Go or No Go: get to the beach

As you leave the office at 3:30pm, you’re headed right to the airport to get in your Cessna 182. Your family is already at the beach and now you’re excited to fly down and meet them there for a long weekend. The flight today is from your home in Knoxville, Tennessee (KTYS) to Kiawah Island in South Carolina (using airport KJZI), which should take just over 2 hours. Your 1980 Skylane is well-maintained, with a fancy new Garmin GTN 750 WAAS GPS and XM Weather on board. It looks like you’ll need that XM Weather for the trip today, but since you’re way out of instrument currency the trip will have to be completed VFR. Read the forecast below, then tell us if you would make the flight:

Flying route on ForeFlight

Overview

The weather depiction is fairly quiet in the East, with a weak cold front slowly sliding off shore. But some weather is left behind in South Carolina:

Weather depiction

The 12 hour forecast chart shows more of the same:

12 hour forecast chart

Radar and Satellite

The radar is more interesting today, with the usual summertime thunderstorms starting to pop up in the Southeast. Much of it looks widely scattered, but closer to your destination things are more organized:

NEXRAD

The regional radar closeup shows more detail:

Regional nexrad radar

The satellite image shows scattered clouds until the middle of South Carolina:

Visible satellite

There are no low level AIRMETs along your route of flight:

AIRMET chart

Pilot Reports also show nothing:

PIREPs

Convection

Thunderstorms are the main concern today, so a look at some convective weather products is in order:

Convective SIGMET

The Collaborative Convective Forecast Product (CCFP) is not really an aviation forecast, but it can add some detail to a discussion about thunderstorms. The 2-hour outlook shows a few areas of potential convection:

CCFP image

Airport Weather

Finally, it’s time to look at the text weather reports along your route of flight. Overall the weather is excellent, with just a few scattered clouds. Closer to the shore, there are more layered clouds, but conditions are still VFR. Will that scattered layer stay scattered? Below are METARs and TAFs (where available) for your departure, some en route airports and your destination:

KTYS 231853Z 26003KT 10SM FEW042 29/13 A3012 RMK AO2 SLP189
    T02940128=
KTYS 231753Z VRB03KT 10SM FEW039 28/15 A3014 RMK AO2 SLP196 T02830150
    10283 20161 58011=
TAF KTYS 231720Z 2318/2418 VRB03KT P6SM FEW045
     FM240000 00000KT P6SM SKC
     FM241500 VRB02KT P6SM FEW050=

K1A5 231915Z AUTO 27005KT 10SM SCT060 SCT075 27/10 A3015 RMK AO2=
K1A5 231855Z AUTO 00000KT 10SM SCT060 27/10 A3015 RMK AO2=
K1A5 231835Z AUTO 24004KT 10SM SCT060 27/12 A3016 RMK AO2=

KGYH 231847Z 00000KT 10SM SCT033 28/19 A3013=
KGYH 231747Z 12003KT 10SM BKN031 27/18 A3016=

KGRD 231856Z AUTO 36006KT 10SM SCT032 28/19 A3013 RMK AO2 SLP195
KGRD 231756Z AUTO 03004KT 10SM BKN030 BKN038 27/19 A3015 RMK AO2
    SLP202 T02720194 10278 20200 56010=
KGRD 231751Z AUTO 03006KT 10SM BKN030 BKN038 28/20 A3015 RMK AO2=
    (SPECI)

KCAE 231856Z 05007KT 030V090 10SM SCT039TCU BKN220 30/19 A3007 RMK
    AO2 SLP180 TCU ALQDS T03000194=
KCAE 231756Z 07005KT 10SM SCT034TCU SCT090 SCT110 30/20 A3009 RMK AO2
    SLP188 TCU OHD T03000200 10300 20233 58012=
TAF KCAE 231730Z 2318/2418 06007KT P6SM VCSH SCT025 BKN035
     FM240100 VRB03KT P6SM SCT100
     FM241400 05006KT P6SM SCT040=

KJZI 231915Z AUTO 08004KT 10SM FEW038 FEW049 SCT100 27/22 A3006 RMK
    A02 P000=
KJZI 231855Z AUTO 12006KT 10SM FEW042 27/22 A3007 RMK A02 P000=
KJZI 231835Z AUTO 10004KT 10SM FEW021 FEW025 SCT041 28/22 A3008 RMK
    A02 P000=
KJZI 231815Z AUTO 00000KT 10SM SCT023 SCT032 BKN043 29/22 A3008 RMK
    A02 P000=
KJZI 231755Z AUTO 03004KT 10SM FEW019 SCT024 BKN055 29/21 A3008 RMK
    A02 P000=

