Go or No Go: heading home on Friday afternoon

At the end of a long week of work with a customer in northwest Arkansas, it’s time to fly home for a relaxing weekend with the family. One of the perks of owning your own company is that you get to fly yourself on many such trips, using your 1978 Cessna 182. That makes it an easy one hour and fifteen minute flight (ROG to PWA). The skies are cloudy as you drive to the airport, but the weather looks good overall. Read the weather reports below, then tell us if you would fly this trip. You’re not instrument-rated, so this trip will be VFR. Estimated time of departure is 2130Z.

Overview

The route in ForeFlight looks pretty clear, with green METAR circles and just a few scattered showers near Tulsa.

The surface analysis shows very little in the middle of the country, with a large high sitting over the Upper Midwest and a low pressure system far to the northwest, over Wyoming.

The prog charts show a weak line of rain near the middle of Oklahoma, but it’s fairly thin:

The forecast for tomorrow morning shows more serious rain, but it’s almost all to the north of your route.

Satellite

Since you’re VFR today, the satellite imagery is important. Is there a gap in that line? Are the clouds thick? A look at the color infrared layer in ForeFlight shows a pretty wide gap:

A look at the visible satellite may offer more detail. First you look at the map layer in ForeFlight:

Next you examine the actual visible satellite image, which does show some building clouds near Tulsa.

Convective weather

Even in October, thunderstorms are a concern in Oklahoma, so it’s worth a look at the convective SIGMET map. While your route does not have any SIGMETs, there is an outlook:

The convective forecast product for later this evening shows the chance of storms, but far to the west of your route.

Text weather

There’s no major front, but there are some clouds to consider. That means METARs and TAFs are the last key piece of the puzzle. At your departure airport, skies are overcast but visibility is excellent and the winds are light. If anything, conditions are forecast to improve after sunset.

En route, Tulsa is reporting good weather but the METAR does warn of towering cumulus in all quadrants.

Closer to Oklahoma City, Cushing is reporting good VFR skies, although there is a scattered layer at 2800.

Finally, your destination shows great VFR and is forecast to stay that way until tomorrow morning.

Decision time

It’s 4:30pm on a Friday, and you’d love to get home. In the 182 that means a short flight, but you would never sacrifice safety for convenience. If you have to drive, it’s only 4 hours so you have a backup plan. The weather at your departure is pretty good, and the weather at home is excellent. The only question is en route: is there a path through the building cumulus near Tulsa? Is there an out if you don’t find a hole?

Add your comment below and tell us what you would do.

13 Comments

  • Based on the information presented here I would go. The main reason is due to the surface winds at the departure and destination airports and what appear to be along the route. There is some concern of the ceilings at the departure airport at 2500′ AGL which doesn’t leave a lot of additional altitude should that ceiling go down, but the appear to climb along the route past Tulsa and descend again after that time back downward a bit towards the end of the route.

    Given the one hour and fifteen minute flight and at least the surface wind conditions being relatively steady it should be safe to make the trip. I would definitely be aware of the numerous “out” airports should the ceiling descend below a safe level. A safe level being less than 1500′ to avoid scud running and room for a margin. It’s a tough trigger to pull when in flight, but with enough airports to make that decision with it should be o.k.

    • There should never be any doubt to the safety of your flight. You saying that “it should be okay” means that you have some doubt about the weather. You should really consider the bigger picture. Here is a pilot who is not instrument rated flying at night (if you read the most recent Nall report you’ll find that the fatal accident rate is increased at night); he is in a single engine airplane, at potentially low altitude to avoid the towering cumulous clouds that he cannot see because it is dark. And to top it all off you have an alternate method of getting home—a car! The pilot is probably inexperienced too due to the fact that he has no instrument rating. There are so many things wrong with choosing to go in this scenario: 1.) Potential convective activity, 2.) Night, 3.) Marginal weather conditions, 4.) Inexperience, 5.) Lack of an instrument rating, 6.) Fatigue of the pilot. What if you had an emergency in flight in these conditions? Did you ever consider that? I’m sorry but this is just to much of a risk for a single pilot to make. Just drive!

  • After review of the data available I would call 1800WXBRIEF and talk with someone about where the thunderstorms to the south are headed. The KPWA TAF that says TEMPO 0418/0422 BRKN040 caught my eye as an indication of a change and temporary lower ceiling from its most current metar in the time frame of the flight. The information provided in this scenario seems to indicate the bad weather north of the route is moving southwest, and the thunderstorms to the south are moving south. I would want to make sure I am well behind these two bands before making a decision to fly. My answer: Confirm my analysis with a weather briefer, take a delay as needed, then reassess.

  • I would not make this trip as I think it is on the edge. It would likely be fine, but the missions success would rise the bar for the next one. In stead of having to evaluate a fairly routine flight to this level, I would spend my free time training and get an IFR rating and get really comfortable flying IMC.
    Candidly I do not understand being a VFR only pilot and thinking that GA is actually a reliable tool. The training time is worth it!

  • I would not go VFR at night because night adds another dimension to the trip. The weather could close in on you very rapidly and you could easily become disoriented .

  • No-go. The risk of the flight is not worth it. It’s a night VFR flight with potential IMC conditions. It’s to risky to nimble your way through the storms at night with no appropriate ratings. The conditions for the next day seem much better and I would leave with day light so if needed you could fly around some clouds. After all it’s only an hour and fifteen minute weekend trip.

  • I would go
    The building thunderstorms are a concern, my opening is to return and then drive if I can’t time the gap in weather

  • As a low time pilot with no IFR rating, I would cnxl and watch the weather patterns closely to see what they do to add to my experience in forecast-actual weather situations that could go either way. Even though it looks fairly doable except for the area of towering cumulus, after what looks like a possible hectic week of work (a long week) it might be possible to get a case of get-home-itis or not be at the top of my game without realizing it if the weather turned iffy.

  • The report of TCN around Tulsa with overcast skies is worrisome. There is a possibility I may not see a TS in time to fly around or abort. I’m tired. It’s Friday evening. It’s not worth it. Let’s drive or wait until Saturday morning and reevaluate.

  • The majority rules. Night VFR in marginal weather is a no go! Remember “No Old Bold Pilots” Storms of this capacity move fast and usually the end result is not good.

  • I would probably go if I had onboard ADSB weather. It’s day VFR and you should land almost an hour before sunset and over an hour before darkness. Also it’s at the point in the afternoon when convective activity often begins to die out. Finally, there are almost a dozen airfields along the way within 15 nm of the route to use for safe havens if the gap closes or ceiling drops. Although not provided in the example, I would have looked carefully at the skew-t profiles along the route to better understand the likelihood and elevation of cloud layers, as well as chances of convective development. If Skew-t showed no expectation of lower clouds, and with ADSB Nexrad – should be no problem.

Leave a Reply

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