It’s a nasty winter day. Visual flying is out, and the only instrument flying being accomplished is by experienced pilots at the controls of capable aircraft that can outclimb the ice and tolerate the turbulence.
Grounded, your instructor sits in the pilot lounge hoping that a student pilot will stray by and propose a cup of coffee in exchange for an impromptu ground-school session.
The weather’s dicey details are disclosed in the latest airport METAR: 241427Z 04016G23KT 2SM PL BR OVC019 M03/M04 A2982 RMK AO2 PK WND 05027/1416 FZRAE26 I1000.
In the CFI trade this is known as a meaty METAR; instructors are known to keep a few on hand for rainy-day reviews. In fewer characters than a maxed-out tweet, this example tells a tale of tumultuous conditions—perfect to pick apart piece by piece.
The CFI asks you to read out—but also, discuss—the coded report. You nail the first two character blocks after the day and time, but the next character group, PL, requires a timeout for research. (Navigate here, look under “weather phenomena.” Explain that PL refers to ice pellets.)
PL is followed by the more familiar BR (mist), and the overcast at 1,900 feet.
Note the temperature-dew point spread. Does the presence of mist fit with those conditions? Explain.
The peak-wind report underlines the weather’s severity, as does its direction—not the airport’s typical fair-weather, northwest winds. Hence the name “Nor’easter” for this weather.
The PL is coming down (audibly) outside now, but the METAR’s remarks indicate that a little earlier, conditions were different: 1416 FZRAE26. What might the changing nature of the precip suggest about temperatures aloft?
Construct a big picture from smaller details and you demonstrate that you can correlate what you are learning, signaling your arrival at the highest of four learning levels defined as rote, understanding, application, and correlation.
Developing this ability will help you avoid errors that less-well-informed pilots have committed when assessing weather.
As the Aviation Instructor’s Handbook stresses to those who train pilots for a living, an “overly simplistic understanding of weather frequently leads inexperienced students into situations that are unexpected.”
Overcoming that hazard is time well spent.