KCHS 231856Z VRB04KT 10SM FEW030 SCT050 SCT110 28/21 A3006 RMK AO2
    SLP179 CB DSNT SW LTL MOVMT TCU DSNT NW-N T02780211=
KCHS 231756Z 11003KT 10SM FEW030 SCT045 SCT090 28/21 A3008 RMK AO2
    SLP184 CB DSNT SW LTL MOVMT TCU DSNT NW-N T02830211 10289 20228 57010=
TAF AMD KCHS 231850Z 2319/2418 03006KT P6SM VCSH SCT020 BKN050
     TEMPO 2319/2322 5SM SHRA BKN020CB
     FM240100 VRB03KT P6SM SCT025 BKN150
     FM241500 02006KT P6SM SCT020 BKN050=

Decision time

So, are you headed to the beach tonight or not? Are the thunderstorms scattered enough to make it into JZI or will that line fill in? You make the call.

UPDATE–What did the weather do?

So what did the weather really do on this day? At about 5:30pm (when the proposed flight would be arriving at JZI), the weather conditions were:

KJZI 232118Z AUTO 24005KT 6SM HZ FEW017 SCT080 SCT110 28/23 A3004 RMK

 

The regional and local radar looked like this:

5:30pm regional radar

5:30pm local radar

Given that weather, did you make the right decision?

52 Comments

  • Is it cheating to say I’d go as far as I could, stop, and rent a car to go the rest of the way? Flying most of the way there is a lot better than not going at all, and the weather looks good enough to make it pretty far. Approaching it this way means you always have a fallback plan and an easy way to call it quits if you need to.

    • Not cheating at all, Ian. I think that’s an underused tactic. With the weather moving off shore (eventually), it might be a matter of landing, having an early dinner and then flying on.

    • Ian, Thanks for this tactic. I was only thinking of Go or No and with out instrument currency was prepared to cancel and stay at home. I think the idea to fly as far as the wx held and then rent a car for the balance of the trip is the best of both worlds. I would get to fly, shortening the travel time, and still join my family at the beach with a rented car.

    • Ian-

      You and I think a lot alike. I would make a shot for it contingent upon the weather actually holding or moving off shore as forecast. However, Since the aircraft is equipped with XM Weather on board as stated above, I would be extra cautious to any unexpected changes and have several alternates planned that I know that I could either overnight at or rent a car as you suggested. Personally, I would gamble that it is a 50/50 shot either way. I had a real flight similar to this where the forecast was for clear skies for the next 4 hours on a 1 hour flight. When I arrived over my destination, the barometer had suddenly and unexpectedly dropped and everything was socked in with 200 foot minimums. But I agree with your original assessment.

  • Thunderstorms + VFR + darkness = go home, wake up early, and depart in the morning.

    If the line of T’Storms is moving Southeast and I am guaranteed to land before sunset, I might try it.

  • I think I’m going. If it’s 3:30, I’ll be on the ground well before sunset. And while the radar looks a little busy, there’s a big gap around the destination. If anything, it’s moving offshore.

    Like Ian says, land short if you have to, but I think you can make it.

  • One concern not mentioned yet is the first part over the mountains; I have driven from Knoxville to Asheville (I-40) and down to Columbia (I-26) many many times. There can be low clouds covering the tops, and I’m guessing the reporting station above may not capture that. VFR on top I guess, but still concerns me. I’d be curious to know the exact route out of Knoxville with all those mountains southeast. Interesting to think about as always.

  • Why push it? Depart in the morning as soon as the low-level fog burns off and before the afternoon heating kicks in.

    • I’d do the same, leave for NC at the crack of dawn, except see if I can grab an instructor in Knoxville and get my instrument currency today so I don’t have to worry about the marine layer.

  • What’s missing for me is ceilings along the proposed route of flight. I am guessing that the backside of that low could produce a bit of scud – that could turn into major scud. As John points out, that could end up at terrain-level, or way too close for comfort.

    Having driven around scud with rising terrain, I would not want to repeat that, unless in broad daylight, and with a solid “out” (i.e. a 180 back to start, or as others have said, land and wait, or press on by car.)

  • I would go. I would monitor Spartanburg Weather as there are several loose TS in the lee of that front. A lot can happen in twenty minutes, so there is a good chance that the sky’s will stay clear with a slight dog leg North to keep Charlotte as a last ditch place to eat and stay the night.

