3 min read

It’s been an active week for weather along the Gulf Coast, with summertime heat and humidity settling in for the long haul. But after a weekend of training in Gulfport, Mississippi, it’s time to head home to Memphis, Tennessee, in your Cessna 182. The weather map is cluttered with storms, and it’s forecast to stay that way most of the week. There may not be a perfect day to fly, so the question is whether there’s a flyable window.

As you open up ForeFlight around 1730Z, here is the weather situation. Read the details, then tell us if you would make the flight (proposed at 1800Z), which should take just under two hours in the 182. If you would fly, tell us what route; if you wouldn’t fly, tell us why not. You are instrument rated and current, but you don’t necessarily have to fly IFR.


There are plenty of storms on the map, with a large wall of convection to the west, with more scattered cells to the north.

The surface analysis shows the big picture, which is basically a stationary front north of your route and a weak low off the coast of Texas.

Prog charts

The prog charts show the same basic trend for the next 24-48 hours, with scattered showers and storms all across the Southeastern US.

As the forecast period moves along, the rain never really goes away.

Even tomorrow morning, the rain and storms are forecast to remain, although perhaps they’re slightly further east.

Radar and satellite

These two products will tell most of the story today. The static radar image is actually pretty clear, but there are pop-ups starting to appear.

The infrared satellite shows building clouds to the west, but relatively clear skies to the northeast.

The visible satellite picture is a valuable tool today as well, and shows additional detail around the building cumulus to the northwest.

Convective forecasts

Since thunderstorms are the main threat today, it’s worth digging into all the forecast tools. It’s no surprise there’s a convective SIGMET across Mississippi.

The CFM product, available in ForeFlight’s Imagery tab, shows about what you’d expect, with storms all across Mississippi.

The same basic shape remains as the day goes on, with storms forecast along a southwest-to-northeast line.

Text weather

Finally it’s time to read the METARs and TAFs. The weather at your departure is marginal VFR right now, with a broken layer and gusty winds. The TAF shows a chance of thunderstorms this afternoon, under VFR skies (better than actual right now).

Your destination is solid VFR and forecast to stay that way, although thunderstorms are forecast this afternoon and evening.

Decision time

Time to decide whether you’re launching or not. The weather along your route certainly isn’t clear, but there seems to be a solid out to the east if things go wrong. Tomorrow doesn’t look much different, so if you’re flying home it’s going to be a matter of choosing your timing. But it may be a good day for staying visual, and your departure airport is not great for VFR right now.

Add a comment below and share your decision-making process.

John Zimmerman
29 replies
  1. Bruce Ziegler
    Bruce Ziegler says:

    I’m going, IFR. Not familiar with the area, but I would go as direct as airspace permits. Looks like an out to the east if things start closing in. Have a change of clothes and a good book in case the wx closes in.

  2. Ed Myers
    Ed Myers says:

    I agree with Bruce. I’d go IFR, so I can get above the BKN026 layer and watch for build-ups. Plenty of holes between the cells and there’s good weather to the east.

  3. Jack Healan
    Jack Healan says:

    I fly in similar weather often and what I have learned about convective activity is to remain clear of clouds as much as possible. If you can see and avoid then you eliminate the chance of flying into a cell or a storm you can’t see. The best way to do this is to look for high ceilings (above MEA or higher) along your route and stay underneath the weather even if IFR. Nexrad helps, but eyeballs are best. If going VFR then go early or mid morning, if IFR you can go later, but you may have to wait to find those higher ceilings. The plus of going later in the day is that its cooler and smoother, once the storms have been active for a period of time.

  4. Larry Baum
    Larry Baum says:

    Agree with all the above. If the Restricted Area and MOA north of KGPT are cold, then filing over PICAN would get you going into an area with less potential weather. If the Restricted area and MOA are both hot, then you’d have to file north toward LBY and then turn northeast if the weather was starting to close in. (While doable, that would not be my preferred choice.)

  5. Joe Grimes
    Joe Grimes says:

    Looks ok to go. VFR under the clouds while accepting the possibility of drifting east and maybe stopping if things got exciting. I’d prefer to leave earlier but “you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit”.

  6. Todd Bengtson
    Todd Bengtson says:

    I would make the flight IFR at 8-12 thousand feet- usually above the lower ,scuddy clouds and high enough to deviate around buildups visually. There is a safe ‘out’ to the east. If I ended up flying in clouds in an area of buildups I would deviate more to east or land. Flying true IFR in an area of building weather is uncomfortable and dangerous. The turbulence will be uncomfortable and possibly dangerous before anything shows up on nextrad.

