Route overview
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No matter how often your instrument instructor told you to look beyond the radar image, you still start every preflight planning session with a look at the green and yellow on ForeFlight’s Maps page. Unfortunately, today’s map looks quite colorful, with rain all over the eastern half of the US. That could be a problem, since you’re trying to fly your Mooney 201 from your home in Richmond, VA (RIC), to Charleston, SC (JZI), for a family vacation. The flight would take just over two hours, and you’re both instrument rated and proficient so IFR is the plan. ETD is 21:30Z.

Read the forecast below and tell us if it’s a go or a no go.


The Maps tab in ForeFlight does indeed show a lot of rain, both around your departure airport and in South Carolina. But most of it is green.

Route overview

The surface analysis doesn’t shed much light on the situation—but at least there’s not a massive cold front?

Surface analysis chart

The prog charts show worsening conditions overnight, but the heaviest rain and storms seem to stay west of your route.

12-hour prog chart

Tomorrow morning is maybe even worse, so delaying (usually a good option in summer) isn’t necessarily a better idea.

24-hour prog chart

Radar and satellite

All that precipitation demands more investigation, so next you look at the regional radar images. First is the northeast, which shows lots of rain around Richmond but more scattered showers in North Carolina.

Radar mid-Atlantic

Closer to your destination there is definitely some convection, but so far it appears to be well to the west and south of Charleston.

Southeast radar

The visible satellite image doesn’t help much—there are definitely clouds, but that’s about all you can see.

Satellite image
The infrared satellite shows a bit more detail, suggesting the clouds are fairly thick in the Carolinas.
Infrared satellite


The age old question: is all that rain convective or just a free airplane wash?  There is a Convective SIGMET near your destination, so that’s worth watching.


The only other AIRMETs are for high level turbulence.


The cloud forecast offers some hope, though: bases along the coast look to be pretty high, with tops only in the low 20s.


Icing shouldn’t be a major concern given those high clouds, and the freezing level chart is even better news. Even if you did find clouds at 8000 or 10,000 feet, it looks like you would be well above freezing.

Freezing level chart

Text weather

There are very few pilot reports along your route today. Other than a report of light icing at 16,000 feet (well above your typical cruise altitude), the only PIREP is near Florence, SC, from a Piper reporting a 3000 foot ceiling and 10 miles of visibility below.


Weather in Richmond is overcast but definitely not IFR—at least for now. The forecast calls for lowering ceilings overnight.

En route weather varies from good VFR to marginal, but in southern Virginia the weather is quite good—even under the green radar returns.
Further along, in Fayetteville, North Carolina, the weather is still excellent. It looks like you could remain VFR at 6000 feet.
Closer to your destination, the weather isn’t quite as good but it’s still above VFR minimums.
Your destination is severe clear, and forecast to stay that way until tomorrow morning.

Decision time

The radar image looks ugly, but almost everything else looks great. There seems to be no ice, turbulence, or IFR ceilings along your entire route. There might be some rain, but it does not look to be convective. And yet… some red cells to the west of your route and to the south of your destination look more threatening. Might they become a factor?

It’s time to make the go or no go call. Add your comment below and tell us what you would do (and why).

John Zimmerman
26 replies
  1. Tom
    Tom says:

    I think this is definitely a go for me. Look for some airports short of the destination in case the weather moves in quicker than anticipated, keep a close eye on the nexrad from FIS-B to make sure convection isn’t starting along the route, and keep tabs on the METAR at the destination while in-flight, and it should be a low-stress flight.

  2. Joe Grimes
    Joe Grimes says:

    It does sound flyable.
    A good reminder that in some parts of the country green-radar doesn’t mean yellow and red is right behind.
    Out on the high plains of New Mexico, Texas and Colorado, it seems that most of the time we get all the colors, if we get anything.
    Thanks for the scenario.

  3. Jeff
    Jeff says:

    I would definitely go. That said, instead of direct I would file RIC-CRE-JZI. The tops at FL300 of showers around Gamecock are troubling and could become convective so I would rather have the option of going to CRE and if necessary, could take advantage of low MEA’s to stay VFR and avoid imbedded Tstorms. Watch those towers just north of KLRO though!

  4. Sam L
    Sam L says:

    This would be a go. As a matter of fact, I frequently fly routes similar to this with a similar radar picture. As long as I have good high bases and can avoid icing, this looks like a decent, smooth, cool day to fly!

  5. David Baker
    David Baker says:

    It’s all about information, the aircraft capabilities and the pilot’s experience and capabilities are important factors in making a go/no-go decision. For me in my airplane this is a Go decision. If I was flying a different plane with less capability I may decide not to go.

  6. Dan O.
    Dan O. says:

    I guess I’ve grown chicken in my old age. I had a wx report similar to all this in the mid 80s as I was trying to fly to Oshkosh in my Lance for a family vacation. The position of the highs and lows plus 2 troughs with everything in the USA moving SE eventually would scare me, and a family vacation? Not a million $$ payday? I’d say drive, not fly. Why beg disaster?

  7. Vince pangia
    Vince pangia says:

    Yes it’s flyable, but why not delay for better weather. This is a beach vacation so why go IFR just to sit there for 2 days in the rain.

  8. Doug
    Doug says:

    Looks like a safe trip for a couple of proficient IFR fliers where CRM will be useful if plans need to change while enroute. With the freezing level way above 6000′ and observed convection well to the west, it appears the most difficult aspect of this trip will be some IMC during departure and arrival, and maybe some enroute. Always consider deviations from planned route, but the Mooney should have plenty of extra fuel for that. And, “flyable” IMC is an experience builder. I say let’s GO.

