Weather overview
4 min read

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.

Overview

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.

Weather overview

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.

surface analysis

The 12-hour prog chart, valid around your ETA in Virginia, shows that low moving east but still mostly over Ohio and West Virginia.

12-hour prog

By tonight, the rain and snow will move in—so later in the day is definitely not any better.

18-hour prog

Radar and satellite

The radar doesn’t show much along your route, with just a few scattered showers over western Pennsylvania.

Radar

The visible satellite shows fairly solid clouds over New York and Pennsylvania.

visible satellite

The infrared satellite adds a little more detail, showing thicker clouds over Pennsylvania but clearing up into Virginia.

Infrared satellite

The cloud forecast seems to disagree with some of that satellite image, with tops into the flight levels.

Cloud forecast

Icing

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.

AIRMET icing

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.

Icing 10,000 feet

Here’s the view at 6,000 feet, which shows more icing, especially in Pennsylvania.
Icing 6,000 feet
At 3,000 feet there is ice by your departure, but not by your destination.
3,000 feet icing
That’s a look at the severity of icing. What about how likely that icing is to develop? For that, jump over to the Imagery tab and choose the icing probability charts. At 9,000 feet it looks like you are ice-free along your route.
Icing probability 9,000
At 7,000 feet you may find some ice near Syracuse, but it looks like you’ll either be on top or too cold for ice along most of your flight.
Icing probability 7,000 feet
By 5,000 feet, there’s a lot more chance for ice.
Icing probability 5,000

PIREPs

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.

PIREP 1

Just south of Syracuse it’s the same story: light icing at 6,000 feet and below.

PIREP 2

Further along your route, south of Elmira, a regional jet reported light rime at 4,600 feet.

PIREP 3

Further to the west of your route, closer to all that precipitation, a Caravan reported tops at 6,800 feet—an encouraging sign.

PIREP 5

Moving down into Maryland, a Cirrus reported cloud bases at 4,700 feet and light rime in the clouds.

PIREP 4

Text weather

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.

SYR weather

En route, cloud bases seem to be about 3,500 or 4,000 feet, with good visibility and no precipitation.

En route METARs

Weather at Leesburg is good VFR and forecast to stay that way until late tonight.

JYO weather

Decision time

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.

John Zimmerman
Latest posts by John Zimmerman (see all)
23 replies
  1. mike harper
    mike harper says:

    Not a pilot. Just pilot adjacent – my wife is the pilot of a 172.
    I think a Barron is the kind of airplane that can get you in a whole outhouse full of trouble.
    What do you do when the engine quits at cruise?
    As the kids say sh*t happens.
    It will be interesting to see what real pilots say.

    Reply
  2. RJ
    RJ says:

    Interesting thoughts here. If the forecast is true, then you may be able to climb to 6000-7000 and be out of whatever weather is out there and in the clear. 9000 would probably be a better option.

    However, who hasn’t been in weather that wasn’t forecast…every pilot in the room should raise their hand!

    If I were in this situation, with a Baron (great airplane), I’d probably go, but keeping a very close eye on alternates and wouldn’t hesitate for a second to divert if I needed to, but knowing that south is better.

    Reply
  3. Larry F Baum
    Larry F Baum says:

    Well equipped Baron and a pilot with plenty of time in it. Forecast mixed light icing, mostly below 6000′ and there are likely layers. Better to the east with generally warmer and better weather the farther south you go. I’d file for 10K and consider stopping at 8K or so depending on the layers/actual tops.

    Reply
  4. feed
    feed says:

    i run into this kind of scenario a lot living in a central pa – winter weather isn’t kind to the unprepared. by prepared i mean having several exit options. i’d get on top asap and look toward the east if conditions deteriorate and i’d tanker two extra hours of fuel. central pa has some low mountains that could pose an issue if you decide to fly below the clouds if the forecast isn’t as advertised and your picking up ice at your cruise altitude. having boots and a hot prop would most likely get you to your destination if you encounter mod icing. as an aside, i’m rather icing averse as i picked up about 1/2″ of clear ice in less than 5 min in the top of a cloud in the midwest once. luckily i was close to the top and climbed about 1000′ and was out of it – it happened VERY quickly, (freezing rain in sept) which surprised me as i’m more familiar w rime. if the tops were higher that day i would have had to do a 180° or hoped for breaking out before the ice got the better of me.

