Go or No Go: California convection?

It’s a perfect day for general aviation: your trip from San Diego (MYF) to Oxnard (OXR), California, should take just under an hour in your Cirrus SR22, which is a huge improvement over the typical 4-5 hour drive. The weather isn’t great today, but at first glance it doesn’t look impossible. After all, this is why you have an instrument rating and a capable airplane.

You’ll be flying IFR today, probably in the 4000-8000 foot range, depending on the weather. Proposed departure time is 2130Z, about 2:30 local time. Read the weather reports below and tell us if you would fly the trip or cancel.

Overview

The map on ForeFlight shows rain, IFR conditions and pilot reports for ice and turbulence. A typical route will take you up the coast and then east of LAX, before turning back to the northwest.

The surface analysis shows a low pressure system over Las Vegas and an occluded front coming in from the southwest.

Prog charts show rain and scattered storms over Southern California over the next 24 hours.

Radar and Satellite

The radar image shows plenty of rain, but it is scattered. Your route actually looks fairly clear. It’s also noteworthy that the rain seems to be moving from south to north.

The visible satellite shows plenty of clouds in California, so IFR is definitely the right answer today.

The infrared picture shows some vertical development to the south, but along your route the clouds appear to be lower level.

Ice and turbulence

These two threats are always on your mind when flying around a front. First, a look at icing PIREPs. There are plenty today, but almost all are north of your destination and above 10,000 feet.

Sure enough, the forecast icing layer in ForeFlight shows ice at 10,000 feet, especially to the north.

But at 6000 feet it looks clear (and above freezing).

Turbulence PIREPs are also numerous, including a few severe ones. But again, the worst looks to be up north and up high.

The turbulence layer in ForeFlight shows the potential for some bumps, but nothing too bad at your proposed altitudes.

Ceiling and visibility

Last comes the airport weather. For an overview of the conditions, you check the chart in ForeFlight’s Imagery section. It shows pockets of IFR conditions to the south and up by your destination, but only spotty areas of low weather around Los Angeles.

The forecast chart shows more details about ceilings and tops, which are reasonably low in Southern California.

Finally, it’s time to read some text weather. Your departure airport is definitely IFR, with showers moving through the area.

Along your route, weather is marginal VFR with better visibility and lighter winds. There is definitely a layer around 1000-1500 feet.

At your destination, conditions are pretty good right now, with good visibility and layered clouds. The forecast calls for rain and lower ceilings at the afternoon wears on, though.

Terrain

Given the area, it’s worth a quick check on the terrain along your route. This is helpful for considering alternates should the weather be worse than forecast. The Profile view in ForeFlight shows a good picture. Here’s 6000 feet:

Decision time

Time to make the decision. It’s IFR out there, with showers and some wind. But it’s above minimums and your route appears to be in between the heaviest rain. Do you take off or cancel? Add a comment below and share your thought process.

35 Comments

  • I’m new at this IFR game. I see forecast thunderstorm activity and icing pireps, I stay home. Maybe too conservative!

  • Wouldn’t even consider going in that kind of weather in a small single engine aircraft. Icing? Turbulence? Storms? It would be foolhardy to fly an SR-22 in socal on that day.

  • The conditions are good for a fairly low altitude IFR flight.
    One more consideration is route and altitude assignments by SoCal ATC which might, especially N of LAX, be higher than I want to go given possible icing around 8,000. With lots of low level moisture and orographic lifting in the Gorman area I don’t want to be vectored around near there this day.
    I suggest a route up the coast to Oceanside then via Catalina that is mostly over water, true, but can be flown at 4,000 except for the final segment into Ventura. There is a TEC route MZB V23 OCN V208 SXC V27 VTU that ATC will likely give you on request and probably won’t be altered much enroute.
    In this non-FIKI SR22 I would file and go.

  • I don’t like the IFR METAR at the departure airport. I’d also like to know more about the air stability enroute. If anything goes wrong right after takeoff you could be hard pressed to get back safely. Then enroute what about pop up thunderstorms? I’m not experienced enuf in IFR actual conditions to feel comfy with this scenario. I agree with Johnathan and wait for a better day or drive.

    This is a good example, imo, of the Catch 22 nature in instrument flying. I often don’t feel comfortable with the situation so don’t go and thus don’t get the experience needed to feel confident and proficient.

  • Stay put

    Not a big fan when there is an occluded front near planned flight
    they make nasty thunderstorms etc…

    Not worth the risk at all.