    DOUG BRACEY says:


  8. Wavell E Williams Jr
    Wavell E Williams Jr says:

    Mostly the same as everyone else. Over the last few years, I got used to flying IFR via VOR routes because the planes I had didn’t have approved GPS installed. I would take one that tracked east a bit just as a visual out in case weather acted up faster than I intended. It would add a little time but my alternates added were in good conditions and I had a choice to land and relax.

    OAN, love the setup and the reminders of ALL the tools we can use to make an informed decision. Well written!!

  9. Deanna
    Deanna says:

    Being an inexperienced newbie, I would fly vfr northeast to Florence or Huntsviie or kcbm and land, sit out the passing weather, or wait until a path west. how far east depends on actual speed of storms, with a possible zig in flight due west to get behind the moving storms.

  10. Joe
    Joe says:

    The only way I would try this flight is if I had an escape route to a VFR airport to the East. Storms could easily pop up over MEM while enroute, and if so, I would want to divert to a suitable airport that is free of cells and maybe have to spend the night there.

  11. Alan Williams
    Alan Williams says:

    Based on the scenario, I assume this is a Sunday. Go to Meridian, Golden Triangle and then into Memphis IFR. MOAs should not be active. Meridian and Birmingham give you good alternates in route if things get too tricky.

  12. Gary Lanthrum
    Gary Lanthrum says:

    My plane doesn’t have weather radar or a storm scope and I’ve been beaten up badly on IFR flights when my routing took me into the turbulence around bigger thunderheads that weren’t spitting rain yet, so that rough air didn’t show on center’s radar. I now restrict my IFR to weather with limited convective activity – there’s lots of that in the Pacific Northwest where I live. That’s not the case here. Extensive convective activity is predicted all along the route, but that activity may be expressed in smaller cells rather than a massive front. I’d go VFR to ensure I stayed out of nasty gust fronts or other turbulence coming from the angry clouds and land at one of the many airports along the way and to the east of my desired course if things went south on me. This is a marginal day but it offers lots of reasonably safe bail outs.

  13. Alex
    Alex says:

    Id rather not go but I live in this area and I have seen the weather dramatically change in less than 30 mins. A shorter flight like 30 to 45 mins, possibly but not that long. At that time of day you have not reached the peak of the heat yet. That will happen in the next two hours and the weather will certainly get unpredictably worse. More cumulus clouds and higher possibility of storms and rain. Down here I use the forecast as a guide but not a definitive fact. It’s been wrong too many times for my comfort. So I lean much more conservative. Just a week ago I took a flight to Louisiana, landed with clear weather only to take off 45 mins later with a solid 1800 ft overcast. Had to file IFR to get back and the tops where at 4500.

  14. Jim Bryant Jr
    Jim Bryant Jr says:

    Definitely a go. The out to the East is a good alternate if needed. Flying in the 10-12 thousand foot range would be a must. You’ve got to see the build ups through the flight in order to deviate as needed. It could be a bumpy ride and would not be necessarily fun for passengers. Since the system is not moving quickly, a short two-hour flight would have minimal issues arriving safely.

      • Joe Matthews
        Joe Matthews says:

        I would pick an altitude that is at lest a 1,000 Ft above the non towering tops and fly around the vertically developed tops. Based on recent similar experience in the morning you might be lower such as at 7,000 but as the heat of the day cause the clouds to grow you will most likely be forced up. Need to add winds aloft to your thinking, but staying at an altitude that avoids IMC would be my highest priority.

    • Webb
      Webb says:

      File IFR and go. I live in MS and very familiar with this weather. What I didn’t see were the echo tops. Satellite looked good. I would file for 010 and stay VMC, and deviate as needed for the buildups. The weather to the 100nm to the west around Baton Rouge is serious business so if you are going, you need to go ahead and depart.

      BTW – Direct is not a choice. The route clips Camp Shelby’s ROA.

  15. Rick
    Rick says:

    This a GO scenario IFR with the clear understanding that a deviation to the east may be required.

  16. Jeff
    Jeff says:

    Old Pilots and bold pilots, I’m an old pilot and SES rated with seaplane but not IFR. I’d find a nice resort with a nice beach bar and restaurant and wait until clear VFR conditions, But I’m not in a hurry.

  17. Dave Willis
    Dave Willis says:

    File IFR at 12000 divert east as necessary. It’s daylight till 2100 in the summer so you should be able to see any build ups you need to divert for.

