Go or No Go: another summer day in the Southeast

Another summer afternoon, another radar splattered with red and yellow cells. After many years of flying in the Southeast, you’re used to this picture but that doesn’t mean you ignore it—thunderstorms are a serious threat for any airplane. The goal today is to fly from Sarasota, Florida, to Atlanta, Georgia, in your Cirrus SR22. Will the weather allow it?

The trip should take about 2:15, and your Cirrus is certainly well equipped, with a Garmin G1000 glass cockpit, SiriusXM datalink weather, TKS deice system, and a good autopilot. Proposed departure time is 2130Z (5:30pm local). Read the weather report below, then add a comment and tell us whether it’s a go or a no-go for you.

Overview

The radar image in ForeFlight shows plenty of rain and thunderstorms, both in eastern Florida and in a large area over Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.

The surface analysis is pretty quiet in the region, with no major fronts or low pressure systems.

Forecasts

The prognostic charts suggest conditions won’t change much over the next 36 hours. The 00Z chart shows widespread showers and storms, although mostly the lighter green “Chance” markings.

Tomorrow morning shows a gap in the rain in Georgia, but it’s still an active map in Florida and Alabama.

There are no AIRMETs for turbulence or IFR conditions in the area, and the freezing level today is above 15,000 so icing is not a concern.

However, there are plenty of convective SIGMETs along your route.

Radar

As usual in the summertime, thunderstorms are the major threat today. That means it’s time to review the radar image in more detail. Start with the regional NEXRAD view.

Next, it’s worth exploring the ForeFlight radar image in more detail. In particular, the area in north Florida appears to show a gap, but it’s not a guarantee.

Closer to your departure, it looks like the worst weather has moved off to the southeast, but some lingering showers still show up.

This might be a day to compare composite radar reflectivity (above) with base reflectivity (below). This suggests most of the rain around Sarasota is not reaching the ground.

Satellite

This is probably a day where staying out of clouds as much as possible is a good idea. That means looking at the satellite imagery. Start with the infrared satellite layer in ForeFlight. As expected, this shows serious convection near Sarasota and west of your route, but relatively lower clouds in northern Florida.

The visible satellite images can give you a more detailed look at areas of building cumulus. Here’s the view of Florida.

And here’s the view further north.

One last tool that’s helpful is the cloud forecast chart. This shows that the tops in northern Florida will probably be above your airplane’s service ceiling.

Text weather

Finally, a look at departure and destination weather is always a good idea. Sarasota is reporting VFR conditions, but thunderstorms around. The notes show the lightning is east and southeast, suggesting the storms may be moving out.

Weather in Atlanta is excellent and forecast to stay that way, except for some potential CBs that are forecast to be gone by the time you arrive.

Decision time

It’s time to make the call. On the plus side, the weather at your departure and destination is good and forecast to stay that way. Your airplane is capable and well-equipped, there is a large break in the rain just east of your route, and you can complete the flight in daylight. On the minus side, there is a lot of convective weather around, including near your departure airport, and it’s a hot summer afternoon so things may continue to build. And of course you’re flying a piston airplane, so going to FL390 is not an option!

Are you flying the trip or canceling? Add a comment below.

19 Comments

  • Pretty typical day down here. Plan to go and be prepared to land along the way if the weather dictates. I’d also be planning a deviation east of the large cell over the panhandle and Alabama to insure I stayed in the clear air. Monitor Nexrad while in flight to see how and how fast things are moving.

    I only don’t go if I cannot spend a night away from either location. In flying hot southeastern days for years, though, the biggest hold-up is usually a “sit-and-wait-till-it-passes” at a new airport. I’ve met some awesome people this way and discovered airports I never would have stopped at otherwise!

  • Plan to go and be prepared to land along the way if the weather dictates. I’d also be planning a deviation east of the large cell over the panhandle and Alabama to insure I stayed in the clear air. Monitor Nexrad while in flight to see how and how fast things are moving.

  • I left SRQ in similar circumstances a couple of days ago – airport was vfr, thunderstorms south and picked our way north to SSI. Always willing to stop along the way and wait it out. So it’s a go.

  • I’ve flown this route 4 times in the past two months and the weather is pretty much the same as this every time. ATC is accustomed to letting you vector around the cells in North Florida or South Georgia. Often there will be holes between cells you can see through but want to stay in visual conditions the whole way since an embedded TS would be potentially catastrophic. If there’s no way through or around the storms, then be familiar with several airports along the way and mentally prepare yourself and passengers to have to stop enroute and wait things out. If clouds did not let me stay in visual conditions despite being instrument rated, I would not go. The power of the convection is rapid and unpredictable. I will vector around clouds and climb between 5000 and 12000 enroute to keep out of IMC. The summer thunderstorms are nothing to mess with.