  • Too many narrow margins for me. Challenging WX at departure, temps and dewpoints converging en route, mountainous terrain, single-engine aircraft… I don’t like the idea of being “cornered” if a surprise comes up. Even if it’s doable, it doesn’t sound like fun. Seems like just the kind of iffy conditions that seduce pilots into flirting with disaster.

  • Having flown quite a bit of IFR in So. Cal, I’d go but I’d like some extra fuel and would be quick to pick one of the dozens of alternative fields along the route if things start to diminish.

    Toughest part of that routing is the terrain around the turn into Oxnard. It’s not crazy tall but the mountains around LA are thunderstorm factories when the air is unstable.

    Real world I would also look at departing eastbound and coming around through the desert. Many of the systems die out as soon as they cross the mountains and the desert side is almost always VFR.

  • And let’s not forget… all the weather mentioned is a forecast. Actual conditions could be worse… Huh, I’ll drive, thank you very much!

  • Lacking but wanting an IFR Rating, these type of presentations show real time thinking helping me work through the logic trail, it’s like having guys in the hanger helping you interpret the information.
    In this situation even VFR skills leave me with a weary eye given the general trending direction of a developing front. It is going from water to land and then cortical terrain which is always presenting temperature changes, the more change the more wind. Outflow air and a pending low level due point spread at freezing temps plus the potential rapid cooling caused by off shore front coming in your direction.
    All this is enough to make me want to consult with my hanger buddies before I call weather brief.

    Any IFR in rapidly changing terrain is a dangerous game, in any conditions it can be a challenge. the margin for error minimal. As one fella told me when you pop out of a cloud and you’re right on the top of a mountain it will get your attention especially when you didn’t think it was there.

    From what I read from the comments, my hanger buds knew the best thing to do was not waste time on weather brief and start driving.

    Thank you all very much; this helps us aspiring to truly know our personal limits and keep them sharp. The thought process you share is priceless, comments as well

  • What catches my eye is BKN025CB in the KOXR TAF. Low cumulonimbus says no go to me — especially in a single engine plane.

  • I’d drive this time. This is a single engine plane and the conditions are eliminating my safety margin. Actual at departure is already below forecast and broken at 500 makes any engine trouble on departure a potentially serious situation. The TEC route over Catalina is for turbine aircraft. For piston the recommended route is over land. Engine failure over ocean leaves no option but ditching. On the assigned route conditions are ok. Route is below icing and there are landing options if needed. The concern is at destination. Current winds are almost direct crosswind to only runway that in gusts exceed airplane limits. Forecast shows similar wind direction expected and for CB at 2500 in area. That could make for difficult approach and landing and reduced safety margin. Considering all these factors I’m going to drive if I have to go today.

    • With you on this one. The winds and runway stood out to me as well since that is the ‘current’ condition and could get worse instead of better.

  • I’m studying for my instrument rating now. The flight looks marginally possible. But with thunderstorms and icing possible, my Warrior will not be “happy” if I fly her through this stuff. Make a pot of coffee….and we’ll fly another day.

  • It is interesting to see this scenario posted so soon after Kobe’s pilot was looking at this same route in poor weather.

    This is my home terrain, so I would probably launch. I know that I can land at Burbank and Millionair has a crew car for me. Forty minutes later I am at my destination. If I need to be there longer they have rental cars, too. So I can get close. I could even nudge on to Van Nuys although there are a *tad* fewer services there and I don’t love the approach (over mountainous terrain, descending into a notch).

    Once I was approaching BUR I would ask controllers if there were any little planes ahead of me and ask how they were doing. There wasn’t enough detail on the plane, but I assume it is one with the FIKI fluid. In SoCal that’s enough that I would be okay with the icing conditions and ceilings (because it’s just to get below the clouds). I know that if I need to I can retreat and land at BUR or SMO…

  • This is a no-go for me. To go is walking that line of I have four-wheel drive so I can go any place I want. Bad attitude – you have four-wheel drive in case you need it, not because you have it. The decision maker for me is the front moving in. Trying to beat a front is just asking for trouble. Additionally, while the temperatures look good, that icing could come down quickly – or you may have to climb into it.

  • I know this route well. Getting out of Montgomery is fine, the flight up the coast is OK, 6,000 is a good altitude and you could go as high as 10,000 with limited icing exposure (you might get higher over LA but the controllers there take good care of you,) pay attention to the winds which are a little high for a Cirrus, but they’re still within limits. Reassess over LA, VNY or BUR are good alternates if need be, if things still good, carry on and you have decent altitude for landing on arrival. You’re not shooting an approach to limits. I would probably go.

