“Messy aviation weather today.” That’s what the forecaster wrote in the forecast discussion this morning and a look at the TV screen in the FBO at the Elkins-Randolph County Airport (EKN) confirms that. The radar images show lots of rain in the area and the forecast is for things to get worse. That’s more than a little annoying, as you’d really like to get back home, a 1:10 flight to Raleigh, North Carolina (RDU).
The good news is that you are very much instrument current, logging 150 hours last year, 50 in the last 3 months and about 35% of your time in actual IFR conditions. Your Cessna Turbo 182 has dual IFR GPSs, an Aspen Primary Flight Display and a good autopilot. It also has a heated pitot tube and a heated prop, but no other deice equipment.
Proposed departure time is 2000Z, about an hour away. Read the weather briefing below, then tell us if you would make the flight.
The Maps page on ForeFlight has a lot to say today, with rain all over eastern Kentucky, Ohio, and much of West Virginia. Your route of flight does take you away from the worst rain, but there are scattered showers over Virginia.
The surface analysis explains why the radar map is so colorful today – there’s a cold front draped across the Ohio River valley, with low pressure centered in Kentucky.
The prog charts show that front slowly moving into West Virginia overnight, so it’s unlikely tomorrow will be any better. In fact, it will probably be worse.
Radar and Satellite
The regional radar shows yellow returns to the west and northeast, but in your immediate area things are more scattered.
The visible satellite shows thick clouds to the north and west, but things appear to thin out as you approach Raleigh.
Since it’s February, icing is a concern. The good news today is that warm air flowing in from the south has raised the freezing level above 9,000 feet.
Icing is not forecast on the CIP/FIP charts at any altitude below 11,000 feet and there are no PIREPs for icing in your area. There are some AIRMETs for icing, but they are all above your likely cruise altitude.
It looks like 7,000 feet will work today – above the mountains and below the freezing level.
Winds, Turbulence and Storms
There’s definitely rain around, but is it convective? There are no red cells and no lightning, and the convective forecast shows nothing.
Even if there appear to be few storms along your route, there could be turbulence. First you look at the winds aloft forecast.
Then it’s time for a quick glance at the turbulence AIRMETs. The initial picture isn’t too pretty, with low level wind shear forecast over West Virginia:
A closer look at the graphical turbulence forecast looks somewhat colorful to the west but reasonably good for your route of flight.
Now it’s time to review the METARs and TAFs. All that rain must mean IFR conditions, right? Sort of. Your departure airport is surrounded by mountains, but it looks like the bases of the clouds are above the ridges. The forecast doesn’t look good though – as rain moves in, visibility will get worse.
En route, two airports show similar conditions: a relatively high overcast and good visibility.
Your destination is showing good VFR weather and a good forecast. Winds are gusty but mostly down the runway.
With a dynamic weather system like this one, some pilots like to review the Skew-t Log-p diagrams to get a 3D sense of the atmosphere. Here is the diagram for Elkins. Winds are pretty steady out of the southwest, and it looks like the cloud tops are above 15,000 feet today.
The diagram for RDU shows those same winds but much thinner clouds:
It’s time to decide whether you’re taking off or canceling. The weather isn’t pretty, but it’s not yet terrible and you are IFR proficient. Do you launch and get home before the front moves through? Or does it look like too much? Add your comment below.