Go or No Go: storms in the panhandle?

After a productive day of business meetings in Savannah, GA, (KSAV) your plan is to return home to New Orleans, LA (KNEW) tonight in time for dinner with your family. Day trips like this are a big reason you purchased your Cessna 182 a few years ago, and you’ve since logged 300 hours in the airplane. You are instrument rated and current, and the airplane features a Bendix/King KLN 94 GPS and a color multi-function display with XM Satellite Weather, as well as a capable autopilot.

Here’s the weather picture that greets you as you sit down at the FBO computer in Savannah. Read the details, then tell us if you’re making the trip or spending the night. Proposed departure time is 1830Z.

Overview

The flight will take you southwest out of Georgia and across the Florida Panhandle before the final leg into the New Orleans area.

SAV to NEW route

The synopsis chart shows a weak stationary front that runs roughly parallel to and north of your route.

GNG synopsis

The 12-hour forecast chart shows the front isn’t likely to go anywhere.

GNG forecast 12

Radar

The radar will be an important tool today, as the usual afternoon thunderstorms seem to be brewing. At first glance, though, the storms are mostly pop-up cells and not organized into any solid lines.

GNG radar SE

Satellite

A look at the visible satellite imagery may offer some more clues as to the nature of the storms.

GNG satellite 1

AIRMETs and SIGMETs

There are no AIRMETs covering your route of flight today, so at least you should have a smooth ride.

GNG airmets

The convective SIGMETs picture shows more activity.

GNG convective

Other Products

Since thunderstorms are a concern, you take a look at the CCFP map, which offers a 4 hour forecast of convective activity.

GNG CCFP

You’ve also been reading about these Skew-t diagrams and how they can provide details about the stability of the atmosphere. Here’s the latest diagram from New Orleans.

GNG Skew t

Text Weather

Finally, it’s time for a look at the text weather. Ceilings and visibilities look pretty good along the entire route of flight. Reports below are from your departure, two en route airports and your destination.

KSAV 051753Z 36004KT 10SM SCT033 SCT250 32/23 A3008 RMK AO2 SLP184
    T03170228 10328 20239 58012=
KSAV 051653Z 00000KT 10SM SCT033 SCT046 32/23 A3009 RMK AO2 SLP188
    T03170233=
TAF KSAV 051739Z 0518/0618 04007KT P6SM SCT040
     FM052000 15007KT P6SM VCTS SCT030CB
     FM060000 VRB03KT P6SM SCT250
     FM061400 07007KT P6SM FEW050=
KTMA 051835Z AUTO 24009KT 200V270 32/21 A3008 RMK AO2 T03200212 PWINO
    TSNO=
KPNS 051753Z 10007KT 10SM CLR 32/23 A3009 RMK AO2 SLP192 T03170228
    10322 20233 58010=
TAF KPNS 051746Z 0518/0618 00000KT P6SM VCTS SCT035CB BKN090
     FM060000 VRB03KT P6SM FEW030 FEW250
     FM061200 01004KT P6SM SKC=
KNEW 051753Z 06009KT 10SM FEW043 SCT050 29/25 A3010 RMK AO2
    RAB1656E49 SLP187 P0012 60012 T02940250 10317 20272 58003=
KNEW 051718Z 00000KT 10SM RA BKN020 28/24 A3011 RMK AO2 RAB1656
    P0012= (SPECI)
KNEW 051653Z COR 06008KT 10SM -RA BKN020 31/24 A3011 RMK AO2 SLP189
    T03110239=
KNEW 051653Z 06008KT 10SM BKN020 31/24 A3011 RMK AO2 SLP189
    T03110239=
TAF KNEW 051740Z 0518/0618 08008KT P6SM VCSH SCT020 BKN250
     FM052000 12006KT P6SM SCT030 BKN250
     FM060100 15005KT P6SM FEW040 SCT250=

You Decide

Are you heading for the airplane or the hotel? The weather is excellent at your departure and along most of your route, and the radar is fairly quiet so far. But it’s still early afternoon and temperatures are rising–will those scattered storms turn into something much more serious? Add your comment below.

13 Comments

  • Wheels up! Stationary front and we are flying below it. If we didnt take off in those conditions in Florida we would never use the plane may thru nov.

  • I agree with Ken.
    Open the eyes and stay away at least 20NM from the CBs.
    Be prepared to land if things are going wrong : approach plates of fields en-route…

  • Fairly high CAPE (Convective Available Potential Energy) in New Orleans of 2,720 around departure time. However, Lifted Index is only -2 so instability not so bad. From the visible satellite photo, it looks like convective activity is along the front (probably moving south) and seabreeze activity is along the coastline probably pushing inland – north. If it were me, I would launch but amend my planned route to direct Apalachicola or Panama City then along or south of coast to New Orleans. In a set-up like this, the NW FL coastline (or just south of it) is usually severe clear while storms are raging just 10-20 miles inland.