  • I would not push my limitations, because my instrument currency isn’t up to date. Based upon that decision and the system moving in the northern direction and low ceiling across the located airport routes, it wouldn’t be a risk worth taken. A possibility of increasing crosswinds as well, could eventually be major factor! Being a private pilot, even if your instrument rated, it always a great ideal to be safe than sorry. Human Factors/Errors need to be considered in this case, and that weather systems are always subject to change rapidly. Every single pilot has different amount of skill levels with weather forecasting or flying abilities, but we can always learn from each other. Safety is a primary concern in this type of conditions, and this storm possibly developing into a hurricane. This decision would be a no go on these important factors. This aircraft being a smaller general aviation aircraft, this needs to be considered as well. Also in this information, the convection sigmet near by, needs to be considered as well!

  • Make a couple of rental car reservations along the route and go. There are plenty of “outs” on the route and it’s easy to turn around if necessary. Forecasts generally look pretty good. It’s really likely that you could get most or all the way there. If necessary, plan a stop and wait for the weather or stop and pickup a rental car for the last 60-100 miles.

  • I think it would be smart to stay home, enjoy a cup of coffe and think about an early morning trip. My instrument skills are not the best, the weather enroute may look OK, but lots of guys have tried scud running accross that part of the US when the weather looked OK, and that stuff off the coast always seems to get real busy as evening approaches. A telephone call from me, is always better than a bad one from someone else.

  • I say it’s a go. wind is moving every thing to the south and south east sending the bad weather out to sea and the distance between the 2 cold front leave good enough waether to go

    • This is a clear cut case of get there-itis. If you try to fly with the variable winds aloft…you will be risking shear velocities more than likely beyond the ability of the 182 to withstand. I, at any skill level, wait until morning when, 1 the weather should be better, and 2, I am well rested and better able to deal with in flight problems. When we are tired we forget. to forget while flying is to court disaster, even under the best of circumstances, which this particular profile does not afford. Wait, and get there, rather than push yourself and your aircraft, possibly beyond their limits. Why risk your life over 15 or 16 hours??

      • I agree it is a no go. I am not going into thunderstorms with a current ifr and especially not vfr. I am not going to the beach that day anyway because of the time and weather. I will wait for the morning when I am well rested and then hopefully the weather has improved.

  • No go. Perhaps our weather up here is more vicious, but something that looks like that could turn into a major t-storm disaster (with cells popping up all around you) in no time flat. I wouldn’t do it VFR, and especially not IFR.

    • Uh, no it could not. You need to look at the Skew-T which was stable for ghost part west of the trough, Very little chance of unstable air blowing up all around you.

  • Time to fly 2hrs in good weather- but not guaranteed at this time and weather.
    Time to drive: 7 hrs guaranteed arrival late at night.
    Decision: Drive and guarantee a safe, relaxed journey.
    Fly for convenience ONLY when the outcome is near 100% guarantee, based on sum of all of: (weather + pilot skill + aircraft capability).
    In this scenario, all three are dubious at best, especially since light GA aircraft are no match for genus cumulonimbus..

    • Late air night? It’s what? A 2 hour flight in a 182? Wheels up 1730 Lima is wheels down at 1930. Sunset at JZI on 28 Aurgust is 1950p

      Not exactly dark . . . .

  • First 750 display shows VFR reporting all along the route. Scattered Tstorms here and there to circumnavigate. Lots of outs. Go for it.

  • Go. Watch the Xm weather along the way. Get over the mountains and get a car in Greenville or if Columbia stays VFR get a car there.
    Donaldson Center and Greenwood forecast is good VFR
    Decide over Columbia. It is just two hours or so from Columbia to John’s Island by car.
    The storms to the southwest are organized and will probably get worse

  • Way too much info about the forecasted weather. Been flying a long time with three years in helos in the Army in Germany in the 70s flying in mostly bad weather. Learned a lot of techniques in Germany about flying in very marginal weather. Main thing is how much time do you have to pick your way thru the wx and land if you need to and either wait it out or try again. Way too late in the day. Easy decision in the a.m. Just give it a try. What you see is what you get. Don’t ever count on any wx prediction to be absolutely true. None. Never. Be prepared to turn around and always have an escape route. Always have full fuel. Easy here. Drive if you have to get there. Why scare the crap out of yourself and risk life, limb and property? Don’t do it.

  • Everybody has pretty much covered it. It’s a marginal flight that may not be able to be completed VFR. Most likely it will be okay, but don’t count on it.

    I’d go for it, but plan several alternate airports to put down if the weather starts deteriorating. 90% scenario says you make it to your final destination just fine. 10% says you have to put down somewhere and spend the night. For me personally the decision would be influenced by the availability of overnight hangars at the various possible destinations, and the weather outlook for the rest of the weekend. Why put your nice 182 out on a tie-down during a thunderstorm?

