Go or No Go: finding a gap

You’ve just passed 500 hours in your Cessna 182RG, and it has proven to be a very reliable traveling machine over the last four years. Today’s mission is to get you home from Columbus, Ohio (TZR), to South Bend, Indiana (SBN). The flight will take just under 1.5 hours, compared to over four hours driving, but as always weather is a potential factor.

As you look at the weather picture in ForeFlight, you notice a few storms developing. Proposed departure time is 2000Z, your flight will be IFR, and your altitude is planned for 8000 ft. Read the details below and then tell us whether you would make the flight or not.

Overview

The flight shows lots of green dots – indicating good VFR weather conditions – but there are two lines of rain and thunderstorms near your route. Also note the looming TFR in South Bend. It’s not active until tomorrow, but it will effectively shut down operations around your home when it starts up.

The surface analysis shows the big picture, with a low pressure system approaching from the northwest and a small warm front sliding up from the southwest.

The prog charts show the front moving eastward overnight and into Thursday, May 10. First, the 12-hour prog chart.

Next up is the 24-hour prog chart, valid at 8pm eastern – two and a half hours after you plan to land.

Radar and satellite

Since the temperatures are warm, there’s no threat of icing below 10,000 feet today. That means radar and satellite are the key items to review. The radar shows some convective popping up as the afternoon wears on, but it’s fairly scattered.

The satellite picture shows a line of clouds around the storms in northern Ohio, but a wide gap between that line and the larger area to the west. 

Text weather

The weather at your departure is breezy, but good VFR, and forecast to stay that way.

Two en route airports also show good VFR, although one is indicating thunderstorms nearby.

Weather at South Bend is quite good, and forecast to stay that way until later in the evening.

Decision time

It’s time to decide – is it a go or a no go? The weather is solid VFR all the way home, and there is a wide gap in the weather. But it is late afternoon and the temperature is rising – how many storms will develop? Add your comment below.

25 Comments

  • Several things at play here. If you assume the late departure takes into account the need to get to the airport, preflight, etc., then you have a bit of time to see how things are changing. You can file ( based on the radar time stamp you have just over 1.5 hours before departure), and watch the progress of the rain/storm development/movement for 30 minutes. If the gap is closing and/or the opening in the north-south line nearest you is filling, then make it a no go……just drive if you must get home. I am not saying it will not get worse after 30 minutes, but you can gauge the possibilities better from real data rather than projections and a snapshot. If this is a mid to late summer trip you could at least expect to have daylight on your side. If not, then darkness and storms are not a good mix……just because the sun is down, it does not mean storms will not grow. One last thought. Pilot experience, specifically actual IFR, should also play into the decision process along with fatigue potential. His 500 with the aircraft does not cover his total experience, as written, it is only his time flying that aircraft, therefore, that part of the information is only good as far as his knowledge of this aircraft, but under what conditions if things get tough.
    With the given information, put off the go decision 30 minutes. If you have to be home for sure, then no go by 182RG is the only decision now and plan accordingly to drive, because that pressure is going to cloud your decision making.

    • I agree, I need to ‘see’ the weather movement and development before I decide. I can’t just look at some charts or reports to decide.

  • You didn’t mention other tools that might help with the decision, mainly the convective outlook and/or whether any convective sigmets had been issued. The satellite image appears to show clouds all along the eastward line of precip, which could indicate embedded cells.

    Personally, I wouldn’t make a decision on this scenario without getting a full weather brief, which would include information about the probability of building convective activity.

  • I’m not big on trusting to gaps in a squall line on a summer afternoon. If the line blows past in time, then take an evening flight; otherwise, no go.

  • You did not mention what kind of weather avoidance equipment is installed in the aircraft. If I have onboard radar or ADS-B/XM Weather, I am comfortable making the trip. If the radar shows that the weather is deteriorating as I approach the line of weather, I would land and wait it out.

  • A quick review as I’m short on time… You are going IFR and the weather should not be a problem. The system to the NE will be gone before you get there. The system to the SW will be on or near your route. Clouds are layered so you can get between layers if you wish to do so. And, you can deviate around the approaching system if necessary. If you are IFR you probably have a NEXRAD feed so can keep an eye on the weather, and ATC will advise as well. Assuming you are ready to go now the roughly 2 hour flight should be doable. If weather builds rapidly somewhere you can deviate.

  • It depends on your individual experience and confidence level, but it would be a NO-GO for me, at least at this time. I’d either drive or wait on better weather later. That line of T-storms is long and moving in from the NE and will block your path at some point on the flight. You’d be threading the needle and possible delays waiting at some intermediate airport. A 4-hour drive with reasonable assurance of getting there is better than a presumed 1.5 hour flight with bad weather and probably delays along the route which could conceivably take longer than 4 hours..

  • If you positively have to get to your destination by hook or crook, remember the old pilot saying-your life cannot be replaced-but you can drive in a car through rain, hail and snow with reasonable certainty of reaching your destination without falling from the sky and lose your life and aircraft due to a bad decision. Live to fly another day-see the danger and accept the challenge of making the right decision.

