52 WEATHER RE­SOURCES

PRE­FLIGHT WEATHER PLAN­NING HAS CHANGED DRA­MAT­I­CALLY IN THE DIG­I­TAL AGE. HERE’S HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF TO­DAY’S TOOLS.

Flying - - CONTENTS - BY ROB MARK

These days, there are more tools than ever to help you make a sound go/no-go de­ci­sion. We ex­plore 15 of the top weather re­sources for pi­lots.

By Rob Mark

If we’d writ­ten this story a few decades ago, the list of weather re­sources for pi­lots would have been rather short — a flight ser­vice sta­tion brief­ing ei­ther in per­son or per­haps by phone, and the evening weather re­port on TV or the ra­dio. Pi­lots thought they’d re­ally made progress when the di­rect user ac­cess ter­mi­nal sys­tem (DUATS) first ap­peared, al­low­ing them to check weather from a per­sonal com­puter. Smartphones and tablets, of course, didn’t even ex­ist.

To­day, the ar­ray of pre­flight weather-brief­ing tools and apps to de­liver the best of the U.S. gov­ern­ment’s weather re­sources con­tinue to evolve and come bun­dled with Garmin Pilot and ForeF­light. They are avail­able over the Sir­iusXM satel­lite weather ser­vice and can be ac­cessed through ADS-B ground sta­tions with de­vices such as Sen­try, Stra­tus and D3. On the Web, there’s WeatherS­pork and Weather­meis­ter, which are spe­cific to avi­a­tion, in ad­di­tion to scores of weather-re­lated web­sites and apps for the masses.

Of course, the days of vis­it­ing an FSS for an in-per­son ex­pla­na­tion of the at­mos­phere passed into his­tory years ago when the FAA handed weather brief­ings over to Lock­heed Martin, now called Lei­dos. Many pi­lots say good rid­dance, but while the pro­lif­er­a­tion of tablets and smartphones can slice and dice weather around the clock, there’s more to un­der­stand­ing Mother Na­ture than sim­ply look­ing at reams of data. In fact, a solid un­der­stand­ing of how the at­mos­phere nor­mally func­tions is key to com­plet­ing a prac­ti­cal pilot weather equa­tion.

The beauty of an in-per­son visit to an FSS was the wealth of knowl­edge briefers de­liv­ered on a one-toone ba­sis as they pulled up the lat­est prog­nos­tic charts or of­fered anal­y­sis of the data based on their re­gional knowl­edge. In the early days, it would be odd to find an FSS briefer who wasn’t a pilot. While pi­lots can still speak to a live briefer on the phone, much of the weath­er­data anal­y­sis is up to the pilot, whose ba­sic flight train­ing might have left them un­pre­pared for the chal­lenge.

A look at 1800wxbrief .com might seem like a step back to­ward the Stone Age, but the site of­fers an enor­mous amount of weather data at a great price: free. Pi­lots can cre­ate a per­son­al­ized dash­board of pref­er­ences and see a host of cur­rent and ad­verse weather re­ports, prog­nos­tic charts, radar and satel­lite im­ages and, of course, ac­cess to flight-plan-fil­ing tools.

There’s also the tele­phone in­for­ma­tion brief­ing sys­tem (TIBS), avail­able by call­ing 1-800-WXBRIEF. The TIBS record­ing de­liv­ers sig­nif­i­cant weather up­dates based on the caller’s lo­ca­tion. TIBS record­ings move along rather quickly, so be ready. A sim­i­lar record­ing of weather up­dates, TWEB, is avail­able while air­borne on a va­ri­ety of fre­quen­cies.

With more pi­lots equip­ping their air­craft to meet next year’s ADS-B Out man­date, the ADS-B In data stream that nor­mally comes along with it of­fers ac­cess to quite a few weather re­sources through the free FIS-B ser­vice, a ground­based broad­cast pro­vided through the FAA’s ADS-B ser­vices net­work that works with al­ready in­stalled ADS-B ground sta­tions when the air­craft is within range and via line of sight. FIS-B en­ables pi­lots of prop­erly equipped air­craft to re­ceive and dis­play a suite of broad­cast weather and aero­nau­ti­cal in­for­ma­tion prod­ucts, some via text mes­sages and oth­ers through graph­ics, most of which are also pro­vided free of charge. Be­cause ADS-B is trans­mit­ted from ground sta­tions, you might not be able to re­ceive weather data be­fore takeoff.