    • I happen to know that route pretty well. Once you’re at Greenville, there are no more mountains and it tends to be pretty VFR because the mountains push the ceilings up. I’d launch without hesitation, get to GSP and see what it looked like from there.

      There’s also tons of airports in the area and plenty of places to stop if need be.

      Fly until there are no more holes and then land. Judging by the radar, there’s plenty of holes to be used. It’s a short flight, plenty of fuel to poke around.

      Rule 1: Always have outs (In that area, there’s an airport every 20 miles)
      Rule 2: Know where the good weather is (GSP/GYH/Columbia most likely)
      Rule 3: Have enough fuel to explore
      Rule 4: If there are no holes, go back to the last good spot. Thunderstorms don’t just appear out of no-where. They take plenty of time to cook. That gives a nice large margin to find somewhere to put down, assuming you’ve planned your fuel correctly.
      Rule 5: Once airborn, keep get-there-itis in check. If there’s a clear hole, take it. Otherwise, driving the last hour is ALWAYS a better choice.

  • I’d go, but not necessarily expecting to get all the way. There are plenty of airports along the route and if the wx doesn’t cooperate, land and go the last 50 – 100 miles by rental car. That way I’d get there early enough and can always pick up the plane later that w/e.

  • No way,,, The storm cells would be arriving about the time you would arrive…I live in Columbia , SC and I wouldn’t attempt the flight from there, I have learned lessons in the past dealing with storms on coast of S.C. There not fun ,wait till next day..

  • I agree with above, what’s missing since this will be a VFR flight is the ceilings in route. Assuming they are ok I would go with the mindset at the first sign of trouble landing in route. I would have looked at all he airports in route to see who had good facilities since I may be staying for a while until the weather improves. Even if that means staying overnight. Then when I do continue it will be a short hop.

  • I would just wait til morning. The weather should be moved off to the east and the air will be cooler (lower lift index). I would be rested and fresh and would probably be there before the family got awake good.

  • I would wait until the next morning to make the flight. That way I could fly all the way and not have to pay for the car rental or the ramp fees at another airport. One thing I have learned in my studies of flight operations of all kinds is this, it is ALWAYS better to wait and get there, than to try to fly and crash or have to divert. When in doubt, don’t leave out.

  • Funny – I just cancelled an afternoon flight in PERFECT VFR conditions because I am too tired from last night’s night flight. So my mindset is tuned to the “no-go” side of the line as I answer this.

    I would not launch – it is later in the day – I might be tired from work and I’ll be having to make some important decisions en-route.

    ….and while we should ALWAYS consider the rental car option. That doesn’t mean the budget stretches to one as a deliberate planning choice (along with the tie downs away from home etc). I’m not saying you should never stop and rent – but I put that on the “contingency” side of the budget – not the “part of the plan in advance” side of the budget. If you get the distinction.

    YMMV

  • My instructor always said, “If you always wait for perfect weather, you will never get anywhere.” I’d launch the flight and keep my options open. If it looks bad land and wait it out. It’s “continued” flight into instrument conditions that kills.

  • GO! With in the cockpit weather, can easily fly around any cells, and if weather closes in closer to destination, land and wait till morning. I wouldn’t waste any time as would be much harder decision if having to consider to this in dark.

  • I’d go to the phone and collect real data from the arrival airport and others like the coast on actual visual ques and their view of developments. It is mostly important to remember that it isn’t what you can visually see before flying, its what will probably be there and possible developments of conditions. Plan for the worst since it sure isn’t getting better on the route.

    If I’d go off of what I can see in just pictures I’d say no. The Low Front on the coast with moist air climbing over the cold high pressure isn’t even on shore and already has scattered storms inland. Plus the high pressure zone info from pretty picture 7 CURRENT AIRMETS is what will mix with that so far undeveloped storms on the coast. View the south west area from the route for an idea of what the low front will do arriving on land without the high pressure zones AIRMET region trouble being drawn in by the low.

    I’d call the family saying maybe next timea and let the family know maybe plan on staying inside to stay dry. Then turn the ham radio gear on for a nice weekend of chasing up contacts around the world.

    The pictures are helpful but airport dew points and winds aloft are the most important anytime and when chancing it like this trip would be. You can get in the air but bad dew points will preclude landing in the fog. Then don’t forget temperatures change many degrees so current dew point spreads are only an idea to work off of.

    KJZI 231915Z AUTO 08004KT 10SM FEW038 FEW049 SCT100 27/22 A3006 RMK A02 P000=
    If 27/22 is the temperature dew point spread when an hour earlier it was 29/21. So with no significant rain and wind seeing the 10 miles of visibility I’d say heck no the airports going to be IFR.

