Imagine a weather website just for pilots with a variety of useful tools and some nice graphical weather charts. Imagine this website is free and provided by the US government. Now imagine (most shocking of all) that this website is actually attractive, well-designed and easy to use. It’s here, with the new Weather.aero site from the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
Many pilots know about AviationWeather.gov, a helpful place for preflight briefings with lots of free weather data all in one place. In addition to this comprehensive resource there has always been a website called ADDS (Experimental Aviation Digital Data Service), where users could see “new aviation weather products, innovative visualizations, and data services.” This has traditionally been a great place to test out new products before they become fully operational, like the Current Icing Potential product.
But the new ADDS website at Weather.aero is a complete overhaul, with a welcome focus on the user interface. It is fast, clean and intuitive. Perhaps best of all, the emphasis is on charts, not raw data–ADDS is built for a world with the internet, not fax machines. And yes, it works on the iPad. The result is a site that should now be on the preflight checklist for any pilot.
Three menu options across the top show the main features: weather products, desktop apps and data services. The Weather Products menu option will be most useful for pilots, as it includes all the key weather charts:
- AIRMETs and SIGMETs, based on the new G-AIRMET tool that provides graphical depictions, with separate charts for icing, turbulence, low level wind shear and more.
- METARs are presented in both chart and text formats. You can review reports up to 7 hours in the past, and the chart can be zoomed in for more detail.
- Ceiling and Visibility, using the new CVA tool that shows an area-wide visualization of low ceilings and visibilities.
- Satellite, including visible, infrared and water vapor. The images can be looped and include METAR symbol overlays.
- Radar in full resolution, so it’s easy to zoom in for detailed storm avoidance planning. Uniquely for an aviation website, pilots can also choose between base and composite reflectivity (many pilots think composite is more useful for aviation).
- Pilot Reports, presented in graphical form and grouped by icing, turbulence and weather/visibility.
- Convection is currently empty as the old convective forecast is no longer used. There may be a replacement tool here at some point.
- Icing forecasts was one of the major innovations of the old ADDS–the CIP tool has become a go-to tool for instrument pilots. The latest version of CIP is here, with forecast charts selectable by time and altitude.
- Turbulence is similar to the icing forecast, with charts for different time periods and altitudes. The focus is on high level clear air turbulence, but the forecast graphics do go as low as 11,000 feet now.
- Winds and temps aloft sounds pretty boring, but there are some nice visualizations here. Pilots can view either wind barbs or streamlines at different altitudes from the surface up to 48,000 feet, up to 4 days in the future. There are also some helpful ISA temperature difference charts.
- Prog charts are here as well, including surface and low/mid/high altitude significant weather charts. Even these have been dressed up a little to be more colorful.
- TAFs also get the graphical treatment, with options for viewing METAR station symbols at different forecast times. This is helpful for getting a feel for the overall weather trend in an area (is it just valley fog or something more organized?).
Beyond just consolidating all these weather products in one place, ADDS shows off some novel presentations. For example, the winds and temps aloft page takes a nearly unreadable matrix of text and makes it surprisingly useful. Likewise, METARs are presented in a couple of different chart formats that allow for quick updates without having to read lines and lines of text. It’s clear that a lot of effort is being put into how weather reports and forecasts are presented, not just the data being collected and the models being used. Also worth noting is that ADDS has a lot to offer for VFR pilots; this is not just high end IFR stuff.
There’s an option to create a free account on the site that allows pilots to automatically see weather for their home airport on the homepage without having to search. It’s also a good way to stay up to date as new features are added–a fairly common thing with ADDS.
For the real weather geek, there are even some desktop tools that are worth experimenting with. The Flight Path Tool shows a three dimensional representation of a proposed flight and allows you to simulate flying your trip, complete with forecast conditions. The visualization is pretty impressive, and this tool should be especially helpful for VFR flight planning. There’s also a tool for helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS) operators. Both of these tools run on Java, which is a separate program from your browser, so make sure you have it installed (it’s free).
Technically, the website is labeled as experimental, so the standard disclaimers apply about verifying any information here. Having said that, a number of these tools have proven to be extremely accurate and are, at the very least, a great starting point for an overview.
If you haven’t visited the new Weather.aero, you owe it to yourself to take a look before your next flight.