  • Every situation is different. But I’d seriously consider driving the trip and only fly it if I knew that I could divert safely to an airport that has rental cars available – and certainly would drive if I needed to get home that day. I’ve been “stranded” at remote airports and had to wait until conditions improved – which could take until the next day – at which time I wished that I had just driven the trip.
    Dee

  • keep watching the storm movement . its vfr almost all the way with alternate airports along the way if weather gets worse. its a go as weather is north .

  • The weather area to the West of the straight line route is moving East and is projected to be near the route in about 2 hours (the balls on a string = 1 hour). This means a deviation to the North may be needed, because the gap location will change. If you can stay clear of clouds to avoid the weather, and have an onboard or iPad satellite display, then the flight may be doable, but have a plan B to put it on the ground if the weather deteriorates.

  • Why is IFR filing a condition? Unless you’re a turbine climbing clear, convective weather is best nav’d under lowest layer for visibility of what’s dropping out of clouds,VFR for flexibility and daylight for no surprises. While ATC will help the best they can, they also have other folks to help and may not have time to update you if you work yourself into a corner.

    Don’t want the challenge of potential stops, stranding short, hop in the rental car and return next weekend for the plane…like I’m doing today!

    • I usually choose the opposite path. I’d rather be at 10,000 – 12,000 feet so I am above the midday cumulus and can see the building storm towers clearly.

      • Works if cumulus isn’t blocking your outs as it builds and visibility holds. Here on east coast viz can drop to a few miles and even with data link wx more serious stuff doesn’t become apparent until you almost trip over it. Add in complex airspace and arrival/departures further limiting outs, and in my case staying low preserves options. Much more pleasant above the cumulus on a hot humid day, but many a time I’ve had to dive out when everything started to close in. IFR in this environment a non-starter, ATC just doesn’t have time to hold your hand.

  • No-go for me. I’m very leery of thunderstorms and the idea of finding the gap between two systems and hoping they’d stay apart is worrisome.

  • There is a lot of information missing from the situational description of the proposed flight ie: Month and Date, sunset time, the ForeFlight images viewed time. Missing
    flight plan with ETA over specific check points. Forecaster discussion for check points. What non government weather forecasters are saying, pireps, what did flight service say. With the information you provided I would drive and never consider flying. If I had the missing above mentioned information and discussion with local pilots and or flight instructors, This would be an easy short IFR flight over flat land terrain with very tall TV transmission towers.

  • Fairly straight forward for an IFR pilot and reasonably capable plane. The line has plenty of outs to the south and even if some convective activity pops up, it’s going to be scattered and easy to fly around. Should something unforecast occur, plenty of stopping points along the way as well.

  • I planned a trip through this airspace on 5/16, from Howell to Cincinatti. We had to divert to Dayton because we missed the window. Luckily we were prepared for this contingency. If you are going to go, you need be prepared to divert or go back when you encounter Marginal VFR or IFR conditions as a VFR pilot.

  • The radar mosaic showes it was 1818z so quite a lot can change in that time. If I was ready to depart now I would say it is a go, but thar is not the scenario.
    One thing that is seldom mentioned is the day of the week. The radar chart showes it is wednesday. This is good because most small town car rentals are closed on sunday close early every day limiting your choices for a partial trip. We once HAD to land in Finlay Ohio at 8pm on labor day. My wife was start a new job in Cleveland the next morning. Talk about an expensive cab ride.

  • This is a go for me personally because I have solid WX reporting in my plane and there is nothing too threatening. There is plenty of time to see how the line is developing as I get closer to it, at which point I can deviate as needed around the worst bits or if things really blow up just land and let it pass. Also, on an IFR trip ATC will be very helpful is getting around the biggest problem areas.

  • Turn on the ADS-B In, fuel up & GO!!

    This decision is practically a no-brainer with the conditions as shown plus the progs. Plenty of outs, daylight flight, no worries about minimum fuel so plenty of opportunities to weave around build-ups.

    I’d file IFR, but probably won’t fly through a cloud on the entire flight with VFR everywhere except the storm cells.

  • This is an interesting scenario. I had a similar flight years ago coming back from DC to Dayton. Took off around 1400L. TS were forecast for later in the day. Sure enough a line formed moving from Dayton toward Columbus, with the tail halfway between Columbus and Parkersburg, WV. I diverted to PKB while the storms were to the west, and let them roll past to the east. Ate lunch and then Watching the NEXRAD radar in the FBO saw there was another line moving to the NE, SW of Cindy stretching toward Indy. Hhmmm?? A couple of other pilots were trying to get to OSH for Air Venture and they decided to deviate south and go up the west side of the line. I decided to go VFR, staying below the deck toward the NW, hop scotching airports up from PKB. I could land at any of them. Also, my out as I approached DAY would be to deviate north if the line made it to Dayton before I did. The northern edge looked like it would be just north of Dayton. This was back,in the day before ADSB In. I was in contact with Flight Watch and Dayton Approach, when Dayton had its own approach.. anyhow, made it into Dayton, with the northern edge just approaching Middletown, and home before the sky opened up.

    So, yes, I think I would make the scenario flight, keeping my eye on the second line, staying well south of the first. First hint of trouble, I’d land at one of the many airports along the route.

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