  9. John
    John says:

    This would be a go for me personally, in my aircraft, and especially with another current IFR pilot in the right seat. The planning has revealed several ‘outs’ if the weather forecasters are too far off their game today. However, as a previous poster wisely pointed out, it’s supposed to be for a family beach vacation and I seriously doubt we’d see anything beyond the four walls of a hotel room for awhile once we got there. This would make me evaluate whether other activity options, such as a dinner reservation at The Ordinary for some oysters and barbecue shrimp, make this particular flight a good idea.

  10. Hyde
    Hyde says:

    A good bit of this flight may be in IMC so the concern is obviously all about finding yourself unexpectedly in convection. You won’t be able to get over the weather to see the towering cells so you’ll be making decisions inside IMC. Without on board radar it’s not enough to know where the weather was – you need to know where it is now and how fast it’s moving

    I’d be concerned about the cells over GA that are along the stationary front you’ll be crossing as you cross the NC / SC state line. They are moving east and so it depends on how fast and how stable the atmosphere is along that front. The infrared shows very cold tops in the bottom left corner where those cells are – also a concern if they are moving faster than your flight plan accounts for.

    Look at some skew-t’s to get a sense of stability. Read the forecast discussion to get a sense of probabilities (the VCSH in the TAF at 0400 is a hedge for convection… but it’s several hours from now). Talk to a briefer. Have some outs and alternates. If you’re going to launch have every expectation that you may be landing somewhere other than your planned destination and consider that part of the adventure.

  11. thumper
    thumper says:

    this is typical weather in the SE US in summer. sometimes it looks worse than it is, sometimes not. have a good alternate and launch. Based on the info, high probability you fly in the clear most of the trip. lots of choices to the east of course if it gets uncomfortable.

  12. José Serra
    José Serra says:

    In spite of the whole efforts of weather forecast You’ve mentioned, there is a thing that, IMHO, lacks me. How about the possible divert options nearby the JZI? Without that knowledge, and considering that the worst weather is nearly JZI, I wouldn’t go.

  13. Monty
    Monty says:

    As an Instrument instructor and having flown in this area for a long time, the Author’s information is well thought out and presented …. the one decision that is always critical in my plane is what the ‘family’ thinks about flying in and out of the soup … this is a ‘family’ vacation so that would need to be discussed

  14. Adam N. Buchman
    Adam N. Buchman says:

    I am a new Pilot and not instrument rated, however, I did enjoy the walk through of how you would get to a decision. This was an interesting read for me. Thanks

  15. Steve Kuemmerle
    Steve Kuemmerle says:

    I use my IFR ticket to get above, below, or shortly through IMC. I would not go unless I could file IFR, get to cruise VFR and spot potential build ups. This trip would seem to qualify, but I’d worry about the area around KJZI, especially that angry looking bit of orange to the SW. Perhaps a GO if I were flying a donor organ, but not my family for a vacation.

  16. Mike wyman
    Mike wyman says:

    Consideration needs to be given to pilot experience and capability. I’m also going on the assumption that the aircraft is also sufficiently equipped for potential severe IFR. Would definitely plot alternate airports along the route should the weather expectations not cooperate and a quick diversion becomes necessary.

  17. Thomas
    Thomas says:

    Go. Ceilings are high enough except for the last segment of the route where they drop down. At this point, left/right diversions to snake around the buildup or a diversion to the east.

  18. Larry F Baum
    Larry F Baum says:

    As others have said, this is very typical weather for summer in the southeast. The plane has the capability as does the pilot for reasonable flight in IMC. Departure and destination weather looks VFR. And there are outs all along the route. The is a very doable flight.

  19. Jeff Uphoff
    Jeff Uphoff says:

    This is a definite go for me with the in-flight weather feeds (XM, ADS-B) that are now available for keeping a close eye on the weather en route. I’ve flown a very similar route between locations in Virginia and Savannah, GA frequently in various Mooneys over the past 20+ years, and there are a lot of good outs along the way–diverting inland to Columbia, up the coast toward Wilmington, back north to Raleigh, etc. The only real worry here appears to be the possibility that convection might develop, and that’s just an everyday thing in the southeastern summer. The money spent on in-flight weather equipment and data feeds pays for itself almost immediately in peace of mind there.

  20. David Vancina
    David Vancina says:

    The Aviation Forecast Discussion should is a must read for me in a situation like this. Learning what’s in the forecaster’s head that isn’t in the TAF is priceless. (And for my money, does a better job briefing a trip than anything else out there.)

  21. Don W.
    Don W. says:

    Am I missing something? What’s the problem? You’re rated and current to fly in the clouds aren’t you? John, you neglected to mention a couple of things that would be important to me. (1) Does the Mooney J have a capable autopilot? (2) Will you have an updated radar picture available during the flight (to watch for developing convective activity)? If yes to both, the flight should be an easy one. Tell the kids to go potty and let’s get going… Oh and what are we doing for ground transportation once we get there???

  22. Steve Yucht
    Steve Yucht says:

    Given you are IFR proficient and not just current I’d go. You should be watching NEXRAD at your destination from the moment you get in cruise with a plan to divert if those convective cells get too close for comfort without being able to get around them. I would file Myrtle Beach as an alternate so the family can enjoy any diversion layover. As others have said, the biggest issue in this case is less about the actual weather since convection is unlikely or should be easy to avoid if ATC is helping and you have NEXRAD, but the family’s comfort with flying in IMC. That differs for everyone and plays a critical role in their willingness to fly again in the weather. Lastly, you should have at least one hour of fuel reserve (I know the FAR says 45 min) but if you need to slow down or speed up to get a cell to pass at your destination it’s good to have options that don’t add to your stress.


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