Go or no go: Thanksgiving trip across Florida

It’s two days before Thanksgiving, which means it’s time for the annual pilgrimage from your home in Jacksonville, Florida, to the home of your 91-year old mother in Naples. It’s a 6-hour drive or a 1:45 minute flight in your Cessna 182, so it’s easy to guess which method you would prefer. Will the weather cooperate? Read the weather briefing below and then tell us if you would go or cancel. Departure time is 3:30 local, 2030Z.

Overview

At first glance, the weather over Florida looks colorful, with rain showers scattered all over the northern half of the state.

The surface analysis shows why, with a low pressure system off the west coast of Florida and a warm front stretching across the state.

Radar/Satellite

The radar image shows a well developed (and possibly convective) cell off the east coast of Florida, by Daytona. There’s another, slightly less menacing, cell off the panhandle. In between things are more scattered.

It’s worth taking a look at the base reflectivity (or lowest tilt) radar image today, to compare it to the composite image (first image above). The base image does a better job of showing what precipitation is coming out the bottom of the clouds, and it shows a more scattered area of rain around Orlando and Jacksonville.

The satellite imagery shows fairly solid clouds all over the northern part of Florida. First, the visible image.

Next, the infrared satellite image.

Forecast Charts

The prog charts show the warm front dissipating and sliding off to the east, but not rapidly.

AIRMETs/SIGMETs

As always, a quick look at the AIRMETs and SIGMETs is in order. Today there’s nothing on the G-AIRMET for icing anywhere in the southeast.

Next it’s the AIRMET for turbulence, which doesn’t show much other than some high altitude bumps.

There is a convective outlook over Florida, as expected, and two smaller convective SIGMETs offshore.

Text Weather

The main concern today is visibility and ceiling, especially if you’re going to do this trip VFR. Conditions at CRG, your departure, are pretty good, although the radar looks threatening.

En route conditions are still VFR, although there seems to be a scattered layer over the middle of the state around 1,100 feet.

A look at some PIREPs confirms the presence of a lower level deck of scud.

The good news is that conditions at APF, your destination, are excellent VFR and forecast to stay that way.

Decision Time

You’ve seen the weather, now tell us what you would do. The weather at your destination is great, but there is some rain and some scattered lower clouds near your departure. Is it just another day in Florida or something more serious?

Add a comment below to share your decision. Specifically, would you do this trip VFR, IFR, or not at all?

14 Comments

  • The two most important factors I look for when making a go/no-go decision are:

    1. Am I flying from bad weather at my departure towards good weather at my destination?
    2. What is the general trend along my route? Getting better or getting worse?

    From what I see, the worst weather of the trip can be expected to be encountered at the departure, or slightly south of it. The low level scud looks like it’s around Lakeland, and that’s where I would expect to find the warm front to reach the surface. So your departure is just to the north of the warm front at the surface. Taking off, I would expect the weather to deteriorate for just a bit until passing the frontal boundary and then to start improving. The frontal boundary is headed for my departure airport so one option would be to wait a couple hours and hope that it passes over and then depart on the backside. The other option is to launch and hope the scud is just that. I would want to make sure to be aware of all my airports along the way in case I need to land if the scud becomes something more than scud.

    So, except for a very brief time at the beginning of the flight, flying from “bad” to “good.” So check.

    The second thing is that I would expect the weather along the route to be generally improving as the front both moves north as well as dissipates. The only wildcard would be to what effect will afternoon heating compensate for that — can we expect more convective activity as it gets warmer.

    I’d probably do it, especially if I waited an hour or so and things got even better. I’d probably want to do it VFR so that I could stay out of the clouds and avoid running into anything embedded. I’d do it with flight following though just in case I needed a popup IFR if the scud got thick

  • Geeze, if you’re any bit of a competent pilot with a reasonably good plane, this is a go. No brainer. plenty of outs and really pretty good weather. Heck, this could be done VFR.
    And a 182 should have weather avoidance and an IFR rated pilot. And this pilot should be able to fly 360 days a year in Florida with minimal delays. Florida is just not that hard to fly in.
    I’ve been flying to and from FL over Thanksgiving to the midwest for the past 35 years and only cancelled ONE flight and that was without weather avoidance in a rented plane.
    However, does require some planning and often some deviations or perhaps a delay or go sooner. But with GA planes we have MUCH more flexibility to get the job done than the airlines do. And who the heck wants to be flying commercial or driving over Thanksgiving.

