Of all the useful weather tools in aviation, perhaps none is more under-utilized than the pilot weather report, or pirep. Simple to file and easy to find from almost any weather source, pireps are fantastic for finding information that simply cannot be obtained elsewhere.
Weather products often are divided into two categories — observations and forecasts. Pireps are the only source of observed weather aloft. And although the forecasters often do a great job of predicting what will happen along a route of flight, there's no substitute for another pilot's observations.
Filing a pirep is very easy. When you observe something aloft that you feel deviates from the forecast, or you'd just like to report the cloud tops or bases, give the report to either the air traffic control frequency you are with at the time or the local flight service station or flight watch.
The controller (depending on workload) or specialist can talk you through the report. Expect to relate all pertinent information, including your location relative to a VOR, your altitude, your type aircraft, sky cover, visibility, precipitation, temperature, wind, turbulence, and icing. The Aeronautical Information Manual has a table listing all the usual elements of a pirep. It can be found on AOPA Online.
If generating a pirep still seems daunting, try the AOPA Air Safety Foundation online program SkySpotter. It will teach you all the necessary elements, who to report them to, and how to find a report. You can take this informative course online.
The most common way to receive a pirep is with flight service during a preflight briefing. ATC also may have certain types of reports after you depart. But by far the best place to look for pireps is the National Weather Service's Aviation Digital Data Service (ADDS).
Visit the Web site and click on Java Tools. Click on the pirep tool and you'll wonder how you ever managed to use pireps without it. The page takes current reports from pilots and places them on a map. Scrolling over the icon pops up the report. This great tool makes sense of what the briefer is telling you.
The next time you go flying, don't hesitate to help out another pilot and make a pirep. If you still have questions on how to do it, or even how to read a report, contact the experts at AOPA's Pilot Information Center. It's a great member benefit you can use by calling 800/USA-AOPA (872-2672).
Answers to frequently asked questions about your AOPA membership
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