  18. Joe Matthews
    Joe Matthews says:

    Go. Tomorrow looks to probably be worse and the east provides options along the entire route. l would fly IFR and remain in VMC always that has routing that moves the flight path 20 to 50 mile east of the direct line to build in a safety factor. Just flew a similar flight from Miami,FL to Leesburg,VA yesterday that started early in the morning at 5,000 and ended at 11,000 as the day played out to stay above the lower clouds that were between the towering clouds. NEXRAD, ATC, PIREPs are valuable but in a convective atmosphere I want to SEE the world around me and be clear of clouds.

  19. Michael Klein
    Michael Klein says:

    When you hear the sound of hooves, think of horses, not zebras. I disagree with those who feel their IFR skills are superior to the information on all the charts provided with this exercise. The weather to the southeast, moving northeast will create significant turbulence midway through the planned flight path. There is already a convective sigmet alert and should be heeded. I doubt the C182 has hot props or de-icing boots on the leading edges. Wait for the weather to improve and don’t launch into night conditions.
    I’m reminded of Rod Machado’s statement, ” If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.” There is no place I have to be on Monday, worth losing my life on Sunday.

  20. Roger
    Roger says:

    First…I would call for a briefing to get real time weather as the best decision making tool provided in this scenario is the visual satellite. As pointed out, summertime weather is so changeable, so fast, therefore closing a route that provides the most options suits me as best. This is the routing I would chose: KGPT GCV KMEI KGTR BMI KMEM @ 055 to start, VFR with flight following. I would keep “flexibility” as the rule of the day.

  21. Richard
    Richard says:

    Just flew in this area Friday in a 182 – just east to west vs south to north – from KRYY (near Atlanta) to KGWO Greenwood MS along the river delta west of Columbus. I chose to fly over fairly early in the day to avoid this convective activity. All was SKC until about Columbus and then there was a meandering area of clouds and rain all down the MS river delta. The convective SIGMET was due to expire about the same as my arrival so I decided to launch. Also had a commitment to be there. As a VFR pilot, going through the clouds was not an option. I did however make use of the Stratus talking ADSB to Foreflight to watch the movement of the rain as I made my way that way. I also pulled up charts and started copying down frequencies and runways and MSL altitude of Columbus and Golden Triangle airports to have an out. Golden triangle also reported “rental cars” in the list of the FBO’s features. As I approached the area, the METARS were reporting OVC or Broken at 7000-9000. I descended from 8500 to 6500 and that got me under the main cloud layer and I could see some rain shafts and some blue sky. There was also a low layer of scattered. At this moment I was ready to make a 180 and go back to Golden Triangle but between talking to ATC (always do flight following) and information from ADSB and what I could see out the windscreen, there was a path right between the storms to my destination. I made the judgement call which turned out to be the right one to continue using the heading bug to guide the auto pilot around a couple of rain shafts. Caught a little bit of moisture on the windscreen but not enough to wash off the huge bug I picked up 30 minutes earlier at 8500 MSL. :-) I broke through the line of storms short of GWO which was under clear skies at that moment. The flight back was fine as all of the storms had died down after midnight. It was a cool experience to pre-flight under the stars. We don’t have that many stars in Atlanta. :-)

    Last summer I also flew in the area to Natchez and then to Jackson in a 172. My intended return to Atlanta from Jackson through Meridian was not possible due to heavy build up of convective activity. I did have a way to go north and around via the same corridor between MOA’s near Columbus MS. That time I did the trip by climbing up higher – 11,500 if I remember. Takes a long time for the 172 to climb up there and at one point was wondering if I had made a poor choice. Probably my closest call of being squeezed with weather.

    I find it interesting to read some comments to go under the main cloud layer and see the rain shafts from that perspective, and see other comments to go up and weave between the towering tops. Having experienced both, I see the merits of both.

    Now that I have shared pushing the limits a touch two times, I can also attest that overall I am quite conservative in my go / no go decisions. There have been several trips here in the SE during the summer that have been no go with not much different than this scenario.

    As the PAVE checklist teaches us, all four categories kick in – Pilot (am I on my game), Aircraft (do I have the performance and the electronics to gather more information in flight), EnVironment (weather, etc.) and External Pressures (can I just jump in the truck and drive).

    Nice scenario. Love these kinds of things where you can think through while at 0 AGL.

  22. Ross Bond
    Ross Bond says:

    Definitely go, probably direct with the option to divert to the East if things get uncomfortable on the planned route or if I choose to remain clear of cloud.

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