Go or No Go: a windy trip

Today’s flight is one you know well, since you’ve flown this route at least once a month for the last two years visiting your aging mother and father. It’s just under a two and a half hour flight in your Cessna 172S from Charleston, South Carolina (CHS), to Ocala, Florida (OCF). You are not instrument rated, so the trip will have to be VFR. The weather looks reasonably good, but there are a few cells on the radar and the wind is blowing. Read the weather forecast below and tell us if you would make the flight or cancel. Proposed departure time is 1400Z.

Overview

The radar is clear at your departure and destination, but en route there is some rain to investigate.

The surface analysis shows a fairly quiet picture in the Southeast, but a cold front is approaching from the northwest.

The prog chart shows the cold front moving into Georgia and Florida as the day goes on, with some scattered showers across the panhandle.

 

The 00Z chart shows a small area of rain over northern Florida, but no organized line of storms.

Radar and satellite

The southeast radar image shows more detail on the rain. There are some convective cells in southeast Georgia, and a small line in Alabama.

The infrared satellite seems to suggest no other organized cells, although perhaps some lower clouds further south.

The visible satellite image reinforces that theory, with some cloud cover in Florida.

The 3-hour cloud forecast map fills in the final details, with broken to overcast skies and relatively lower tops.

Hazards

The freezing level is above 12,000 feet today and you’re flying VFR, so icing is not a concern. Turbulence might be an issue, though, given the wind speeds at the surface.

Convective weather is another concern, given the radar, but there are no areas on the short term convective forecast.

Text weather

The cloud forecast suggests some lower layers in Florida, so it’s on to the METARs and TAFs. First is your departure, which shows good weather but a forecast for gusty winds.

En route, conditions seem to be generally good weather except around the areas of rain in coastal Georgia. A detour might be in order to avoid these marginal VFR conditions.

Your destination is clear of rain, but has a lower cloud deck. The forecast calls for that ceiling to lift by the time of your arrival, but the winds will be strengthening.

Decision time

It’s time to make the call: go or no go? The weather is good VFR at your departure, and forecast to be that way at your destination. But right now it’s marginal at OCF and there are some scattered storms en route, not to mention the gusty winds. Add your comment below and tell us both your decision and how you arrived at it.

22 Comments

  • Completely legal to fly. Now, having said that, flying it VFR in a 172 on such a relatively long cross country, AND a cold front approaching, I would NOT make this flight.

    Waiting one day until the cold front passes would be a better choice.

    Now, going IFR in a more capable airplane – this would be a definite “go” for me. But not VFR, in a 172, with an approaching cold front which tends to produce high winds and potentially low ceilings / bad weather.

  • I don’t see a problem at the destination. The wind should be well within the capability of a Skyhawk.

    What concerns me is the low dew point spread enroute where ceilings and visibility could drop unexpectedly in this dynamic weather pattern. If they do, any further complication (e.g. an electrical system failure) might put the flight in emergency territory.

    Make the trip but carry enough fuel to turn west and fly through the cold front to better VFR if necessary – and tighten down the seat belt.

  • I think it would be reasonable to launch.

    There are countless airports and “outs” along the route. The pilot would just need to stay firmly committed to changing or reversing course, or landing at an airport along the route, if conditions required.

  • IFR, this trip would be very doable, above the tops, and no real worries about getting down. Weather avoidance is manageable. VFR looks problematic, with the possibility of being squeezed by lowering ceilings into a potential VMC into IFR situation, or possibly being trapped on top. The probability of completing the trip VFR is too low for me to consider it practical, especially if there are personal reasons that add pressure to complete the trip. Waiting a day, if possible, looks like a better decision if limited to VFR.

  • First, this is not a must go TIME or TRIP.
    Flying VFR in a 172 with this WX and forecast….especially in FLORIDA where storms grow almost every afternoon in season….. No go for me. As mentioned in previous posts, a more capable IFR plane & current IFR pilot. I would fly this profile.

  • The deal breaker is being a non instrument rated pilot. No way should a VFR pilot attempt this flight. If it was forecast to be severe clear all day then it would be fine. If the pilot was instrument rated it would be ok to go IMO also.

  • As a retired airline pilot, with 30K, I would definitely wait until the front passed through. You have to have personal minimum when flying VFR and IFR especially in a single engine airplane. Forecasts are not always correct and you could find yourself in a much worse situation if you attempt it. The winds alone would stop me, but also the lower clouds and frontal passage which would produce moderate or better turbulence is also a consideration. It’s a seven hour drive, you would arrive alive.

  • If I were delivering life saving organs or blood to a hospital, I might do it with routing over several airports along the way if I needed to stop and wait it out. Given its a pleasure trip, I would reduce my personal risk by using a few other tools available to all pilots, like facetime or zoom rather than my airplane. And save $500 in gas while I’m at it. My mom used facetime on an ipad into her late 80’s, got a kick out of it.

