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Training Tip: Tell me about the weatherTraining Tip: Tell me about the weather

We know that when your flight instructor asks you, “How’s the weather?” before a flight lesson it’s not because the CFI needs to know what the weather is doing.

AOPA graphic.

It’s partly to build up your habit of getting a briefing and partly to make sure you got the gist. Getting the gist means developing the skill, as you progress toward dual cross-countries and solo flying, of sorting what can seem like a huge data dump into an understandable picture of current and expected conditions for the flight’s duration.

Checking your work in this regard doesn’t mean a prolonged ground session parsing every image, graph, and line of text. If you can clearly answer a few basic questions about the flight weather, it should suffice to demonstrate that you are productively processing the presentation of the weather.

  • What’s the big picture? Use the surface analysis chart for this one. Explain how the positions of low and high pressure systems and fronts help shape local conditions, and how the isobars roughly reveal wind direction and intensity.
  • Is the trend getting better or worse? Don’t let a forecast of weather deteriorating late in the day turn your flight into a race against the clock (and clouds). Proceed with caution. If the trend is for improvement, keep watch while flying that the actual weather is cooperating.
  • What flight conditions should you expect? You should have some idea whether to expect turbulence—perhaps at some altitudes but not others—and what runways may be active, and whether there’s a crosswind landing in your near future.
  • Did you do your dewpoint diligence? A high dewpoint and/or a small temperature/dewpoint spread could spell fast-forming ground fog in calm-wind conditions as the sun goes down.
  • Do observations confirm or contradict the data? A pilot report of an overcast or precip on a route that was forecast to be clear—or other notable inconsistencies with the forecast—calls for further research. Such conflicts are not unusual and sometimes presage the transmission of an amended forecast.

Major inconsistencies should remind you to recheck the date and time of the weather data you used to plan the flight. If that information was nearing the end of its shelf life, a fresh batch of facts and figures could be coming out soon—possibly painting a very different weather picture.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Training and Safety, Flight Planning, Student
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