Go or No Go: above the bumps, below the ice?

Fall in Maine is simply wonderful, as you’ve seen for yourself this week. The air was crisp and the colors on the trees were beautiful, but now it’s time to fly home. Your Cessna 310 is fueled up and ready to make the 3.5 hour flight from Bar Harbor (BHB) to your home near Gaithersburg, Maryland (GAI). Will the weather cooperate?

You’re instrument rated and current, so you’ll be flying this trip IFR unless there’s a good reason not to. Your airplane is well equipped, with datalink weather, dual WAAS GPSs, and a good autopilot. You do not have deice equipment. Read the weather briefing below, then add a comment to tell us whether it’s a go for you, or a no go. Proposed departure time is 1930Z.

Overview

The Maps page in ForeFlight shows a fairly colorful picture, with rain and some convective activity in the Northeast, plus plenty of PIREPs.

The surface analysis shows a cold front moving in from the west, which is driving a lot of the activity from a weather standpoint.

The forecast charts show the front moving through New England overnight, with accompanying rain. The 12-hour chart is really showing current conditions:

The 24-hour chart shows the front’s position tonight.

Radar and satellite

You know you’re dealing with an advancing cold front, so step one is to get a feel for the clouds and precipitation. The regional radar shows an area of light to moderate rain in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine, plus some heavier returns over New York.

The infrared satellite shows plenty of clouds over the first two thirds of your route today, with the thickest part in Maine.

The visible satellite offers some additional detail.

Hazards: ice, turbulence, convection

It looks like convection, icing, and turbulence are all potential issues today. That means a look at AIRMETs and SIGMETs is in order. There are no SIGMETs, but there is a convective SIGMET around that line in New York.

The AIRMET for turbulence is a busy map, which is to be expected given the windy conditions ahead of that cold front.

The winds aloft chart for 6000 feet explains the busy map—winds are out of the west at 50 knots over New York.

The Pilot Report (PIREP) map shows plenty of orange icons. It looks like a bumpy day in the clouds and also down low with the gusty winds.

Looking a little closer at some PIREPS shows somewhat conflicting details. A Cirrus just north of your route at 8000 reported above freezing temperatures and no turbulence; a Cessna 402 just south of your route reported light to moderate turbulence and light snow, but in clear air at 8000.

Icing is another concern, given the time of year and the location. It looks like icing is only an issue at higher altitudes today.

Checking the freezing level confirms this. You should be above freezing as long as you stay below about 8-9000 feet.

Icing PIREPs mostly support this picture—there are plenty of them, but all above 10,000 feet.

Surface weather

While you’re IFR today, it’s worth checking out the overall cloud picture. The 3-hour forecast chart shows widespread clouds until you get to Maryland, but some of the ceilings are fairly high.

Your departure airport is reporting marginal VFR conditions and reasonably strong wind from the south. The forecast calls for rain and thunderstorms to move in after your departure time.

En route, most airports are reporting solid VFR conditions with a ceiling around 7000 feet AGL.

Your destination is reporting good VFR and is forecast to stay that way, but the wind is definitely blowing.

Decision time

It’s time to make the go/no-go call. All the METARs show VFR or at worst marginal VFR conditions, and there appears to be no threat of icing as long as you stay below 10,000 feet. In fact, you may be in VMC for most of the flight if you cruise at 6000 feet. However, thunderstorms are firing up in a solid line over New York, and the strong winds both aloft and at the surface promise a bumpy ride.

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

29 Comments

  • I’m pretty risk averse so I’m going to have to think about whether I have the flexibility to move the flight to another day or time. If not, I’d be willing to try the flight as long as I could stay VFR and avoid the thunderstorms, with the option to divert if it looked like I couldn’t.

  • These are getting a bit too “easy” in my opinion. I would say if this is a “no go” you have to re-evaluate instrument competence. There are numerous “outs”, freezing level is above all the terrain involved, and plane is capable, so there is no reason to stay on the ground in this situation.

    • I’ve been flying instruments for 50 years and re-evalute instrument competency on a daily basis. It’s situational, and the variables are the man, the machine, and the medium.

      • I’m an instrument student getting ready for my checkride. I would not go, it’ll be too windy to be comfortable and my wife really doesn’t like turbulence. It would be a stressful flight and better to wait for smoother weather. But I fly a 172 and don’t have experience with a 310 – maybe I’d feel differently with that plane (and my instrument rating!)

  • Whether you file IFR or go VFR, I’d stay below the clouds and freezing level…remembering that the freezing level may vary from forecast/pireps as weather moves thru…better to be in clear than clouds if you find yourself above the freezing level.

    If you’re worried about getting vectored by NY, cancel before losing VMC….or go further north/west around NYC and make a stop to give folks a break from turbulence and top off.

  • I actually was in Rockland ME (KRKD), waiting out that weather system in order to fly back home to Kingston-Ulster NY (20N). I ended up waiting it out and flying on October 9th at 6000 MSL. Having flown between these two airports many times, I’m quite familiar with the coastal weather and the cold front patterns along the route. In this case, the very strong headwinds combined with the need to slow down for the turbulence were sufficient to push the trip out the two days.

  • If by myself, go and stay visual but IFR flight plan. If passengers, depends on the need to get there for them. Being airsick is a great way to destroy a passengers desire to ever want to go with you again. For myself, I don’t mind the bumps as long as not too rough and fly below Vma to protect over stressing the airframe.

  • Its a No GO for me. I am not IFR rated, but even if I were, it would still be a No Go. The icing forecast is just that and forecasts tend to change quickly, once airborne.

  • No go for me. Yes, I could do it but it just doesn’t seem worth it. 50kt winds, front moving through. Seems like a lot of work and discomfort.

    Just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you should.

  • I’m with Phil, if I have passengers (especially my wife who hates turbulence), I would wait. If alone, no problem filing as he suggests and staying alert.

  • Doable, but what a pain to rattle the stomachs for a couple hours. I’m headed to the local pound, picking up a couple more lobbies, a bottle of red, some fresh bread and having an early dinner, catch up on some work on the computer, and then another cool air sleep. I’ll never be in a hurry to leave Maine. I’ll catch the back side tomorrow, hopefully with some better scenery. Been there done that, was supposed to be doing it again this weekend, but second WAAS still being installed by Palmetto Avionics.

  • I’m a 50-year pilot with 20 in the military, mostly fighters. Although I stay IFR current (also CFII), I don’t use it unless I’m backed into a corner, or practicing local IMC. I’m 77 years old and, I believe, pretty honest with myself. In this case, I’d take off VFR if I could, and see how it looked. If and when I started to get nervous, I’d get on the ground and wait it out. At my age, I’d prefer to use my excellent judgement to stay out of a situation where I need my excellent skill.

  • This is not a showstopper this is a go however prior to departure I will take a good look at the weather again to make sure it hasn’t changed in a negative way.

  • I’d go but via V139, which would take me south towards Cape Cod and the tip of Long Island. That keeps you further from the wx and the worst of the headwinds. With the twin, the overwater route isn’t an issue. ATC actually has cleared me on the overwater route more often than the route depicted.

  • The icing and weather look doable. The winds and turbulence take the fun out of this trip. Grandma is in the hospital and we HAVE to get there, yeah, it is doable. Going to visit Grandma for the week with no time constraints. Lets see what the backside of this weather looks like after the cold front pushes through.

  • In a Cessna 310 twin, I’d definitely file to the southwest over the eastern end of Long Island. Adds a few miles, but stays out of nearly all the precip, less turbulence and by the time you get to around NJ, it will be essentially clear all the way to Md.

  • It’s a no go, if I take a trip and have a hard departure time with no plan B then I force myself to make poor decisions and undue risk. That said, no pilot has a crystal ball, with no de-ice equipment this mission has potential for high single pilot workload. Make the trip with improved weather.

  • It is doable, I’m Multi IFR rated and have flown and taught. I would have at least another plan. With passengers, well comfort has to be considered. Strong winds considered and the final question is and always is “Is it really necessary”

  • Its a bit of a late start for me especially considering one is taking off into the teeth of a cold front with all its uncertainty, not to mention high head winds that, when coupled with the need to fly close or at Va due to turbulence will make for a longer flight ( closer to 5 hours?) and endurance of both plane and pilot is a concern.
    I have no experience with in flight weather but my understanding there is still a lag with datalink weather ( corrections please), so flying below and under/into possible convective weather at night without some visual real time awareness of cloud formation and location would be of concern.
    I would delay until after breakfast next day and reassess.

  • No Go for me: too many variables that are too close to the limits; strong headwinds, rain, icing, turbulence. any one of which, if slightly off forecast, presents significant risk. one of those “better on the ground wishing…” scenarios.

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