  • This is a fairly easy decision. Get going as early as possible, keep an eye on the XM weather, and keep those “Mark I” eyeballs pealed for buildups that might be getting nasty. The view out the windshield will show buildups before XM and based on how fast they are growing, you might decide to stop along the way. Also there are plenty of places to land should the forecast go awry.

  • Can’t argue with any of the concensus responses above. Fly today, but be prepared to be surprised.

    As always with cross-country flying, you’ve got to be prepared to go with a Plan B and even a Plan C diversion if the weather turns out to be very different from forecast. It’s a matter of mindset rather than anything to do with the capability of the airplane or even the pilot.

    With modern GPS databases and cell phones, stopping at a lonely un-manned country airstrip isn’t really all that much of an inconvenience any more. As the old saying goes, “far better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air, than in the air wishing you were on the ground.”

    One time on a cross-country flight across New Mexico to Albuquerque, I had to make an unplanned weather stop at an unmanned airport in Santa Rosa, due to an unforecast line of T-storms between me and my destination. At least the airport folks had posted a notice inside the airport office providing a phone number for the local “taxi”. It turned out that the “taxi” was the local Sheriff’s Department, and a Deputy swung by the airport to give me a lift into town in his police cruiser! That’s how I was able to get some dinner and stay the night at a motel! Like most cross-country GA pilits, I’ve made many other unexpected flight diversions over the years.

    Having fun and interesting stories of unplanned adventures is all part of the charm of cross-country flying in GA aircraft … telling the tale afterwards is far superior to falling victim to “get-there-itis”.

    btw – XM Wx is simply a great cockpit tool to use for getting the big picture on T-storm activity along and near the planned route of flight … as long as one acknowledges that the time delay in the images does not allow one to pick their way between close-together active cells. XM will, however, tell you if you’re just looking at a small patch of cells around which you can practically divert, or if you’re dealing with a long and growing line of T-storms that can’t be safely penetrated or flown around.

  • I would go. Basically Flat country with many places to land if the weather go south. Well equipped aircraft, and 300 Hr pilot. No reason to
    put this flight off.

  • I would go.
    1) fly as high as I could in the 182. 12000 is doable in a 182 especially if it is lightly loaded. the altitude will better allow you to visually see what your XM is showing.

    2) I would consider changing the route to the north. go straight west from the departure. you would have to pick your way thru some of the weather but then it would clear out. With the xm you can watch the developments at the end of your route and deviate as needed. with the maps as shown a straight shot to CEW and then into NEW looks like it might work.

    3) I live on the gulf coast and am very used to the seabreeze storms that crop up in the summer. I would not like to feel squeezed between the coast and the front. It is amazing how fast you can go from widely scattered to a dense line of storms 20 to 50 miles inland along the coast.

    4) Since you are going in the late afternoon, with the sun going down and reducing the ground heating, many of the cells may have dissipated by the time you get near NEW.

    5) be prepared to stop and spend the night in some hotel along the way. Also, landing, getting some dinner, a little down time with a fresh and detailed weather briefing may allow the storms to dissipate and allow you to finish the trip after dark. No, I am not advocating using XM without visual to avoid all those storms. However, without the sun’s heating it is quite possible that they will all go away and provide you with a CAVU night flight.

    • nope, I would still launch and head west first.
      My desire to avoid going south is vindicated by the big increase of gunk in SE Georgia. Since I am a SEL pilot I would not go over the water to get to JAX so I would end up picking my way thru the gunk. It does seem like a good route for a twin.

      I played with my planning software and this is the route that I picked out ==> . This route has the additional advantage of staying out of all the military airspace along that route. the MVC/SJI segment near Mobile is cutting south a little sooner than straight line because the 3 hour radar shows the storms much thinner there.

      it is clear that the first 20% and last 25% of the trip will need to be worked with ATC as reality conflicts with the plan.

      I still need to emphasize that it may still be necessary to turn to the wife and say “we can’t get there from here. How does Birmingham sound for the night?”

      • I don’t know what happened to the route. It was there when I hit return.

        here it is again: KSAV BROSE LILLY CHAFF MVC SJI KNEW

  • I will stick with the Southern route to get south of the warm front AND south of the Gulf Coast sea breeze front with as little time as possible spent between those two lifting mechanisms. Definitely wouldn’t be weaving my way around southeast GA and the FL panhandle with XM. And the only problem with being at 12K is that you could quickly be engulfed by convection rising from below with nowhere to go (including up.) It may be retrospective… but flying south along the east coast to JAX or DAB and then cutting west would keep one away from virtually all the convection caused by the warm and seabreeze fronts.

  • The flight would still be a “go” even with the updated radar pic. I would fly direct and pic my way aroud the heavy stuff on the departure end of the route, then divert south (somewhere around PNS)of the narrow line of storms at the destination end. The the wx enroute is light to moderate precip. A radar loop would be helpful here as opposed to a static picture.

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