  • I’m new to AIR FACTS as well as to John Zimmerman’s articles (great article John!). I’m currently setting here in the JAX area grateful to be home for this rainy Thanksgiving and not on an airline layover elsewhere. With retirement on the not too distant horizon, I’ve become more conservative over my 29+ years of flying the Boeing and Airbus, which is a good thing as I eventually transition into general aviation again.

    Without being redundant; I like Gregory Travis analysis along with John’s idea of delaying the departure until later in the day. Just have a “plan B” along the entire route of flight.

  • I am going to write my response then read others.

    I always fly ifr or nearly always so that answers that one.

    This is a logistics question more than a flying one.

    Odds are good you will make it without much trouble.

    But ther is a some to good chance that the front will turn occluded and zipper up causing widespread storms requiring you to land and wait it out.

    Because of that I would leave early and drive and be assured I’d enjoy the t day dinner.
    Absent any pressure to push on in.

  • Assuming your instrument rated it is certainly a go…check for tops…check if you can stay on top to give visibility of the cb’s ….speak to ATC and have them help with deviations…advise them negative weather radar and expect to fly a more Westly heading…vfr at the destination makes the decision easier…one would assume the aircraft is properly equipped…so enjoy

  • Living & flying in the Willamette Valley of soggy/foggy/scuddy Western Oregon, this seems to me like a doable flight with the foreknowledge that enroute landings & deviations with possible pop-up IFR may be a necessary part of this trip. I think I would begin the trip with an IFR clearance (I don’t see much of an ice or turb issue) & use their weather radar to avoid any hard stuff. As the flt progressed I would anticipate the possibility of cancelling IFR but retaining FF. larry

  • Direct 2 days b4 T-day may not be practical. Are the Restricted Areas around Lake George HOT ? and then there is Orlando Class B. All of that Wx review is good but a lot can change b4 departure and certainly enroute. I’m going to route myself over GNV OCF LAL. The important thing is to provide for many alternate options and keep those options open because the Wx will always be the wildcard. VFR provides greater flexibility and IFR provides greater utility. Better preflight planning is all about considering those options on the ground BEFORE departure and WITHOUT the pressure of flight. I’m departing VFR with the expectation (and preparation) of filing enroute if/when needed. If the distance between CRG and APF is measured in NM then the distance between a CHALLENGE and a FORMALITY is measured in units of PREPARATION. 91.103 is not just a reg, it is sage advice !!! Arrive alive and do NOT depart for home on a full stomach.

  • The Skew T-Log P charts are often helpful in determining the expected layers along your route.

    Several easy to understand online and free tutorials.

    This is particularly valuable when leaving the country and excellent projections are not usual.

    Len

  • I wouldn’t do this VFR, there are a number of restricted areas, potential TFRs, Bravo airspace in Orlando and Tampa and some very active airports including Sarasota, Ft. Meyers and Naples along the gulf coast especially leading into Thanksgiving. ATC will be busy and handoffs for ff will be iffy. Add the weather and night closing in and it seems pretty risky to me to try to chance it. Go IFR or get out early Wednesday morning.

  • Visibility is good, and there looks like a good chance of staying VFR above the scud and below the overcast, so I would go VFR. That being said, I can always call to get a pop-up IFR clearance if I’m wrong.

  • IFR with a Stormscope and onboard weather? Certainly—it’s a short enough flight that you can carry good reserves for a lot of outs.

    VFR as an IFR-current pilot? Maybe (see below), but not ideal.

    VFR as a VFR-only or stale IFR pilot? No. The “you can turn around” thing is total BS—near a warm front, with this much moisture in the air, the viz and/or ceiling can suddenly close up all around you, so the stuff behind you is no better than the stuff in front.

    This is classic VFR-into-IMC sucker weather, so if you’re not a current IFR pilot who can safely climb and ask for a clearance should the ceiling come down, postpone to a better day or drive; and if you are one, why not just file?

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