You have to stay low to avoid the icing (it looks like wide areas of drizzle around the lows, so IMC and clear icing).

    How much room is there between the MEAs and the freezing levels? Even between the MOCAs and the freezing levels?

    Living in central Canada, I’m not unfamiliar with icing conditions, but I generally want to face the risk only over flat terrain, where MOCAs are low and there’s an easy out, and never when I might be dealing with clear or mixed rather than just rime.

  • No Go. Flew as copilot w/IFR son in VFR redding to portland and thought this is no place to be in wx in PA-28.FIKI/passenger discomfort/all the what-ifs? ICE?? Not worth a dead turkey-and family.If one can afford that rating and plane,one can afford to go commercial.

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