  • Plan A
    Depart at 0530, instead of 1730
    Plan B
    Call Delta…they fly to ATL
    Plan C
    Stay in SRQ an extra day and shop/drink on St Armand’s Circle
    Plan D
    Go but, make lots of left and right turns to stay away from vertical build-ups

  • I agree with most of the other comments. I would go. This is typical weather for the Southeast in Summer. Get to 9 or 10.5, stay vfr, avoid the build ups. The SR22 has plenty of legs and speed to deviate around the storms.

  • Risk Assessment is the word of the day. —————-

    1 At 17:30 you’ve probably worked all day, you’re not burnt-out but not at your normal starting gate.
    2 If you get delayed in-route waiting weather it could make your day even longer. The rest of the flight may be in the dark. Are you comfortable playing with serious weather in the dark?
    3 If you do have to land at an alternate along the way the FBO may be closed and could possibly effect your ability to get fuel, food, rest or just a place to wait out the weather.
    4 I’m with Mark D., Why not stack things in your corner? I go with the 0530 departure the next morning. You’re fresh, tons of options, probably a lot less CB build-up, less stress, more fun.
    Do your Risk Assessment as part of your flight planning and fly safe.

    • Excellent analysis and risk assessment. I’m with you and Mark, by waiting until 0530 for departure you’ll likely have a smoother, direct trip, and arrive in time to enjoy whatever you’d planned in ATL.

  • I’d check the NEXRAD looping map to try and ascertain the general direction of the big mass over the panhandle. It could become a scud running situation or a sucker-hole very quickly. And as some of the other comments here say, afternoon TS in FL can be very violent but more importantly, they are very quick to form and/or for its intensity to become a truly dangerous situation. Bottom line, if that big mass over the panhandle is moving to the E/SE, fast ~15kts or so, I’m staying put. What’s my motivation for getting-there-itis? A later departure will be safer, smoother and much quieter.

  • It’s a go for me. As a FL resident we deal with this weather for 4 months out of the year. Not to be cavalier however. Late afternoon storms here are big and violent. There’s a lot of energy in them. I’d prefer to always fly in the morning if I can. If not, then I might be inclined to wait for an hour or so and fly in the early evening when things generally calm down. If it’s a Mission, then I’d go with the following: Plan B and Plan C; a commitment not to get in tight to any active cells; extra fuel; a RON bag. Chances are I’d be able to pick my way through but if not, I want those alternative plans in my back pocket. Better yet, plan ahead and fly before these bad bouts get fired up.

  • I’m a coastal TX guy, live with the same weather and have flown the Gulf Coast end to end. I’d go. The “strikes” at SPG tell me the small convective area is still active. I’d plan staying to the west of PIE/TPA. TPA arrival and departures will occupy the gap on the east side and any attempt to plead my way in that direction might compromise my desire to remain in VMC conditions. Other than that, my considerations are what the other “GO” votes have brought forward.

  • I would file to Cross city vor, Waycross vor direct. Adds all of about 20 minutes to the flight and avoids most of the action, unless it is fast moving eastward.

  • I did my primary training at PDK almost forty years ago and spent time growing up in Central Florida so I’m familiar with the weather. I’ve made a number of summertime flights between Florida and Georgia, flying up the east coast to Jacksonville before turning northwest toward Atlanta.

    Back in the 1980s before we had weather in the cockpit and when I had a lot less experience, I’d have been inclined to wait until morning to leave because I’d be wary of making a flight into potentially adverse weather (and I did that many times).

    Today I’d make the flight, with a plan that takes me around the weather and with every intention of putting the airplane on the ground if the weather goes bad. I’d also point out that there are flight training operations all along Florida’s east coast and the students do not take a day off just because there are a few clouds in the sky. Finally, the general tendency is for flying weather to improve late in the day as things cool down, so the weather at launch time is likely to be better than the weather shown in the photos.

  • I have only been surfing around thunder storms for few years. So I keep at least 30 miles away but if they heading east can you stay ahead of them . That should be no problem for the SR22. Most of the clouds are low so you should be easily on top .So I would say it is a go

  • As a pilot that has flown for 50+ years in Piper Cub, T-28, T-33, B-47, F-84, F-86H, and Cessna182 aircraft, with weather much like what you have shown; I would plan to fly the route. However, as ALWAYS, I would have a face-to-face conversation with the ‘weather guy’ and anyone at the departure airport that had just flown in the weather. And, ALWAYS, I had plan if, during the planned flight, the weather situation was NOT going to be safe, I would execute that plan…. and there were were a number of times that I did that…amen, Amen, & AMEN!

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