    Reply
  5. Roger
    Roger says:

    The problem is not enroute or arrival weather; it’s departure weather. Recent PIREPS indicate known icing. Current METAR and TAF indicate icing – it’s snowing and it’s 1ºC right now. If you could blast off and climb right up above 6,000′, you might be OK. BUT, there’s no guarantee that you could do that from both an ATC standpoint and an operational standpoint. Planning for unknown contingencies, would require taking into account the possibility of being stuck down low in the icing muck. A medical problem that requires an immediate return? A mechanical problem that requires an immediate return? An engine failure? All those things could keep you stuck down low in icing conditions – WITH an emergency on your hands.

    Better to wait this out.

    Reply
    • Troy
      Troy says:

      I’m with Roger on this one. ADM risk management put this one in as high risk in my book. “Getthereits” never has a positive outcome.

      Reply
    • John
      John says:

      I’m with Roger on this one also. In addition to his cogent points, this constitutes “known icing”, so I think departure from SYR would be a violation of FAR’s. What if a vacuum pump fails? Will the boots still work? What about tail surfaces? They’re not fully booted, in all likelihood. No windshield anti-ice—can you make an emergency landing with an iced up windshield? The odds, I admit, are that you can complete this trip without a disaster and probably without a FSDO inquiry, but why take the chance? I’ve been flying GA IFR for nearly 60 years, and have experienced my share of unpleasant surprises while doing so. I try not to set myself up for them, and have not been reluctant on rare occasions to postpone a trip.

      Reply
  6. Sal
    Sal says:

    Still learning, that’s why I’m here reading this article…. Airline Captain (787), over 21,000 hours and Cessna 421C owner. I wouldn’t go. First of all, I don’t think it’s legal if I’m reading the resources correctly. The aircraft is not “Known Icing”. Secondly, the assumption is that you can climb above the potential icing, but for those of us that have been caught before, you know that climbing may not be an option if the airplane is loaded up with ice, you may not have the performance. Will traffic above permit an instant climb if you have a rapid onset of ice accumulation?

    What is the MEA over the hills if you have to descend?

    There is a reason why it is not known icing. Are the static ports heated? Are there two pitot tubes in case the heat fails on one? Is the windshield heated if you need to make an emergency landing after a rapid onset of icing? Do you have a runway below you that is long enough to stop if you have to fly a faster approach speed? How is the braking action? Are you prepared for recovery when you extend landing flaps or know what to do if you get a sudden pitch down on short final with the deployment of full flaps?

    How accurate are the forecasts?

    So many things to think about. That’s why I continue to learn, study, read accident reports, watch videos, etc. I don’t treat my 421 the same as my 787. I’m very conservative and have memories of situations in my youth where poor decision making put me in harms way.

    I remember one situation when I was a teenager where I didn’t feel comfortable departing Chattanooga for Nashville, but I had a cocky pilot buddy with me that said, “Hey they are doing touch and go’s, what’s the problem?” He talked me into potentially flying over the Smoky Mountains in IMC with a freezing level below our planned cruising altitude in a Piper Archer. As soon as we passed about 3,000 feet, the airplane iced up, including the windshield. I had to make an emergency return and ask for help. I needed the ILS frequency right away and vectors to intercept because I couldn’t see out the window. Finally at about 900ft AGL, a small chunk of ice broke off the windshield and I could see a tiny bit forward. Then at about 400ft AGL, a little more broke off so that I could see enough to land. When we shut down, there must have been about an inch of ice on the wings and tail. I am thankful to be alive! Those guys were still in the pattern doing their touch-and-go’s. It was sprinkling, (light rain), but the temperature was just warm enough that they were not getting icing at pattern altitude.

    I learned a lot that day. One, was trust your gut! You may get lucky, but maybe you won’t. Why push it? Two, how fast ice can accumulate on the airframe and how much it impacts performance. The airplane starts to slow down for many reasons: Ice has an associated weight, the wing is no longer an efficient airfoil (even with boots), and the prop (unheated) is no longer efficient.

    You really need to be extremely careful in mountainous terrain. You may need to or be forced to descend into the terrain with the stall horn blaring!

    Please be careful out there. Flying is such a wonderful privilege but can be very unforgiving for those who are not proficient and prepared!

    Happy New Year to all! May 2024 and beyond be safe and fun-filled with beautiful sunsets and smooth landings!

    Reply
    • Mike
      Mike says:

      Great perspective! Also, good example of experience as a teacher. I also learned a LONG time ago to trust your gut, as well as realizing there are a lot big mouths that really don’t have a clue, just over confidence. ( 50 years+ airline and GA)

      Reply
  7. Tony
    Tony says:

    Unless there is an emergency I would not go. There are too many icing reports Margin of error is too narrow. Not worth the possible trouble

    Reply
  8. Low Wings
    Low Wings says:

    I hope the Baron is comfortably stored in a heated hangar at Syracuse, otherwise some engine heating should be included in the preflight planning. That said, plan for a route that will take you further east, say a heading of about 140 departing southeast out of Syracuse until about halfway to Leesburg, then direct. Initial altitude of 9,000, then up to 10,000, or down to 8,000 for the final leg.

