By Howard Deevers
What? Again? There are already several very good books about weather already published. You might have even read one. So, why talk about weather now?
It might be one of the most difficult subjects in aviation. Surely, we are not going to cover all of the stuff you need to know in a short article like this. When I started learning to fly, I had no idea how important the weather would become as I learned to fly. After a couple of sessions with my instructor, I asked, “Do I have to become a 'weatherman' to fly?” He said no, but it wouldn’t hurt!
No other subject to new students is so daunting as weather (unless they already are weathermen or women). Students get involved in aerodynamics, navigation, aircraft performance, and many other subjects, but when we get to WEATHER, they kind of fade away. Don't forget that there are questions on the FAA knowledge test about weather, and when you take the knowledge test for an Instrument Rating, there are even more questions on weather.
Second only to “pilot error” or “human factors,” weather is listed as a factor in most aviation accidents. Weather is what we have to fly in. My instructor, Woody, told me that “Weather is what we get, not what is forecast.” Really? What does that mean? He went on to explain that a forecast is just that, a forecast. There are so many things that will affect the weather, that by the time we actually arrive in an area, the weather could be much different than what was forecast. It could be better, or it could be much worse.
That does not give us permission to go fly into a thunderstorm or heavy icing conditions, but we do have the right to “take a look.” It was this “take a look” part that intrigued me, and I still am trying to find out just how much of a “look” is good. Only experience will teach you that. VFR into IMC is still one of the deadliest causes of aviation accidents. When I hear of one, I always wonder, was that pilot just “taking a look?”
Here in Southern Arizona, we are blessed with mostly great weather. But when it is not good, it is really nasty stuff to fly into. In summer we see large thunderstorms, dust storms, and turbulence. Winter presents us with ice in the clouds. If you have ever encountered ice on your airplane, you won't forget that. With the good weather we have here, it is hard to complain about a few days of no-fly weather. And, rain is always welcome in Southern Arizona, as rare as it is.
There are many ways to get weather information today. Most of my weather information before a flight came from Flight Service. There were Flight Service Stations all over the country, and it was possible to just walk into some of them and get a weather briefing directly over the counter from a specialist. Even on the phone, these experts were exceptionally good at painting a picture of what weather to expect on a flight. At times, Flight Service has been able to convince me that a flight on that day and time was not a good idea, and just to stay on the ground. You can still talk to a Flight Service specialist, but only on the phone, and you may have to wait on hold. However, to me, it is worth the wait!
Other sources for weather come from TV, local news/weather, the internet, and other services. I don't think any of them can beat actually talking to a Flight Service specialist. Be sure to read all of those weather questions you will find on knowledge test prep guides. It won't teach you everything you need to know about weather, but it will help in passing a check ride. Actually, you will never learn all that you need to know. This is a lifetime of learning, and weather is only one of the subjects that we need to take seriously.
If you do study your aviation weather, just think of the great impressions you can make on your friends when you can use weather terms like Coriolis Force, Standard Lapse Rate, Density Altitude, Wind Shear, Advection Fog, and more, and explain all of those to them. You might be a contestant on a quiz show and have a weather question pop up and win big time. Well, that is a long shot, but fun to think about.
We now have information and learning opportunities available online. The FAA Safety Team provides some excellent one hour “webinars” on weather. Even if we cannot do seminars in person this year, the webinars are available for learning. If you have not already signed up, go to FAASAFETY. gov, create your account, and you will get email notices for these webinars.
Check the weather, fly safely, and come to an ARIZONA PILOTS ASSOCIATION fly in event when you can.