Pilots don’t have to fly from hospital helipads or from offshore oil rigs to want to keep an eye on fast-changing low-altitude weather. A source of digital weather information that recently took on enhanced features gives any pilot improved weather awareness for planning flights in the lower levels.
Don’t be put off by the name of the weather source in question, especially if you fly airplanes, not rotorcraft. The HEMS Tool (HEMS stands for Helicopter Emergency Medical Services), developed by the National Weather Service’s Aviation Weather Center (AWC), “is a display that aggregates a number of existing weather products into a single, quick-glance, automated graphic,” the NWS said in a March 31 announcement of the release of an enhanced version of the HEMS Tool.
Recognizing that the HEMS Tool has found a wider user base than its name suggests—including firefighting, crop-dusting, and drone operations, to name a few—the NWS noted that “low altitude operations are extremely sensitive to changing and/or adverse weather conditions and need weather information presented quickly and effectively for pilots who may not be weather experts.”
As we reported when introducing the long-established HEMS Tool to many GA pilots in 2018, the tool, in its role as a source of supplemental information, can provide just that extra bit of information a pilot needs when trying to make the best possible go/no-go decision—particularly useful for low-altitude operations.
“The AWC’s Graphical Forecasts for Aviation is a great interactive weather tool that many general aviation pilots have become familiar with the last few years, and we also invite pilots to see the enhanced features for low-altitude operators available in the HEMS Tool,” said Rune Duke, AOPA senior director of airspace, air traffic, and aviation security. “We have worked with the AWC and other groups to gather feedback on the HEMS Tool to expand its appeal and utility. We greatly appreciate the FAA’s and AWC’s work on this tool, and we look forward to hearing feedback from pilots on these latest improvements.”
AOPA’s 2018 Weather Survey revealed that 28 percent of respondents had heard of the HEMS Tool. Initial results from AOPA’s 2020 weather survey indicated that awareness of the tool had increased another 12 percent.
“We are continuing to communicate the value of this weather tool to general aviation. We think it is important to highlight its capabilities for providing information in the low-altitude environment between airports where it can be difficult to decipher the conditions,” said Duke.