How to Weather BAD WEATHER
Flying|April 2020
It’s Best Done by the Book
PIA BERGQVIST
WEATHER IS ONE OF THE BIGGEST VARIABLES IN GENERAL AVIATION FLIGHT AND A CONTRIBUTING CAUSE OF MANY ACCIDENTS. WHILE THERE IS NO WAY FOR US PILOTS TO CONTROL THE WEATHER, WE CAN MODIFY OUR FLIGHT PATHS TO PREVENT UNPLANNED ENCOUNTERS WITH MOTHER NATURE.

Fortunately, doing so has become a lot easier in the past few decades. With the recent implementation of ADS-B, we have access to live weather information, either on a panel-mounted device or a tablet, without paying for a monthly subscription.

As a budding pilot two decades ago, I didn’t have the luxury of live weather in the cockpit or multiple apps or websites from which to obtain weather data. Pilots had to get their weather forecasts and reports from local flight service stations—FAA offices focused on providing information to pilots. Many years ago, I visited the FSS in Hawthorne, California, which has since closed. It looked much like an air route traffic control center—a windowless room filled with computer screens and several briefers who deciphered the weather data and relayed it to pilots dialing in on 800-WX-BRIEF or from a frequency while airborne.

Calling for a weather briefing was initially somewhat intimidating to me. I understood probably less than half of what the briefer was saying. But the call provided an opportunity to ask questions regarding the weather—a service that apps and websites don’t offer. When the briefer said, “VFR flight not recommended,” it was easy to decide to stay on the ground (before I got my instrument rating, that is).

Once I started flying in the clouds, things got more complicated. Understanding what the weather was doing—and, more important, where the most severe areas were— was a challenge. About a year after I started my primary flight training and had finished my instrument rating, I was building time toward my commercial certificate. My boyfriend at the time and I decided to make an actual cross-country flight to build multiengine time. We rented a Beechcraft BE-76 Duchess for two weeks and flew it from Torrance, California, to Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

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