  • +++++No go, using provided data +++++
    1) KOXR forecast is already 3:32 hrs old
    2) VCTS is forecast to continue for 7 more hours from original forecast time.
    3) I would go on one condition. I would typically cast a tighter net around the area for more METARs. Data is my friend. If I could prove to myself that the forecasted TS were non-existent, I would likely launch on a 1-hour flight. However since the LA basin if full of airports, if I found METARS from stations left/right of course reporting CBs or TS (accounting for wind velocity and direction to be sure), then I’m launching to the pub.

  • I hadn’t thought of Tony’s idea of going East into the desert and then coming back in from the Northeast. That should work with a number of alternates. My first thought was, “Why not go offshore and avoid most of the crap along the coast?” Things might be a little dicey nearing Oxnard but, with enough fuel, there are options, including, landing on Catalina (a bit hairy for the inexperienced) in a pinch.

  • I’m not a pilot, but love flying. Had worked for a major carrier and worked 9 air shows.
    Reading the Wx. conditions in the scenario, I came to the same conclusion. Ice, over cast and winds were not the conditions I would like to fly in. The scenario laid out a lot of information, more than I had considered. Reading all the comments was very interesting and because of that I would fly with almost anyone of you. Thanks.

  • I think this discussion would be best if you posted your opinion, along with where you reside, and how many hours flight experience you have. Then that can be put into context. As a newer pilot, I wouldn’t go. Doesn’t mean the gentleman from Canada is wrong, he may have 2000 hours flight experience in these more interesting conditions…

  • I’m a current IFR pilot flying a P-210 with TKS (not known ice because we have flint tanks) and frequently fly in weather. Interesting in that this was essentially the weather last week (Thursday) when I was to fly from KMYF to KCLM. The deciding factor for me was that the combo of turbulence and icing in clouds above a low freezing altitude was expected to improve dramatically 24 hours later as the front moved East. For that reason I waited the 24 hours and flew comfortably to my destination. If the weather was predicted to worsen I would have flown in the depicted weather. There are a number of airports along the route with weather well above minimums and I have plenty of fuel for such a short flight if needed. I would make sure the TKS tank was full.

  • this is really a question about personal minimums. Certainly the SR 22 FIKI is a highly capable Aircraft for this mission. With an equally capable pilot, this isn’t really even a go/no go question based on the weather info provided. This scenario is quite common in the upper states and Canada. As with weather on every flight, it can change, and a smart pilot has a plan b, c, and maybe even d. ATC is your partner in safety – don’t hesitate to ask for a reroute in air based on what you see on a huge MFD moving map as you go. I have done it more times than I can count. Fly Safe.

  • The real problem here is not the ice IMHO. MEAs lower than freezing level and you can always turn around back into non icing conditions. Don’t ever be afraid to declare an emergency if ATC says unable. Better to write a report for the emergency than someone else writing your obituary.
    Mostly I’d be concerned about pop up cells. What kind of onboard detection does this SR22 have? Probably none or at least not real time. A small cell can take a big bite out of a small plane. A plan to deviate around a depicted cell may not work due to SoCal traffic. You could still use the “E” word for that but it would probably be a different conversation when you land.
    I agree with the single engine IFR comments as well. Even if it were just a simple marine layer to climb thru there is higher risk to consider when low clouds and low visibility are present. It would definitely be mo betta to have two engines for this trip.
    All things considered, I’d go so long as I had some reliable form of wx depiction and a good autopilot. I’d be ready to divert to one of the many options along the way and be reviewing the approaches to the possible alternates as you near them. Also, I’d be very inquisitive w/ ATC as to what their wx radar display depicts.
    Finally, is this a weekend hamburger flight or do I have a need to get from A to B? If the former, then I’d plan for it another day. This would be a challenging, heavy work load flight but still with adequate margins.
    My credentials:
    ATP, CFII, professional pilot… no bent metal and no blood spilled.

  • I fly IFR all the time except when icing is forecast. Then I get real cautious, as I have seen ice on my wings to many times. Not good! I think I will stay home and fly another day. Great scenario to make one think hard about safety of flight.

  • First of all, the weather doesn’t care what your power is, single, twin, piston or turbine doesn’t make much difference. For over the ocean, there’s an argument for a twin.

    With the icing forecast and reports, doesn’t look like an issue. And no low IFR.

    With some reasonable wx avoidance on board this would be a go flight. XM (or ADSB) and Stormscope would do the job fine. Radar would be great. Without, I’d probably pass unless I could remain visual to see the buildups.

    ATP SE and Multi engine land.

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