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Guard against thunder and lightning

Know where not to go

Clouds on fire with lightning, thunder rolling through the sky—an impressive display Mother Nature puts on that’s enjoyable to watch from a distance, on the ground.

On the other hand, in aviation, especially general aviation flying, a thunderstorm gets our attention quickly and we’ll wisely take a wide path around them because, well, they can swallow us up and spit us out in no time if we’re unprepared and get too close.

During stormy weather season there are many great strategies for flying the weather. For example, observing weather patterns several days out before a planned flight will provide the big picture on how a system is expected to move along the route of flight.

Simply watching The Weather Channel or reviewing graphical forecasts online will do the trick. Sure, forecasts can be imperfect, but they help alert us ahead of time to be prepared for a go/no-go decision. Similarly, an outlook briefing the day before the flight makes a lot of sense.

On the day of the flight, pilot weather reports (PIREPs) are our friends in determining actual weather conditions at altitude and between weather reporting stations to help us decide whether to fly. Better yet, ask pilots who have flown near the planned flight route if conditions between the forecast and what they encountered aloft meshed—did anything change along the way?

Once up in the air, we should compare the forecast to actual conditions. This means looking out the window and assessing the weather aloft to help improve our situational awareness and be alert to the weather in our flight path. Now is also a good time to pay special attention to in-flight weather resources—such as air traffic control, onboard weather radar and datalink, and flight service—that can help assess if conditions are changing and how those changes may affect our flight. If things start to deteriorate, activate Plan B, which may simply call for diverting, landing, and letting the weather pass.

There are many great resources to learn more about convective weather and how to flight plan to avoid it, such as the FAA’s Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge (Chapter 12, Weather Theory) and the Aviation Weather Center ( You may also like ASI’s Weather Wise: Air Masses and Fronts Safety Spotlight with sections dedicated to air masses, fronts, regional weather, and high- and low-pressure systems. Animations, videos, and visual cues explain weather in a simple and effective way.

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Machteld Smith

Machteld Smith

Senior Editor
Machteld Smith is a senior editor for the Air Safety Institute. She holds a commercial pilot certificate with multiengine, instrument, and seaplane ratings. She loves flying seaplanes and the adventure of landing on rivers and lakes.

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