Richard Collins has famously said there’s really no such thing as a single go/no go decision. Rather, weather flying can be seen as a series of “continue flying or land short” decisions. Tonight is a perfect example.
After a long weekend with friends in Hilton Head, SC (HXD), you’re headed home to suburban Atlanta (RYY). Hopefully you’ll be in the office and your son will be in school Monday morning–if you can make it back. You had planned to make the trip first thing the next morning, but a large weather system moving in from the northwest changed that, so you departed Sunday just before 9pm for the two hour flight in your Cherokee Six.
You own half of the airplane, and you’re current in it, but you are strictly VFR since you’ve never finished off that instrument rating. The airplane’s panel is 1970s basic, but it does have a good autopilot and your trusty iPad with XM weather receiver tells you what you need to know. You’re watching that iPad closely tonight.
Your weather briefing before takeoff showed fairly good weather along your route of flight, but that big cold front is threatening the Atlanta area, with rain and probably wind behind it.
The weather depiction showed that cold front bringing low ceilings as well. It also showed fog forming along the coast after your departure time.
The satellite image completed the picture.
Now you’re halfway home, about an hour out from RYY. As you pull up the in-flight weather, here’s what you see.
The radar image in ForeFlight shows a solid line of rain that’s getting quite close to your destination airport. But if you look closely, it appears that the line is moving northeast, not directly towards Atlanta (notice the storm track lines).
The METARs are the other crucial piece of the puzzle. The ceiling is coming down and the wind is picking up at your destination, but it’s not IFR yet and the visibility is excellent.
KRYY 030247Z 19009G15KT 10SM BKN028 OVC090 19/12 A2995= KRYY 030147Z 18007G18KT 10SM BKN033 OVC045 19/13 A2997= TAF AMD KRYY 030305Z 0303/0324 19008KT P6SM BKN025 TEMPO 0303/0305 6SM -RA BR BKN015 FM030500 21006KT 4SM -SHRA BR OVC007 FM031000 24004KT 2SM -SHRA BR OVC004 FM031500 30007KT 4SM -SHRA OVC012 FM031800 32009KT P6SM BKN035 FM032100 33007KT P6SM SCT050 AMD NOT SKED 0304/0312=
Peachtree-Dekalb Airport (PDK) is just 15 miles short of your destination (and as a busy GA airport, a decent alternate), but it’s reporting a 2400 ft. broken ceiling. Cherokee County (to the north of RYY) is reporting an overcast ceiling at 2500 ft., while Cartersville (to the northwest of RYY) is reporting a scattered layer at 5500 ft. Visibility is 10 miles across the region.
One final twist: returning to Hilton Head is not an option. That forecast fog has indeed rolled in, and the reported visibility is 1/4 mile.
It’s decision time. Right now, the weather at your destination isn’t terrible, but it’s not clear how long that will last. The en route diversion options aren’t great–there’s no returning to Hilton Head, PDK isn’t a lock, and at 9pm on a Sunday night many central Georgia airports are probably deserted. Will you have to take that chance?
Tell us your decision in the comments below.