Ad­vi­sory Cir­cu­lar AC 00-63, “Use of Cock­pit Dis­plays of Dig­i­tal Weather and Aero­nau­ti­cal In­for­ma­tion,” con­tains de­tailed in­for­ma­tion about FIS-B me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal prod­ucts and also makes an ex­cel­lent primer for pi­lots by de­tail­ing the terms used in most of the weather prod­ucts.

FIS-B in­for­ma­tion can also be ac­cessed through re­ceivers such as the Sporty’s Stra­tus or the uAvionix Sen­try, avail­able through ForeF­light. Pi­lots, of course, need to un­der­stand their own sys­tem’s ar­chi­tec­ture, ser­vice en­vi­ron­ment, prod­uct life cy­cles, modes of op­er­a­tion, in­di­ca­tions of sys­tem fail­ure and data up­date in­ter­vals. For ex­am­ple, on FIS-B, con­vec­tive sig­mets are up­dated every 15 min­utes, Nexrad every 10 min­utes and pireps as they’re trans­mit­ted. This doesn’t con­sider the time it might take for a third-party provider to send the data. The key is re­al­iz­ing that none of the FIS-B weather in­for­ma­tion you re­ceive in the air is real-time. De­lays mean never, ever at­tempt­ing to use up­linked weather data for pre­cise thun­der­storm avoid­ance or pen­e­tra­tion.

Re­ceivers

The least ex­pen­sive hard­ware to bring ADS-B data to the cock­pit is the por­ta­ble Scout unit avail­able through ForeF­light and cre­ated by uAvionix. The Scout mea­sures just 3.4 inches tall and less than an inch wide while tip­ping the scale at just 17 grams. It re­quires an ex­ter­nal bat­tery for power and uses

Be­ing able to dis­play ter­rain high­lighted by the flight­planned route can make de­cid­ing where de­vi­a­tions might be needed much eas­ier. The new­est ForeF­light fea­tures de­mand an iPad with the most up-to-date iOS sys­tem up­dates to take ad­van­tage of the lat­est im­prove­ments.

a suc­tion cup to at­tach it to an in­side air­craft win­dow. With Scout, pi­lots can see the sub­scrip­tion-free FIS-B weather and some traf­fic in­for­ma­tion on ForeF­light.

Another ForeF­light re­ceiver op­tion is the por­ta­ble Sen­try, which adds a backup at­ti­tude in­di­ca­tor vis­i­ble on ForeF­light. The Sen­try is pow­ered by its own in­ter­nal 12-hour bat­tery. Sen­try comes with a high-ca­pac­ity stor­age card for re­play or stor­age of weather data and in­cludes a built-in car­bon monox­ide de­tec­tor and alarm. Like the Scout, the Sen­try at­taches to an in­side win­dow with a suc­tion cup. The unit re­tails for $499.

Another pop­u­lar re­ceiver op­tion is any of the Stra­tus units, made by Ap­pareo and sold by Sporty’s Pilot Shop, such as the Stra­tus 1S or 2S at $449 and $899, re­spec­tively. The Stra­tus 1S, us­ing an in­ter­nal bat­tery and an­tenna, brings FIS-B data to an iPad us­ing sin­gle-band ADS-B. Stra­tus 1 in­cludes WAAS GPS, but no backup at­ti­tude sys­tem. The Stra­tus 2S in­cludes dual-band ADS-B, a built-in WAAS GPS, a cool re­play fea­ture, a flight-data recorder, a pres­sure al­ti­tude sen­sor and an AHRS to pro­vide a backup at­ti­tude in­di­ca­tor. The Stra­tus 2S AHRS aligns it­self, so syn­thetic-vi­sion sub­scribers will see at­ti­tude in­for­ma­tion dis­played on top of ter­rain. The Stra­tus 2S is not, how­ever, cer­ti­fied to be used as a pri­mary at­ti­tude ref­er­ence.

