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Low level weather with no radar

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See you in the Wasatch!
Jan 6, 2002
I am curious what you guys do to check the weather, how often do you make a 'no go' decision, and without radar, how do you pick the best route while enroute?

If you are a night freight dog, do you just take your lumps and do your best to stay out of the worst of it? How do you avoid embedded thunderstorms? Does ATC assist?

Any insight you can provide is appreciated.

I'm always checking the radar. The weather channel runs in the background while I do stuff (like this) at home on the computer. This way, I know what is happening in most parts of the country before I even go to the airport. Once there, pireps are a good indicator of whether or not I can go, along with the most recent WSI radar update. Most of the time, the no-go decision is made over an hour before my proposed departure.

If I go, a call to flightwatch while in the air gets conditions at airports too far away to hear the ATIS, and they also have a WSI screen in front of their position, just like the "prefilght specialist" I called on the cellphone before reaching the airport.

Now that I fly in the Lear levels (compared to the Navajo levels) I have few problems with embedded thunderstorms. Most off the time, we don't take off and torture the pax with really BAD weather, and the on board wx radar lets us steer around most of the worst stuff. In the Navajo, we checked a much as possible for the presence of embedded TS, and waited until the threat was less intense, in the pilot's lounge.
Last August, I flew a 182 from Austin to L.A.. I realized that if I wanted to fly at all in the afternoons while passing through NM and Arizona, I'd have to get used to flying around thunderstorms.

Getting as much weather information as you can before you depart is obviously a good idea, but if you're flying a long leg - things can change while you're up there. On my El Paso to Tucson leg, a bunch of convective activity popped up along the route. It wasn't embedded, though - so you can see what you've got in front of you. A few other airliners were sharing the center frequency with me, and the ones also travelling to the Phoenix or Tucson area were dodging the same stuff I was. It was helpful to listen to them negotiate with ATC to get an idea of where the clear paths were. I used Flight Watch on Com 2 as well - they were very helpful, and between Center, Flight Watch, and my own eyes, I got through to the Tucson area without much hassle.

Tucson's approach control had some level of weather information, as they were calling out areas of heavy rain and movement to me as I arrived. But they admitted themselves over the frequency that it wasn't the greatest in the world.

So there are other things out there to help you enroute with no radar, but I'd consider all of these sources of information to be secondary to your eyes. I also mentally told myself constantly that I would turn around and go a different route if anything at all started going South, or land at an alternate. I really tried to force myself not to fall victim to get-there-itis and squeeze myself between two cells that are a little close. Having a plane with plenty of fuel (my 182 had 8 hours worth) also increases the number of options you have.

Good luck!
Stay low 3-4k feet and go direct destanation. At that altitude you can usually stay out of the worst of it and see what is out there if you want to go around anything. Now at night if you are IMC it is harder because when it lightnings you don't know where it is coming from since it lights up everything around you.
Funny you mention, I just got back from Atlantic City dodging some level 4-5 stuff in a C172. Know the weather and weather systems affecting your flight starting hours before your departure. Call and get outlook, standard, and then abbreviated wx briefings. The charts on adds.aviationweather.noaa.gov and also on duats, and whatever your airport may have are invaluable.

The thing that made the biggest difference for me today was calling flight watch (122.0) just as I was leveling off, to get a final update on where the weather was. I opted to fly an alternate route once I got this enroute briefing that took me about 30 miles west of the original route, which was getting beat by some level 4/5 cells that moved faster than anyone forcast. I would have wondered right into that mess if the "flight watcher" hadn't have suggested otherwise, since my last look at the weather computer right before I took off indicated relatively clear skies along my route. Sometime you have to call 2 or 3 times before they come back to you, but I don't think we "little guys" have a better resource for enroute weather information than flight watch.

Also, I get flight following wherever I go, especially during the summer. Most of the controllers now have radar overlays on their scopes, and know that I have nothing on board! The controller today in Baltimore was awesome - she kept me updated with pilot reports for other aircraft coming from where I was headed. Generally if you ask for vectors around the weather they can accomodate. If you have a gps, let them know and they will utilize your ability to go direct, which also cuts down on their workload.

My CFI told me to never fly into a T-storm :) which is pretty good advice I'd say; but at the same time, if they're isolated and widely scattered cells surrounded by clear VFR weather, its no reason to cancel a flight - as long as you are confident in utilizing the avoidence resources that are available.

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