The fall colors are beautiful right now, but as a pilot that means your mind is focused on in-flight icing. As you stare at your iPad in the pilots’ lounge at Rochester, New York, you find yourself wishing for the warm days of summer. Your plan tonight is to fly from your business meeting in Rochester (ROC) to your home outside Columbus, Ohio (OSU). Will the weather cooperate?
You airplane tonight is a 2003 Cirrus SR22 you share with two partners, an airplane you now have 200 hours in. It is well equipped with moving map, WAAS GPSs and a good autopilot, but there is no de-ice system on the airplane. You are instrument rated and current, with 600 hours total time–70 of those in the last six months.
Look at the weather briefing below, then decide if you are going or staying. Departure time is 2330Z.
The flight will take you southwest out of New York, across the northwestern tip of Pennsylvania and into Ohio. Your time en route is just under two hours in your speedy Cirrus.
The surface analysis shows why your iPad screen is covered with green: a cold front is moving into Ohio, with the associated low in southern Ontario.
The 12-hour prognostic chart shows the front slowly moving across your route, with the expected rain showers.
The 24-hour prog chart shows the front beginning to stall just a bit, with some leftover rain developing behind the low.
There is plenty of green on the map, from departure to destination, but very little looks to be convective. You look at the official NEXRAD image for more detail.
A look at the infrared satellite picture confirms the overall picture, and reinforces why you got that instrument rating.
There are no SIGMETs for your route of flight, but there are AIRMETs for both icing and turbulence. The turbulence warnings look to be all in the flight levels, far above your cruising altitude.
Ice is a bigger concern today–those gray clouds and colder surface temperatures have your attention, so it’s not surprising to see an AIRMET for icing.
Icing and PIREPs
Given the AIRMET for icing, it’s time to dive deeper into the possibility of ice. First up is a look at the CIP product, a graphical look at current icing conditions–in this case, the probability of ice.
That looks ugly, but you remind yourself that it’s for all altitudes. At your lower cruising altitudes, it might not be as bad, so it’s off to the PIREPs for a look at what’s happening. As forecast, all the icing reports are up high (so far).
While you’re looking at PIREPs, you glance at the ride reports, which seem to be decent so far.
Finally, you read the general weather PIREPs for a look at tops and other information. Not much here, other than reports of tops in the mid-teens–probably higher than you want to go tonight.
It’s beginning to look like lower is better for ice, so you review the freezing level graphic. It shows that level between 7000 and 9000 feet for most of the trip–hence the AIRMET for ice above 8000.
Using ForeFlight’s Profile tool, you look at an altitude of 6000 ft. In terms of terrain and obstacles, it looks clear.
With that overview in mind, it’s time to review METARs and TAFs for the flight. A look at the METARs map along your route shows ceilings around 4000 to 5000 feet ahead of the front, and more like 2500 feet behind the front.
At your departure, the weather is pretty good, with a relatively high ceiling and good visibility. The forecast is for things to get worse as the front moves closer, although the low IFR conditions don’t show up until tomorrow.
En route, Chautauqua County is reporting a 4200 foot ceiling and good visibility.
Further down the road, Wayne County shows a lower ceiling at 3800 broken, with light rain.
At your destination in Columbus, light rain is falling under a scattered layer at 2500 feet. Conditions are forecast to get worse, especially overnight.
It’s time to make the call–blast off for home or ask the FBO to book you a hotel room? While the weather is forecast to get worse, current conditions at both your departure and destination are VFR. There is ice up there tonight, but it looks like you might be below it at 6000 or even 4000. Is the lack of PIREPs a sign of good weather down low or an indication that no one else is flying in this muck?
What would you do?