    No GO- imminent mix up on coast with a healthy high and low starting to bust loose.
    No Go- destination starting to close out.
    No Go- route isn’t listed as convective on the map but it has all the characteristic of one one about to bust loose.
    No Go- VFR you shouldn’t let fancy XM gear drag you into a storm that’s nowhere near its full development.
    No Go- VFR Only so whay fly into a giant developing even bigger low pressure rain front.

    If the trip is made I’d keep it low and fast saving climb out time to make the fastest route time and have a better view of whats developing. It’s also plan it IFR with all the gear in hand and planned. Might not be worth a darn to have excuses ready for the FAA.

  • Hm,

    Possible severe thunder storms key word for me. With two fronts overlapping, sure to be some variable wind changes. At my current skill level, I would say no. I remember reading the phrase “Cat and mouse games, chew up airplanes” during my training. live and fly another day.

  • I would not go. It’s a hobby and not job for me. If I am worried the entire time then it is not fun anymore. Wait for a better day.

  • Your scenario states I am not IFR current and this flight requires that I file IFR under my personal requirements. However I am a very current GA IFR pilot who maintains his personal minimums at FAA minimums and my airplane has the similar weather equipment. I make flights like this all the time and about 10% of the time I cannot complete the flight and have to land short or elect to depart the next morning. I would depart with a very close eye on the on board weather for the next 2 hours. My experience is that when flying into weather IFR ATC is very accommodating and even commercial airlines will be looking to pick their way through the weather or divert. If I was not IFR current or thought the weather was above my or my planes IFR ability I would stay on the ground and wait for the weather to pass. While I have landed short and rented a car to finish the trip I am not a big fan of driving. Showing up the next morning would not be a problem because you can’t go to the beach at night and having a wife and kids tells me they would not be at the beach before 11:00 and I could easily be on the beach by 11:00 with a morning with departure early the next day after the system

  • My decision was to go, prepared to land short if necessary. Landing at an unplanned airport often results in meeting interesting, and usually pleasant people and other pilots, and although I don’t usually fly anything as nice as a well-equipped 182, I bet I could get some pretty good sleep in one of those if I had to spend the night somewhere and finish the trip in the morning. Could also land, have supper, and watch the weather move off and finish the flight in the dark. But the most likely scenario is that I will finish the flight without incident under very good conditions. I get to fly, most likely get where I’m going when I plan to be there, and observe some weather/absorb some learning along the way. Like someone said, if you only fly in perfect conditions, you won’t do much flying, and I’ll add, you won’t develop your skills much.

    • Well said, sir. But there is a difference in developing ones foul weather flight skills, and deliberately flying into conditions that could well develop into such that your aircraft cannot withstand the forces at play. With the variable winds aloft and the building systems coming together and at the very least chasing you to your destination, I say why risk your life, and your aircraft in such conditions?? Wait until sunrise, and recheck the weather…Then file your plan accordingly. I, for one, would rather have my family mad at me for being a day late, than to have them mourning me because i flew beyond my abilities and those of my plane.

  • “better safe then sorry” you never know what may surprise you. even if you are a good pilot and are well equipped you shouldn’t gamble with electrical storms.

  • Well, I presume you are looking at the weather the last few days, it’s summer and you should go out with a CFI-I and do an IPC and get current. However, even vfr this one is simple.

    Plan A (VFR) get on top of the haze layer at 9500 and play dodge the buidups. It seems fairly typical pop up TSRA west of the trough along the coast. Heading into the low country I’d deviate se over or near Beaufort (ARW) given the lack of returns, and as I approached the coast I’d descend under the bases to about 3500 and motor into JZI.

    plan b if the returns on the coast start to close in land in Columbia or ARW, SAV OR AIKEN OR Walterboro and rent a car. It’s no more than a 2 hr drive from any of those places. Get up the next am and go get the airplane in mostly clear skies.

  • Saying I learned sailing. It’s better to be on the porch wishing you were sailing than sailing and wishing you were on the porch. Be able to deal with weather but don’t go looking for it. I’m ifr current but avoid convection at all costs.

  • My Dad (a aviator and AOPA founding member) taught me many things about flying which I fall back on often. The one for this question is “There are old pilots and bold pilots, but no old, bold, pilots”
    and as Ed commented I’d rather be sitting on the porch wishing I was flying. Tomorrow is all-ways a new day, besides I like an sunrise flight and most people it seems sleep till noon.

    Thanks Dad…are you keeping the ball centered?

  • I have a rule of summer flying in the South. Eat lunch at your destination! Your life will be much simpler if you follow that one rule. I have flown from TN south to the coast for years following this one rule and it works time and time again.

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