Just as the weather forecasters have been warning for a week, Hurricane Ian is bearing down on Florida. You’ve been watching with interest from your home on the east coast of the state, and the latest projection shows it moving right up the heart of Florida.
Your wife is already in Montgomery, Alabama, staying with family—now it’s time for you to make a decision. You can get in the car and drive 8-10 hours to meet her, or you can get in your A36 Bonanza and fly 2.5 hours. You’d obviously rather do the latter, but will Mother Nature cooperate? Read the weather forecast below and tell us if you would make the flight. You are IFR current and the proposed departure time is 2130Z on Tuesday.
The Maps page in ForeFlight shows the unmistakeable shape of a hurricane, centered about 80 miles southwest of Key West. The outer bands are already dumping rain on Florida.
The driving force behind that weather is no mystery, but a review of the surface analysis shows that at least there isn’t anything else going on closer to your destination. In fact, the weather north of Florida looks quite good.
The prog chart shows the hurricane coming on shore tomorrow morning, with the accompanying wind and rain.
By Thursday morning, it looks like Ian will park itself over central Florida. It’s going to be a wet week.
Hurricanes obviously bring rain, but how much of it will be thunderstorms? There is a Convective SIGMET over the Florida Keys, and an outlook over much of the rest of the state.
The regional radar shows mostly green and yellow, but there is a line of red north of Tampa.
A look at the satellite images can be helpful when evaluating potential storms. First, a look at the infrared satellite image. North Florida shows lower cloud tops, but there is much nastier stuff headed your way.
The visible satellite image shows roughly the same thing.
Ice and turbulence
Beyond storms, is there any ice in those clouds? Fortunately the answer looks like no. Freezing levels are in the mid-teens, well above your typical cruising altitude.
Backing that up, there are no AIRMETs for icing anywhere in the Southeast US.
But what about turbulence, something that hurricanes are famous for kicking up? There are some AIRMETs for turbulence, but along your route they are all in the flight levels.
A check of the graphical turbulence forecast seems to back this up: at 9000 feet, it looks like a mostly smooth ride.
Time to get granular. What do the METARs and TAFs show along your route? At MLB, the forecast is quite colorful (in a bad way), but current conditions look pretty benign.
En route, it looks like you could actually fly VFR with nothing more than a scattered layer around 6000 feet.
Your destination shows CAVU conditions and it’s forecast to stay that way. Then again, that’s why you’re headed there—to get away from bad weather.
In changing conditions, pilot reports become especially valuable. There are a few around this afternoon, but most look promising. Near your departure airport, an Airbus reported no turbulence during its descent.
Just north of Orlando, another Airbus reported a smooth ride at 2500 feet.
Further along your route, a Learjet reported clear skies at 10,000 feet on the north side of that line of possible storms.
The sun is getting lower in the sky, so it’s time to make a decision. While the idea of racing a hurricane seems a little foolish, the weather conditions don’t look quite as bad as they did at first glance. There is a lot of rain out there, and some storms are mixed in there for good measure, but there might be a path out of the Orlando area. Once north of Ocala it looks like you’d have clear skies and a smooth ride. Can you get out before Ian drops the hammer?
Add your comment below and tell us what you would do.
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I would launch, but rather than follow the direct route I would track north initially over Crescent City, east of the restricted areas, then turn northwest to my destination. I think that would get me farther away from the line of convective activity north of Tampa, with good weather most of the way.
Relatively easy choice to go. Definitely don’t dawdle. And to avoid what might be convective activity, consider filing over KSFB or farther north. Also if there’s O2 onboard, might consider flying in the low teens so any convective activity could be more easily seen.
As a recent Private Pilot and lessons learned from the JFK Jr. accident, I would consult first with my CFII if available to get feedback. I would agree about an initial NNW track towards KDED knowing that the risk is much higher on the northern outer band of the hurricane for tornadoes. There were also a number of PIREPs on a direct course. Also the more Northern course initially was more VFR conditions, and for me if I am going to be bumped around due to wind and gusts, I would rather that be in VFR conditions and not IFR.
I began my corporate career in the mid 1980’s when calling the local FSS was the ONLY source of preflight WX prep and I always hoped that I had written down all of the data I needed to navigate the weather ahead. Sometimes I remember having to ask for “block” altitudes because I could not maintain my assigned altitude plus or minus 2000 feet due to flying into storms I had no way of seeing. I was in a Piper Comanche 250. The tools we have to give us the guidance we need to safely make these go/nogo choices still amaze me and I would also, based upon what you have shown me, elect to go using the same suggested northerly direction before turning westward. I live in Columbia SC and have often had to make similar decisions regarding weather and continually am grateful for the technology we have today to help with this decision-making process. It is crucial, however, to know to use these tools properly. I would like to ask; was your home and home airport spared the brunt of the storm damage?
I share the opinion of Mr. Mark W Sletten and Mr. Larry F Baum.
If I had a Sharpie, I’d give Ian an unexpected immediate sharp turn to the East, and then fly a perfectly normal and safe path up the state; no problem at all …
Launch but don’t delay to preserve options. File IFR for sure so that you have ATC guidance and not relying on ADS-B for tactical penetration. Make sure the tanks are full both for options if you have to divert and also a heavier plane does better in turbulent air. Hurricane aside, the WX in northern FL is pretty standard for summer flying in the state.