New to the lineup is the Stra­tus 3, with an in­tro­duc­tory price of $699. It fea­tures auto shut­off as well as smart Wi-Fi that also al­lows the iPad to gather data on the ground through the Stra­tus Wi-Fi link. Stra­tus 3 and most all other units will soon also take ad­van­tage of new FAA weather prod­ucts, such as thun­der­storm echo tops, light­ning-strike in­for­ma­tion, and ic­ing and tur­bu­lence fore­casts, when they be­come avail­able later in 2018. Stra­tus 3 works with a num­ber of other apps, such as FltPlan Go, and some An­droid sys­tems.

Sir­iusXM is an al­ter­na­tive to the free ADS-B weather that is trans­mit­ted via satel­lite, mak­ing it avail­able any­where in the United States even while the air­craft is sit­ting on the ground. Ac­cess to Sir­ius re­quires a monthly sub­scrip­tion rang­ing from $29.99 to $99.99 de­pend­ing upon the op­tions cho­sen. Fly­ing with ForeF­light on an iPad re­quires at least the $39.99 pack­age. Sir­ius weather in­cludes U.S. and Cana­dian radar, cloud-to-cloud and cloud-to-ground light­ning, TAFs and metars, graph­i­cal winds and tem­per­a­tures aloft. More ex­pen­sive pack­ages in­clude fore­casts and weather observations, high-res­o­lu­tion graph­i­cal forecast winds, map with sur­face fea­tures and iso­bars, vis­i­bil­ity, freez­ing lev­els, six lev­els of graph­i­cal tur­bu­lence and an ic­ing “now­cast.”

Of course, Sir­iusXM re­quires satel­lite-ca­pa­ble re­ceivers and an­ten­nas. Ei­ther Garmin’s GDL 51 or 52 will work just fine. The GDL 52 of­fers both Sir­ius and ADS-B re­cep­tion in one unit, not to men­tion that Sir­ius brings more than 150 chan­nels of Sir­iusXM en­ter­tain­ment ra­dio to the cock­pit. The $399 Garmin SXAR1 also brings Sir­iusXM mu­sic and weather while adding WAAS GPS func­tion­al­ity. Dynon just re­leased the DRX, a por­ta­ble, dual-band ADS-B traf­fic and weather re­ceiver that op­er­ates for days on an in­ter­nal bat­tery. The DRX sup­ports con­nec­tiv­ity with most mobile apps, in­clud­ing ForeF­light and FlyQ, al­low­ing pi­lots to see the traf­fic pic­ture with dual-band ADS-B re­cep­tion to bring ADS-B weather prod­ucts like Nexrad radar, metars and TAFs. DRX pro­vides WAAS GPS and lists for $395.

WeatherS­pork’s Wheels Up De­par­ture Ad­vi­sor gives pi­lots a graph­i­cal look at the weather along their route as much as three days into the fu­ture. Pi­lots can more eas­ily choose a de­par­ture and ar­rival time that prom­ises weather they can han­dle.

On the Web

A num­ber of spe­cial­ized web­sites of­fer a range of weather re­sources. WeatherS­pork co-founder Scott Dennstaedt says, “Our pri­mary goal is to sim­plify the pre­flight weather anal­y­sis process and re­duce the num­ber of VFR-into-IMC accidents.” He pointed to WeatherS­pork’s sig­na­ture fea­ture, the Wheels Up De­par­ture Ad­vi­sor, which “col­lects weather and user-de­fined route in­puts and lets pi­lots look as far ahead as three days for the most op­por­tune de­par­ture time.”

That de­ci­sion is aided by col­ored dots at each weather re­port­ing point that iden­tify VFR, mar­ginal VFR, IFR and low-IFR weather. By drag­ging the time se­lec­tor at the bot­tom of the screen, users can watch how forecast weather is ex­pected to evolve. “We re­ally be­lieve this is a rev­o­lu­tion­ary prod­uct and will for­ever shape how pi­lots do pre­flight weather anal­y­sis,” Dennstaedt added.

WeatherS­pork is a com­pan­ion app to Dennstaedt’s ear­lier weath­er­train­ing ven­ture, AvWxWork­shops .com. Sub­scribe to WeatherS­pork — the Elite mem­ber­ship costs $79 an­nu­ally — and pi­lots gain ac­cess to most of the weather train­ing videos as part of the deal. The WeatherS­pork app runs on both An­droid and Ap­ple de­vices, or users can ac­cess the sys­tem from within an in­ter­net browser. Ad­di­tional weather ed­u­ca­tion is spread through a monthly news­let­ter called SporkNews, as well as the com­pany blog, the Spork Re­port.

