Radar overview

Living in Arizona, you make it a habit to land by noon in the summertime—after that, the heat of the desert often leads to turbulence or thunderstorms. That’s not an option today, since it’s already 12:30pm local time, but it’s close. Ideally you’d like to fly from Scottsdale, Arizona (SDL), to Las Vegas, Nevada (VGT), before things get too sporty. The flight in your well-equipped Turbo Cessna 310 should take just under 1 hour and 30 minutes en route. You are instrument rated and proficient, so IFR is an option but it’s not always required in this part of the country.

Read the weather briefing below and tell us if it’s a go or a no go for you. Estimated time of departure is 2000Z.

Overview

The main Maps page in ForeFlight shows some storms in the area, but the worst of it looks to be north of your route. There might be a path here, so you keep digging.

Radar overview

The surface analysis doesn’t show much, just a weak low sitting over southern Nevada.

Surface analysis

The 12-hour prog chart shows scattered rain and storms over most of the southwestern US this afternoon.

Convection

Storms seem to be the number one concern today, so that’s the first place to look for more data. Sure enough, there are a handful of Convective SIGMETs in the area.

The short range convective forecast shows a little more detail—there are some expected storms, but not a solid line.

The regional radar image confirms what the pretty ForeFlight map shows: a large mass of storms over northern Arizona, with a few scattered cells to the west.

Radar

Clouds

This looks like a day where staying out of the clouds is a good idea, whether they’re on radar or not. The infrared satellite image reinforces the radar image: vertical development to the north, with lower clouds to the west.

infrared satellite

The visible satellite is always worth a look too, for a clue as to how those clouds “look” in real life.

The profile view in ForeFlight shows that you should be above freezing at most typical cruise altitudes and probably out of the clouds too (at least below about 16,000 feet).

icing

Finally, the cloud forecast product adds some detail, suggesting a layer starting around 14,000 feet with tops well into the flight levels.

Cloud forecast

Text weather

That’s the big picture; what about conditions at your departure and destination? Scottsdale is showing great weather and it’s forecast to stay that way—just remember the heat.

SDL

En route, conditions are good VFR but there is rain in the area of Kingman, Arizona.

en route

At your destination, the weather is likewise quite good, but the TAF is warning of possible thunderstorms near your arrival time.

VGT

Decision time

You’re at the airport, so it’s time to decide: is it a go or a no go? On the one hand, this is pretty typical weather in the Southwest, with scattered storms but good VFR underneath and gaps between the major cells. On the other hand, the heat of the day is still building and storms and form rapidly in the afternoon.

Add your comment below and explain what you would do.

Ready to check your work? If you’ve already added a comment, see how the weather developed by 2120Z: radar image, satellite image, and the METAR at VGT.

Latest posts by John Zimmerman (see all)
33 replies
  1. Jim Ruttler
    Jim Ruttler says:

    No go for me. I’ve flown that route in similar marginal conditions and it was probably safe but very uncomfortable and stressful. I’d wait until the next morning early AM if possible.

    Reply
  2. Enderson Rafael Teixeira dos Santos
    Enderson Rafael Teixeira dos Santos says:

    Go. But without taking chances. My biggest concern would be the high winds on the arrival airport: some good alternates around with a more steady and slower wind would be useful – I am assuming you (or me) are flying an airplane you are super comfortable with. The storms in the way, as long as you have fuel, would be likely easy to dodge on a speedy C310. But I might wanna hear what Jim has to say and have another beer tonight in SDL.

    Reply
  3. Ted D
    Ted D says:

    “Go west if you go”. I live locally, and deal with this all summer. These storms are nasty and violent, and will go from being something small and regional to big and nasty. And they tend to build- if they look like this at noon, by 2 PM they will be double. And it’s nearly impossible to fly over them, unless you are in a jet.
    The route to take is west-north-west to Lake Havasu (KHII), then north up the Colorado River and over Lake Mead to Vegas. Most experienced GA pilots here do not go direct to Vegas at any time- too much high terrain and weather, and very few options if you have an issue. The weather on the charts seem to dictate that as the safer weather choice (not surprisingly).
    I would not go, as a “for fun” GA pilot. This is a risky flight, and no matter what would be extremely unpleasant (as Jim R says). If i fly in the summer it is “wheels up at 6 AM”.
    The bit about having an instrument rating is a red herring- you do NOT fly through these summer clouds, or even close to them, or you’ll find your wings and your fuselage hitting the ground at different locations.

    Reply
  4. Luke Squitiro
    Luke Squitiro says:

    In this situation, I’m definitely going:
    1.) The airplane can handle it even if you must punch right through those thunderstorms. I would check the weather once, put the autopilot on direct to, and never have another look.
    2.) I have nerves of steel so there is no chance any situation up there will diminish my skills.
    3.) I’ve never not gone, no matter the weather. I check it once and find my way; but must go 100% of the time. That’s the way I roll.
    4.) Level 5 precip, 50 knot crosswinds, sever turbulence, heavy icing, 150 degree heat? Does not matter, hang at the destination; you’ll see my beacon.

    Reply
  5. Tim
    Tim says:

    It’s a no go for me. I know of a person in a King Air that got caught in a thunder storm in Florida and didn’t make it because of hail. It’s better to be on the ground wishing you were flying, then in the air wishing you where on the ground. Food for thought!!

    Reply
  6. Neil Goldman
    Neil Goldman says:

    “Go or No Go” is a checklist question that should be asked for every flight no matter the conditions. However, if there is any real question as to “Go or “No Go” the answer should be “No Go.” At all costs, avoid getthereitis. None of us are flying serum to a dying child in the dead of a stormy night.

    Reply
    • Stu
      Stu says:

      Some of us are searching for the lost and missing on days like this. Every flight is a NoGo if you are unable to accept any risk, are nonproficiency, or unwilling to implement risk controls and contingency plans.

      Reply
  7. Allen Mathews
    Allen Mathews says:

    Go. Typical IFR departures are north to PRC. If winds aloft are from the southwest then the storms around PRC may stay north of the route. If Luke’s training areas are not active, you may get to go direct before PRC. If that’s too many “If’s”, don’t go.

    Reply
  8. Tom E.
    Tom E. says:

    I am a Student Pilot but Ilive in Phoenix and even I know the weather gets worse in the afternoons. Definite No-Go. I would just go home and relax.

    Reply
  9. Craig Covello
    Craig Covello says:

    It’s a no go for me. I just completed a trip last week in my Cherokee from California to Texas. Riding right seat was one of my sons who is training to be a commercial pilot. There were some thunderstorms building in New Mexico around noon. ATC was giving me suggested vectors which matched with the delayed ADS-B weather information on my iPad, but we opted to divert to Sedona. It was a good decision. Shortly after landing, some of the storm cells moved across the airport and the wind picked up significantly. It was glad to be on the ground. And there are much worse places to be stuck overnight than Sedona. What a beautiful place.

    Reply
  10. José Serra
    José Serra says:

    For me is a definitely a no go. I don’t have enough data of the weather in nearby airports around the route that could help me build up alternated options. I don’t like
    dodging thunderstorms, even possible ones. The mostly southern forecasted wind is something we can’t rely on in that region in summer.

    Reply
  11. Russell Hustead
    Russell Hustead says:

    Looks like you can go, but there is a good chance you’ll be drinking beer in California at the end of the day. Or you will end up returning to Scottsdale.. Always keep a good VFR alternate. Always have Plan B.

    Reply
  12. Mike DeBry
    Mike DeBry says:

    I’ve flown a lot in this area. I can almost guarantee a rough ride, so for me a no go based on comfort. From a safety standpoint it’s doable as long as you accept you may have to deviate for several hours or overnight at another airport and there are lots of options, kingman, Havasu, Laughlin, Sedona

    Reply
  13. Lamberto
    Lamberto says:

    Not familiar with the terrain in that area. I’m not used to flying a turbo aircraft. So, no go for me. If I was a local and familiar with the aircraft then I might go up if I can keep a VFR alternate near for the entire route…

    Reply
  14. Andrew Bird
    Andrew Bird says:

    No go for me. Looks like you will likely be spending time diverted somewhere or back at departure point so why risk it.

    Reply
  15. Byron Huff
    Byron Huff says:

    I would go but not with the direct routing that has been shown. I’d fly at 10-12K ft to stay out of the clouds and be able to visually see what the weather is doing. I like to see the towering cumulus building and be able to visually stay clear. I’d also proceed to Gila Bend, Yuma (Bard), and then north into North Las Vegas. Less activity out to the west and several places to land if things got dicey. Pick up an enroute IFR. if necessary.

    Reply
  16. Marc Bourget
    Marc Bourget says:

    Flying to OSH in 1976, for the start of Don Taylor’s homebuilt RTW flight, while passing through this area, we watched from a Cherokee 6 while Don punched through a Thunderstorm cell, ostensibly, to test his windshield sealing.

    The T-18 is a sturdy bird!

    Reply
  17. James Callahan
    James Callahan says:

    This is a go. As an Arizonan I fly through these conditions somewhat often in my Bonanza. I think one of the keys to making this decision is tracking storm movement and speed. Sometimes thunderstorms just park themselves over higher terrain and build, other times they are racing along their path. I use MyRadar to find storm movement and size details while on the ground, and couple that info with XM Weather and ADSB weather while in the sky. Assuming the storms are moving SW in this example, I would elongate my flight path to the south to stay away from the cells. In my experience you can get pretty close to the cells in the late morning/noon time period during their growth phase without them being a threat. In the afternoon at the hottest time of the day is a different story, especially when the cells are starting to dissipate. We live with turbulence out here. You just get used to it. This wouldn’t be a comfortable flight, but definitely safe. Now if the OP was flying to the Grand Canyon in this example, we would have a different story!

    Reply
  18. Benjamin Eveland
    Benjamin Eveland says:

    Delay to an early flight the following day. If you choose to go you may have an okay experience and you will use that “okay” experience to rationalize your next risky venture. These types of TS in this area can pop up anywhere fast. Visibility going under can go to zero and you’re in rough terrain. Staying high and flying around the cells is risky and take you for the ride of your life, probably terrifying your passengers. If you decide to go, have a alternative plan and don’t be afraid to use it. Best bet, wait till morning, a guaranteed good flight.

    Reply
  19. Dan
    Dan says:

    Definitely a go…. Although, to each his own,..

    As long as you have in flight weather (preferably XM), it’s a go. If you don’t have inflight weather, go get it.

    Reply
  20. Alan Michael Dias
    Alan Michael Dias says:

    Been flying for over forty years. The basic rule I follow is simple – when in doubt – don’t. No go.

    Reply
  21. MICHAEL KLEIN
    MICHAEL KLEIN says:

    I ascribe to Rod Machado’s admonition of., “ If it doesn’t feel right don’t go.” This has been my mantra for 36 years of flying singles and multi-engines. I simply do not understand those who think they can control the weather and allow testosterone to CLOUD their thinking.

    Reply
  22. Jose C
    Jose C says:

    I would go based on the following reasons.
    The flight is within half an hour of the detailed granular weather charts that you provided. As per the charts it seems the weather is moving from the NE. The airplane will be traveling at around 180 KIAS. I would plan on flying @ 12k feet and fly east of KIGM, allowing the cells that are presently over that airport to continue their SW movement.
    I feel that every one should evaluate their reason for the flight, weather knowledge and capabilities of their plane before considering a go scenario.
    I’m from South Florida and have to deal with this sort of weather practically all summer, and I fly a capable airplane that can climb above most of the weather. l
    Like someone commented, if in doubt please don’t go.

    Reply

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