Go or No Go: flying the front

After a great visit with your extended family and a stunning view of the solar eclipse, it’s time to head home from Carbondale, Illinois (MWA), to New Lexington, Ohio (I86). The good news is the winds aloft are helping today: the 340 mile flight will take just over two hours in your Cessna 182. The bad news is a cold front is moving in from the west, with rain and storms popping up ahead of it.

Departure time is 1600Z. Read the weather brief below and tell us if you would make the flight or cancel.

Overview

Rain is moving in from the northwest, so while it’s clear to the east, your route of flight will take you right along some interesting weather.

The surface weather depiction shows what the driving force is: a cold front is sliding down from northwest Illinois and Missouri.

Radar/Satellite

A look at the radar image shows relatively calm conditions east of the front, but some cells look like they are just starting to pop up.

The satellite image confirms that all the weather is along the frontal boundary.

Forecast Charts

The prog charts show the front moving through the Ohio River Valley over the course of the afternoon and evening hours:  

AIRMETs

The Graphical AIRMETs show no areas of widespread IFR conditions:

Icing also doesn’t look like an issue, with freezing levels above 10,000 feet today.

Given the gusty winds, it looks like there might be some bumps down low as you get close to your destination.

Convective Forecast

This is the major concern today, so after reviewing the radar, you look at the Convective SIGMETs map.

For more detail, here is the Convective Forecast chart series:

Text Weather

The weather at your departure is marginal VFR, with good visibility but layered clouds. The forecast suggests VFR conditions for the rest of the day, but with gusty winds and showers in the area. It’s worth noting that the TAF is actually for an airport over 40 miles away, which could be significant today.

En route weather looks to be the same, with layered clouds and thunderstorms in Evansville. Conditions seem to be much better as you get further ahead of the front.

Your destination airport does not report weather, but surrounding airports are reporting good VFR. The nearest TAF has more worrying letters, including thunderstorms in the area and gusty winds.

Decision Time

Time to make the call: is it a go or a no go? There is no threat of icing or low IFR conditions, but thunderstorms are definitely around. You could take off and fly to the east, to get ahead of the weather, before turning back north. Is that a smart diversion or a trap?

Add your comment below.

 

Update – what happened?

As we always say about these Go or No Go scenarios, there isn’t a right or wrong answer. The decision depends on your experience, your airplane and your schedule flexibility. Here’s a screenshot of the same day, one hour after your proposed departure. You would be about halfway there, near Cincinnati, at the time of this screenshot. If you went direct, things appear to be closing up. If you deviated out to the east on takeoff, there’s still a path, but another line has formed to the southeast.

After seeing this picture, have you changed your mind?

9 Comments

  • I would not go at the scheduled departure of 1600z. Instead, I would wait a few hours and see how things pan-out. It looks as if 1600z – 1800z is a bad time with sigmets and outlooks in place all along the route of flight. If things went as forecast, at best a few deviations would get you around the storms but it’s not hard to imagine the destination being cloaked by thunderstorms, hail, and other problems causing a deviation to an alternate well east of the destination. The flight may also be uncomfortably bumpy. In a few hours, however, the leading edge of the system will pass and so will the thunderstorms and much of the associated flight conditions.

  • Based on the reports, it appears all the weather will be gone tomorrow. If you’re already close to extended family, and unless you absolutely have to be home today (a dangerous situation by itself), why not spend one more evening with them and avoid the weather altogether?

  • Although this weather is not ideal, the flight can go with careful planing. Fly south and east before turning north to pad the area in front of the cold front. File a flight plan (vfr or ifr) and if vfr get flight following. Weather should be checked using ADSB, Enroute ATIS of near by airports, AWOS checks, and query FSS. You have a safe “out” by heading south and landing. Depart with full fuel. The pilot must be willing to take a longer route and be willing to deviate if needed. Destination is in the beginning part of turbulence airmen, understand Va (about 111 at max weight for most 182). No shame in waiting, but plan right and fly.

    • Agree.

      Choice is to get ahead and deal with what develops or wait for all clear tomorrow. Later today may not work as the line sags across your route and drives you into making sure you don’t hit weather in darkness…waiting until night means you add your/your passengers’ fatigue into the mix.

      The get ahead option will take more effort, but is a viable choice. Make sure you don’t let bad weather get between you and your out(s) right of course. If using your out, refuel, reassess based on current conditions at that time and make a new decision to stay/continue. At any time, be prepared to go in whatever direction is necessary to get to a safe field (not just towards intended destination). Recommend daylight, VFR and keep track of developing conditions with onboard weather. If there are any questions on having options at your arrival, land short to refuel.

      If you prefer a more relaxed flight, you have nervous passengers, or are not willing to land anywhere other than your destination, wait until tomorrow.

  • I was actually at MWA on Eclipse day and it was fantastic! A fiddler in a home built tail dragger played “You Are My Sunshine (please don’t take my sunshine away)” and we all sang along as the eclipse went total. Best way to describe totality was as a ‘360 degree sunset’. I was stunned by a towering CU just west of the field that shrunk by half during totality and then faded away during the next hour – in early afternoon!

    The staff at Midwest Aviation was unbelievable. Free water, free eclipse glasses, kindness in spades. The Civil Air Patrol cooked burgers and dogs for free – just make a donation. Tower controllers were so efficient and helpful; on the other hand Kansas City Center was crotchety, mean and taking great offense to every missed call or request for clarification. “Listen up!” one said. “It’s like LaGuardia down there!” But ATC’s passion for a safe event was obvious, respected and successful.

    As to this flight there is no question in my mind that I would go and watch the conditions en route. Unless you saddled up as soon as the sun peaked around, as many did, there was a long wait. I didn’t get out until 4:15. There was a ground stop for over an hour at one point. I had no regrets over the delay as I enjoyed every minute of the experience and felt a touch of melancholy as each departure leaked more of the positive vibes from the ground to the sky.

    I actually flew through this front VFR down low initially to get to Chicago going west toward St. Louis and there was a big hole. I picked up IFR near Springfield as it was a little hazy and I always go IFR around Chytown. But if you pan the map west on the link below you can see it really turned into nothing.

    https://flightaware.com/live/flight/N182SP

    If you missed the eclipse this time, don’t let it happen again. The fun, fellowship and flying sure made this one of my best days in 2017!

  • We just added a screenshot of what the actual weather conditions did one hour after the proposed departure time. After seeing that, how do you feel about your decision?

    • I probably wouldn’t be over Cincinnati, I would have stayed right and probably be in between the two south lines, if not right of both, watching to make sure I didn’t get pinched by new cells. I’d be leap frogging enroute diverts and land at one if I was concerned about the weather closing off my options. Staying VFR helped see/avoid build ups in real time and watching cell tracks on enroute weather helped avoid getting closed out from a viable enroute divert. Might have to go further east and punch north to get to destination. If weather closed that off, I’d accept the destination divert and take a break. Sometimes you pick the wrong horse, don’t tangle with a cell trying to force it.

    • No way would I have gone with that picture.

      There’s just no room, no margins, no way around and I am not going thru.

      That’s not what I saw though, when I left at 4:15. I guess I wasn’t paying much attention eastward.

      But no, no, no I would not have departed with those storms in that configuration!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *