Go or No Go: rain over Florida

As the week draws to a close, you have your eye on the weather map. It’s Friday afternoon and you are planning to visit your adult daughter in South Florida tomorrow, ideally meeting her at noon Saturday for a family event. That’s a pretty easy flight of under three hours in your Cirrus SR22, but if the weather doesn’t cooperate it will be a 9+ hour drive. That means if you’re driving, you need to leave tonight.

So the question is: can you spend the night in your own bed and fly tomorrow, taking off at 9am EST (1400 Zulu) for the PDK to FXE flight? Or do you get in the car and start driving? Your 2015 Cirrus is well equipped with a Garmin glass cockpit, datalink weather, autopilot, and more. You’re also experienced and proficient, with over 2,500 hours total time and plenty of recent IFR flying under your belt.

Read the forecast below, then add a comment and tell us what you’d do.

Overview

Conditions in northern Georgia are quite good, but widespread rain is covering much of Florida, as the map in ForeFlight shows:

As always, the surface analysis shows what’s driving that radar picture. A cold front is moving across Florida, splitting it in half.

The front is forecast to move through the state tomorrow, but it will leave behind rain and potentially some storms, as the 12Z forecast chart shows.

By Saturday night, the rain is almost gone from the Miami area, but there could be some leftover precipitation.

Radar and satellite

Since there’s rain on the ForeFlight map, it’s worth looking at the static radar image. It shows a lot of rain, but there are some breaks in it and there’s nothing worse than dark green, except for one red cell over central Florida.

The infrared satellite image shows a solid wall of clouds between your departure and destination, with some higher tops (darker blue) in Georgia.

The visible satellite shows what looks like a lot of stratus clouds, which suggests limited convection.

Convection and icing

With all that rain, thunderstorms is a concern. Your proposed flight is in the morning, which often helps in Florida, but a check of the Extended Convective Forecast offers more information. It shows mostly clear conditions, even into the afternoon, with just a small area off the coast of Miami showing potential convection.

As for icing, it looks like the freezing level will be high enough to stay out of any potential icing conditions – probably above 10,000 feet for most of your flight.

PIREPs

A look at pilot reports shows some rough rides, but almost all of them are up high. There’s just a single PIREP of light turbulence over eastern Florida.

One other PIREP is worth considering – it shows lower cloud tops in near St. Augustine, which could mean you’ll be on top of some weather.

Text weather

Your departure airport has excellent weather and is forecast to stay that way.

En route, the forecast for Jacksonville shows marginal VFR conditions, with conditions improving over time.

Further south, at Orlando, the TAF shows more consistent rain, but no low IFR conditions.

Finally, your destination is forecasting pretty good weather, but with gusty winds and showers in the area.

HRRR

There’s one last tool that can be helpful – the High Resolution Rapid Refresh, or what some pilots consider to be “forecast radar.” It shows a forecast of composite reflectivity, which is a helpful visual forecast of precipitation. The 1500 Zulu image shows scattered showers over the southern half of Florida, but nothing too serious.

Decision time

It’s time to make the call: would you plan to take off tomorrow morning in your Cirrus, or start driving tonight? Add as many details as you like, including alternative ideas on routing, altitudes or even a multi-stop flight.

27 Comments

  • If I’m this proficient in this airplane, I go by air. This is assuming I don’t get excommunicated from the family if something happens and I miss the event that is planned. I would leave at least an hour earlier and aim to be on top for most of the trip.

  • I did nearly this same trip, South Florida to South Carolina on this exact day. This is about the best Florida flying weather you can get. Dodge some build ups in the climb, get on top, and smooth cruise the rest of the way home. Didn’t phase our dog passengers either. I think also understanding the tops/layers are key here. It will at least let you predict the ride quality with Florida build ups.

  • If you can’t make it in these conditions you should consider yourself a strictly VFR recreational pilot and plan as such always. The only limiting factor to me is that you’re in a single engine airplane. I fly a Twin Commander so for me would be a no brainer to fly but a Cirrus, like any single, puts you in the tough position if you have an engine failure of gliding until you’re beneath the overcast and having time to find a good landing spot. The ceilings are for the most part high enough to do that in this scenario. Plus the Cirrus’s advances avionics increase your chances of a successful synthetic vision gliding approach if needed.

  • If I’m the pilot described in the beginning (I’m not so for me this scenario is currently a no go) I’m going to go to the airport a little early so I can take one last look online and maybe over talk to FSS on the phone. If nothing has changed in the forecast I’m going to file my IFR flight plan and go.

  • I just faced this situation yesterday, 11-15, when wanting to go see my daughter in south Florida. Flying a Cirrus too. There should not be any killer items here, like thunderstorms, icing or ground fog, so the decision depends entirely on the skill, training, and comfort level of the pilot. For a competent and current instrument pilot this should be a routine flight.

    • I fly a Malibu Mirage and would have made the trip. I would have flown to the west side of the state and come in from the back side of the line of storms.

  • Yes, I would fly in a relatively new SR22… likely not in an older steam gage plane.
    In November the icing levels do drop so I would monitor the ice levels, but the SR22 is built to handle this kind of flying in comfort.

  • I would judge there is a high likelihood you could complete this flight, but if you feel you HAVE to be there, get in the car.

  • As a pilot not as experienced I can only comment on what I would do. I would plan on making this flight. As mentioned previously I would leave 1-2 hours early (why add stress to your flight, just go to bed earlier and get an earlier start). I also would get a briefing from wx brief before departing for their opinion (I believe self briefs are great but these people are experts). Lastly I would make sure I had good alternates just in case wx didn’t turn out as predicted (wx prediction is not an exact science). I would also make sure I had enough fuel so that making it to any alternate would not be an issue. If this means stopping briefly to fill up then so be it. Plan for the worst, hope for the best. And as previously mentioned, it you have to be there drive!

  • Fly, but leave earlier expecting some route deviations. Talk to a wx briefer for most current conditions. Looks like the conditions we had over the last couple of days in the area (Nov 15-17) Lol.

  • I would fly, but I’d have 2 alternates in my back pocket. Here in FL there’s the old expression, “It’s Florida, just wait 10 minutes and the sun will come out.” You’re going to go over the top and that shouldn’t a problem and you may do some skirting around tops. The cold front would be my only concern. It’s well defined and probably there’s a strong line well defined showers on its leading edge so at the ETA I want to have an alternative to the north and to the south of the line if it appears that the weather at FXE goes to low IFR or exceeds my personal limits. In Florida, as everywhere you have to respect the convective activity and we get heavy rain but it’s usually short-lived and you can generally go over the top and find a spot to land.

  • I agree with David above.

    My general strategy is that unless the CB is right over the departure or the destination, you can fly around it. The only question is how far are you willing to fly to get around. Maybe only 80 nm, maybe 800 🙂

    I also agree with David’s strategy of approaching from the West given the actual. I always prefer to approach bad weather from behind. This removes the temptation to try to ‘race’ a CB to the airport. If it is storming right over the destination, land and wait or orbit for a bit.

    I won’t try to navigate through a line with satellite weather, but being on top to get around the cells…no problem.

  • Given forecast, aircraft capability, and pilot proficiency I’d say its fly. Even for my personal minimums at 800/3 this would be a flight I’d personally do. Always leaving an out and accepting defeat if things turned worse than forecast.

  • I have 2200 hours in an all glass 2003 SR20, the only plane I’ve ever owned. I’m instrument rated and current and lived in South Florida for 12 years. Are you kidding? Not even close…Fly!

  • If you’re not going to fly this trip because of the weather, then you should fold your wings, sell the Cirrus to someone who knows how to use it and take up stamp collecting! Otherwise it’s an ideal trip to gain some additional experience and confidence (sharpen the blade of skill on the stone of experience).

  • I would make the trip. There are many “outs” if pilot confidence becomes an issue along the way. Florida has an abundance of airports that provide options and the weather (existing and forecast) provides good alternatives. Not a concern for this flight but flying in weather in general, satellite “radar” can be a sucker trap and usually is. This type of equipment is only for big strategy decisions. I have both satellite and airborne (GWX 70) and the difference in the images in actual weather is scary if someone is using satellite “radar” to navigate the weather.

  • Easy choice, go flying! Nothing stands out as particularly worrisome for an instrument-rated pilot. Just an average cross-country.

  • This is a “go”, but not with quite the hubris as some of the responses imply. An approaching cold front with this much precipitation always urges a good deal of respect. At least in Texas (and I admittedly don’t have much Florida flying experience).

    This type of flight for me is usually a “go” when I fly alone (which I most often do). With my wife – not so much. Not for the reason that I take chances when I am by myself that I would not ordinarily take when I am with her, but the PERCEPTION that this is a risky flight to her would make this in all probability a non flying day. Plus, it will probably be a little uncomfortable for her.

    It is kind of funny, but when I am PIC (or even when I am the driver in a vehicle in bad weather), I am very comfortable. But when I am a co-pilot – not as much.

    Also – those of you who would take this flight – as I would – don’t make disparaging remarks about those who would not. Everyone has their own comfort level and to call someone not a “real IFR pilot” serves no purpose but to maybe encourage someone to do something that they might not should do.

    I have lived to be a 56 year old pilot (got my PPL at 18) by getting MORE conservative over the years in my flying.

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