The first thing pilots know about weather is that it changes. The second thing pilots know about weather is that the best time to prevent a weather-related accident is before the aircraft leaves the ground.
Familiarizing yourself with how the weather may impact your flight involves many aspects, not the least of which is a thorough preflight weather briefing, according to AOPA Information Resources Coordinator Robert Fisher.
AOPA's Aviation Services department highly recommends a "big picture" briefing that includes information from a DUATS provider or flight service station, as well as supplemental information from other sources. While an official source of weather information isn't explicitly mandated in the federal aviation regulations, no pilot should take off for a flight outside of the immediate vicinity of an airport without this information, Fisher says. It's a matter of safety and a matter of covering yourself in the event of an accident or incident.
"If there's a question that comes up, the FAA can go back and see what the pilot actually received when he got the briefing," he says. "If he just watches The Weather Channel, there's no proof as to what weather information was received."
As set out in FAR 91.103, the pilot in command is required to "become familiar with all available information concerning that flight." The regulation lists some of the information, including weather reports and forecasts, that must be considered for IFR flights or any flight not in the vicinity of an airport.
Flight service stations and DUATS are two sources for official weather information. Links to both of the companies contracted by the FAA to provide DUATS — CSC (previously DynCorp, and before that, GTE) and DTC — are available on the Meteorlogix page on AOPA Online.
Order 7110.10 outlines the procedures and phraseology for air traffic personnel providing flight services. The information to be provided, when applicable to the proposed flight, is divided into a total of 12 categories ranging from adverse conditions, to current conditions, to en route and destination forecasts, to notams.
For the big picture, though, don't limit yourself to official weather briefing sources. While there are some graphics available via DUATS, the information tends to be text heavy, Fisher says. Among the sources for more graphical representations of weather is Meteorlogix, which provides customized weather information on AOPA Online, including a five-day forecast, METARs, TAFs, and satellite and radar imagery. A legend for graphics is at the bottom of each page.
If your weather image appears to be outdated, you will need to refresh it by hitting Ctrl-R on the keyboard. (AOL users will need to use their browser's reload or refresh button.)
Weather radar plots and other graphical information tends to be the most helpful a few days in advance, so you can see weather patterns and determine the likelihood of their affecting your flight.
"You can pull all of the information together into your own picture in your mind," Fisher says. "Using Meteorlogix in addition to the DUATS information will tend to give you a better picture of where the storms are moving to and where they're coming from — and whether they're going to affect your route of flight." Weather services on AOPA Online are free to members.
Also on the Meteorlogix page are links for services that, for a price discounted for AOPA members, expand on weather information and provide more up-to-date radar images.
As an AOPA member, you have access to the best resources anywhere for information and answers for pilots. AOPA provides information through a vast array of communications technologies. You can reach experts in all fields of aviation via AOPA Online ( www.aopa.org/members/), the AOPA Pilot Information Center (800/USA-AOPA), and e-mail ( [email protected]). Aviation technical specialists respond promptly to member requests while AOPA Online provides members with access to information and resources 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The toll-free AOPA Pilot Information Center gives you direct access to specialists in all areas of aviation. The center is available to members from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday.
Meteorlogix provides weather information for AOPA Online. You'll find graphical weather information here as well as links to two DUATS providers. Features include looping, which cycles through the images of the past several hours so you can see developing patterns in radar and satellite images.
Click on the Flight Services link for Order 7110.10.
FAR 91.103 requires the pilot in command to become familiar with all available information concerning that flight before the beginning of the flight. This includes weather reports and forecasts for IFR flights and flights not within the vicinity of an airport.
In "Wx Watch: Storm Vision," June Pilot, Thomas A. Horne discusses the latest in storm forecasting technology. "Sure, you can obtain a preflight weather briefing from DUATS, or go old fashioned and get a full, standard preflight briefing over the phone from a flight service specialist.... But something very important will be missing: information from the latest storm forecasting technology."