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Beat the weatherBeat the weather

What to do when conditions are changing

Can you predict the future? When interpreting aviation weather forecasts that’s exactly what we must do.
Preflight August 2020

When flying around the pattern or to the local practice area for a quick lesson, a clear day gives us the confidence that conditions will probably be fine for an hour, giving us a safe window. Things get trickier when we venture farther from home, especially on days when the conditions are sure to change.

For this scenario you are flying from New Richmond Regional Airport in Wisconsin to Waseca Municipal in Minnesota to attend a meeting at the local Birds Eye factory that’s expected to last an hour. The 77 nautical miles will only take about 30 minutes each way in your Cessna 182. That’s considerably better than the two hours and 15 minutes by car.

A line of thunderstorms sits about 80 miles west of Waseca. The line is defined, but not solid. The current weather at the departure is more than 10 miles visibility with broken clouds at 3,100 feet. The destination is reporting clear and more than 10 miles visibility. There’s no forecast for Waseca, but nearby Mankato is showing the thunderstorms should be happening now, and for the next four hours. A forecast farther east shows the thunderstorms won’t show up for another seven hours.

You’ve already rescheduled the meeting once, and you don’t want to do it again. Do you:

Drive. If you get in the car now and hustle you can still make the meeting.

Depart now and try to move up the meeting. If you leave now you think you can beat the storms there and back. Besides, there are holes and you can probably fly around the cells. The ceilings are forecast to stay high, which indicates that maybe the storms won’t be too strong.

Depart now, but wait out the return. Take your time getting down to Waseca, and plan to stick around for an early dinner. You can return home after the storms pass Waseca and New Richmond, leaving you with clear sailing going home.

Early bird

I think in this scenario I’d have a chance to pull off the second option and beat the weather both ways. By arriving early maybe I could push the meeting up earlier. I’ll be on the ground fewer than two hours. It’s clear the flight down is an easy one. It’s the flight back that’s in question. But by then I’ll have new forecasts for many areas, and an updated look at the radar. Ceilings are high, which works in my favor. I can stay below the clouds in order to dodge any rain. Plus, there are many escape routes. If things are looking iffy I can easily fly east, land, and wait for it to pass over me. —IJT

I can wait

Option three works for me. My goal is to combine a safe, enjoyable flight with a productive meeting. Adding the mental stress of planning to beat the storm back home just isn’t worth it. I agree with Ian that I’d depart for Waseca early, but I’d hang out at the FBO and do some work on my laptop before the meeting starts. I would take the delayed return as an opportunity to ask my client to dinner. In the unlikely event the weather never improves enough to fly home, I would have a small suitcase packed for an overnight stay. I’ve found when flying for business, I need to have a lot of flexibility built into my plan. If I absolutely had to be at the meeting on time or back home that night, I’d drive. —Kollin Stagnito

Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly is senior content producer for AOPA Media.

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