  • Nope! Marginal VFR is not a good idea when flying VFR. I am IFR rated and would file IFR and go. I would not fly this route VFR.

  • Interesting that a lot of IFR pilots are saying no to VFR but yes to IFR. I suspect some of that is going with habit – what they’re used to doing – which makes sense.

    I’m curious what VFR-only pilots think. Is this less of a “now way” for them? To me this looks somewhat marginal but very doable, at least with a detour to the west.

  • VFR pilot. I’d probably try it, but with lots of caution. No GPS direct. Head West, turning South as I go, flying small airport to small airport. Flying the trip in small pieces and continue to evaluate the conditions enroute. If it deteriorates, stop. Assuming that there is no pressure to “get there”.

  • I would wait a bit (an hour or so) for the clouds to lift to a higher elevation. However, I would be very cautious because it is obvious the weather is unstable. Rain, clouds and possible Thunderstorms in the area of northern Florida. If I do not go VFR, I would not go IFR because of the possible Thunderstorms in northern Florida. Certainly, I would have alternate plans and strong personal minimums before leaving. I mentally need to remind myself this is not a do or die flight. This flight is to be fun and I will learn along the way if the weather gets worse. If in doubt land and consider options on the ground.

  • The issue to me is if the METAR map is the current time just prior to the 1400z go time. It is showing marginal VFR at many locations north, northwest of the Florida Georgia border. The prog charts show the front out to the nw at 1200z, but at 1800z right along the flight route with rain and possible TS in northern Florida. The current radar, IR, and visible show a possible path through GA and northern florida. Assuming the METARs are current, the issue is the marginal VFR which will push SW with the approaching front. For me, no go for VFR, would wait till frontal passage, and enjoy the ride behind the front.

  • I’m a VFR pilot and fly a 152 so this scenario is real to me. I would not make this trip on this day. The ceiling in an around Georgia is too low for me to feel comfortable plus it appears to extend west for quite a ways. I’m not too concerned about the surface winds; I’ve land in these conditions before. I’d be more bothered by turbulence aloft. I would not want to be bounced around like a rag doll for part of the trip; that is no fun and quite fatiguing. Some might say fly as far as you can go, divert if necessary and wait it out. I’d rather wait it out at home for the front to pass and the weather to be more forgiving.

  • I would pass. I’m a VFR pilot flying mostly 172s or Archers. I would not launch when the forecast at arrival is Marginal.

    My Personal forecast would be a landing in northern Florida and a rental car from there.

  • No-go VFR. This is why I got an IFR ticket and a more capable aircraft. Call me paranoid – but I wouldn’t fly such a long stretch over water in a single engine aircraft if I could avoid it.

  • No go from the start. 13 is questionable (max demonstrated in the C172S is 15, and you’d have the whole crosswind on both runways) and those gusts may start when one is taxiing, so why burn fuel rolling around the field? Like my old instructor always said, don’t try to be better than the Cessna test pilots.

  • I am a VFR pilot working on an IFR, not so I can fly in bad weather, but so I can become a better pilot and be able to get through some clouds or other minor weather situations that would otherwise keep me grounded. One thing that I really like to do is review accident reports and listen to close calls from other pilots who have made similar rationalizations but lived to tell about it. I hear a lot of rationalizing going on. Sure you might make it, which would give you confidence to try something similar again which may not be so forgiving. I would not go VFR or IFR or even in a bigger more capable airplane. It’s not worth my life to force a trip that could end in disaster. If you have to rationalize the trip, DON’T GO.

  • I would go IFR but not VFR. For VFR my concern is getting west of buildups and then low ceilings along route through southern Georgia. While tempting to go over the top I’m not assured of getting back down in Florida.

  • I’m also a 30K airline pilot with 10K in general aviation, including a 172.

    Overall this trip is doable and can be done safely, however, may not be terribly comfortable. BUT, I’d need a bit more info before launching. First would be a lot more enroute wx, metars and TAFs at airports west of the direct route, and pireps. I’d also need to know the equipment on board, weather, autopilot, GPS.

    More than likely, with that system I’d have a tail wind and even with deviating 100 miles to the west, if needed, would take less than 2:30.

    If I were going for hamburger, I’d probably pass, but if I had a real reason to be there today, I’d go with the thought to deviate as necessary and divert if I couldn’t keep good vis and a ceiling above 2000.

    I did a trip almost identical to this about two months ago. Very similar system, winds and wx. However departure was IFR. The rest of the trip was smooth VFR with a 40 kt tail wind.

  • For me, the situation that as been presented triggers me a no go in VFR. l’ll rather waited for the fronts to pass. That doesn’t mean that the trip in VFR was absolutely a great danger, because there are countless airports where to devert. But, in that case, it was’nt the intented trip.

  • Depending on the arrival time .It looks like you could go 10500 over the clouds with scattered clouds around Ocala for a late afternoon arrival .There are also many alternate airports near Ocala if you had to change your plan. I would also add winds a lot into my planning. I would research a couple alternates but it looks like a go to me.

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