    There is no need to tempt Mother Nature by seeing how close you can get to the nasty stuff off to the west. The farther east routing will add mere minutes to the flight, more enjoyable time in the Baron, and a nice return home.

    Reply
  9. Scott
    Scott says:

    Mmm. Assuming instrument current, mid lean towards going. Seems to be a fair number of ‘outs’. Known icing vs known icing? I can tell you, flying a FIKI 310 was a joke. It was legal, but it built up ice. I didn’t stay. This Baron is equipped for a look see. Now, change this to I don’t fly a lot of IMC, or not comfortable in the baron, I’d pass.

    But the combination of forecasts looks reasonable

    Reply
  10. José Serra
    José Serra says:

    I totally agree with Mr. Roger. But, aside his considerations, the risk of ice in several different levels and the circumstance that, as You, Mr. John Zimmerman, the Baron “it is not a ‘known ice’ airplane”, would flag me a “no go”.

    Reply
  11. DC Robinson
    DC Robinson says:

    I would also agree with Mr Roger. I’ve been in air the since 1989 and the two things that have caught my attention before every flight is icing and Thunderstorms being in the forecast for intended route. Pick another day or catch a Airliner. Have had to do this many times during my career as a commercial pilot and made some people mad but I told them I would rather them to be mad than both us dead based on a decision I made.

    Reply
  12. John Mossotti
    John Mossotti says:

    I fly in/out of the Syracuse area year-round. As it is described above, this flight would be a non-starter, in my opinion. This Baron (although a very capable aircraft as equipped), isn’t equipped for flight into known icing conditions. In addition to the forecast, there are pilot reports of ice. Thus, prohibiting a launch in the eyes of the FAA and the NTSB, (should everything not go perfectly and there was a mishap). Not to mention your insurance company, who is always looking for a reason NOT to pay. It’s simply Best to have a plane that’s certified for these conditions, if you want/need to make these kind of trips. I do, so I chose to purchase one that is certified, enabling much more utility.

    Reply
  13. Chris
    Chris says:

    I would wait. “Probably be okay” is a red flag. I think that I’d be much happier on the ground waiting for this to pass and travel on a better day, after the rain and snow have passed. Rain, and the possibility of freezing rain is no match for a piston plane be it FIKI, almost FIKI or not. I have flow capable aircraft, jets, and know that this is not truly a
    “capable” plane in this type of weather. It’s more of a plane equipped with emergency outs if you get into a mess due to poor planning.

    Reply
  14. Joe C
    Joe C says:

    Would not even consider it. If I’ve read the weather correctly it appears that you’ll be in icing conditions right after takeoff. Even though you have boots on the wings, it’s too risky to fly in this kind of weather in a light twin.

    Reply
  15. Rob
    Rob says:

    After three times through the charts it would be no go for me. I have over 2,000 hours on Barons (E55 and 58s) as a medivac pilot and am used to flying in worse conditions if need be, but there is no need here.

    When I first read through the information I was of a mind to go, but with a route planed via Ithaca, further east. But I got that nagging feeling that I missed something. So on second reading it was the certainty that you would begin to pick up ice about a minute and a half after take off and that would continue all the way up to 6,000 feet, or six more minutes at best.

    The second main reason was confirmed on a third reading in that context; the anomaly in the cloud top forecast versus the present reports. While areas to the west and one area to the east were reporting tops into the flight levels, the forecast of a 6,000 foot top for most of the area of the intended route seemed strange. Icing was reported in all clouds to their tops in the PIREPS, so ANY increase in cloud formation means more rime icing.

    My methodolgy has always been to look for reasons not to go, and to trust both reasoning and intuition in reaching the correct decision. Which has kept me alive for fifty five years of flying, most of it in less than ideal northern Canadian conditions.

    So NO GO.

    Reply
  16. Peter Lautensack
    Peter Lautensack says:

    Living in the area (Home Base now at KFZY, 20 miles north of SYR and 10 miles south of the ice maker, Lake Ontario, this is a NoGo forecast. Too many times I or friends have tried to depart only to hit an ‘ice fog’ at 2000′ and have to scramble to get down on the ground, in any manner, mostly safely.

    Too great a risk in my Comanche, which would climb in these temperatures and pressures at ~1800 fpm, of not making it to the top successfully

    Reply

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