After a long weekend visiting family in Syracuse, New York, the weather forecast might cut your stay short. Can you get home from SYR to Leesburg, Virginia (JYO) today, before the rain and snow move in from the west? Read the weather forecast below and tell us what you would do.
Your airplane today is a Beech Baron, which you have over 500 hours in now, and the trip should take just over 90 minutes. The airplane is well equipped with an autopilot, datalink weather, and updated avionics, plus deice boots on the wings and hot props—but it is not a “known ice” airplane. You are instrument rated and current. Departure time is 16:30Z.
There’s a lot of green and blue to the west of your route, which supports the forecast for a wintry mix in the DC area tonight and tomorrow.
The surface analysis shows a low moving in from the west, with a warm front extending out to the east. It’s no surprise where all that weather is coming from, but right now your route looks well east of it.
The 12-hour prog chart, valid around your ETA in Virginia, shows that low moving east but still mostly over Ohio and West Virginia.
By tonight, the rain and snow will move in—so later in the day is definitely not any better.
Radar and satellite
The radar doesn’t show much along your route, with just a few scattered showers over western Pennsylvania.
The visible satellite shows fairly solid clouds over New York and Pennsylvania.
The infrared satellite adds a little more detail, showing thicker clouds over Pennsylvania but clearing up into Virginia.
The cloud forecast seems to disagree with some of that satellite image, with tops into the flight levels.
It sure looks like in-flight icing is the main threat today, with solid clouds and cold temperatures typical of a December day. A good place to start is with AIRMETs, and sure enough there is an AIRMET for icing from the surface to 6000 feet.
That’s good for a quick glance, but today’s graphical icing forecasts offer much more precise information. The Icing (US) layer in ForeFlight allows you to pick a forecast time (below we’ve chosen 30 minutes after your ETD) and altitude, then display icing severity on the map. First up is the map for 10,000 feet—a typical cruising altitude in the Baron. It shows a clear route, but with ice to the west.
For more details, especially real world comments from pilots, it’s essential to read the Pilot Reports (PIREPs). There are five that might be helpful today. First, a Beech just north of Syracuse reported light mixed icing below 6,000 feet—which would support the icing charts above.
Just south of Syracuse it’s the same story: light icing at 6,000 feet and below.
Further along your route, south of Elmira, a regional jet reported light rime at 4,600 feet.
Further to the west of your route, closer to all that precipitation, a Caravan reported tops at 6,800 feet—an encouraging sign.
Moving down into Maryland, a Cirrus reported cloud bases at 4,700 feet and light rime in the clouds.
That last thing to check is the text weather reports. Syracuse is doing a great impression of New York in December: it’s overcast and snowing, but at least it’s above approach minimums and it’s also forecast to lift soon.
En route, cloud bases seem to be about 3,500 or 4,000 feet, with good visibility and no precipitation.
Weather at Leesburg is good VFR and forecast to stay that way until late tonight.
The FBO is on speed dial—what do you do? It’s certainly not a beautiful day to fly, but that’s exactly why you have the Baron. It looks like you might be on top by 6,000 or 7,000 feet today, with just a brief descent through clouds in Virginia. It’s also not going to be any better tonight or tomorrow. But then again, the forecast shows plenty of potential for icing today, it’s IFR at Syracuse, and you are sort of racing bad weather. Does that equal three strikes?
Add a comment below and tell us what you would do.