MyRadar’s app comes in a free and a pro ver­sion. The pro costs $2.99 and rips out the ad­ver­tis­ing mes­sages. MyRadar is sim­i­lar to the Weather Chan­nel app, with lo­cal weather, an hourly forecast and a five-day forecast as well. MyRadar, how­ever, opens to an an­i­mated lo­cal radar dis­play, some­thing not all that easy to ac­cess on the

Some tools, such as ForeF­light, work al­most ev­ery­where and are ca­pa­ble of dis­play­ing weather data on a va­ri­ety of plat­forms, mak­ing plan­ning eas­ier.

Weather Chan­nel’s app. De­pend­ing upon the user-cho­sen over­lays, you eas­ily see the at­mos­phere in ac­tion. On the day I down­loaded the app, a front hap­pened to be pass­ing through Chicago, so along with the radar re­turns, the an­i­mated winds aloft made it a snap to fig­ure out where the front was lo­cated by where the winds be­gan swing­ing out of the north­west. MyRadar also in­cludes avi­a­tion spe­cific over­lays and a handy graph­i­cal wind read­out.

My lo­cal fly­ing club mem­bers swear by Weather­meis­ter. The ba­sic sys­tem is free, but with a ba­sic sub­scrip­tion of $4.95 per month or the premium at $6.95 per month, the ad­ver­tis­ing’s gone. The premium op­tion de­liv­ers TFR no­ti­fi­ca­tions as well as weather by email should the user choose.

While much of Weather­meis­ter is text-ta­ble based, it im­proves weather brief­ings and go/no-go de­ci­sions by adding color against a black back­ground to make the im­por­tant el­e­ments of a metar stand out. Red or orange text means IFR weather along the route. Winds in blue trans­lates to gusty con­di­tions. Weather­meis­ter also of­fers metar and TAF de­cod­ing, wind­sa­loft de­cod­ing, in­di­vid­u­al­ized per­for­mance pro­files and a flight op­ti­mizer that iden­ti­fies the most ef­fi­cient al­ti­tude for a given route at the ETD.

In one ex­am­ple, the sys­tem showed and an­a­lyzed metars for a 100-mile ra­dius of a test air­craft’s home base at Malm­strom Air Force Base in Great Falls, Mon­tana. A metar for KCTB, Cut Bank, Mon­tana, read like this on Weather­meis­ter:

“KCTB 10:43 am LIFR ¼ sm snow, fog, scat­tered 500 feet, scat­tered 800 feet 310 at 28 gust­ing to 39.” Clearly the field was IFR and lo­cal winds were pretty strong. More im­por­tant, in the space of what a nor­mally de­coded metar uses, Weather­meis­ter an­a­lyzed seven other sta­tions, mak­ing com­par­isons a snap.

I opened the mobile Web ver­sion and added a route, KPWK-KLOU, and within sec­onds had ac­cess to a VFR sec­tional with my route high­lighted, as well as an el­e­va­tion pro­file that showed noth­ing higher along the way than 1,000 feet agl. The op­ti­mizer told me the fastest speed would be had at 3,500 feet, while best econ­omy re­quired a climb to 11,500 feet. Metars popped up for 25 miles ei­ther side of the route, as well as sig­mets, a sur­face anal­y­sis chart, a radar mo­saic, a cou­ple of Geo­sta­tion­ary Op­er­a­tional En­vi­ron­men­tal Satel­lite views, winds aloft, TAFs along the route, 12- and 24-hour prog charts and every no­tam I might need along the way. The fu­el­price op­tion also told me 100LL could be had for $3.60 a gal­lon in Low­ell, Indiana, ver­sus re­tail at PWK, where it’s listed at $6.24, or Bow­man Field, where it’s sit­ting at $5.75. For $69.99 a year, Weather­meis­ter’s not a bad deal, but users need to fig­ure out the in­tri­ca­cies on their own be­cause there’s no sup­port.

Be­cause the avail­able weather re­sources sel­dom ex­plain how to in­ter­pret the data, the FAA’s pub­li­ca­tion “Gen­eral Avi­a­tion Pilot’s Guide to Pre­flight Weather Plan­ning, Weather Self-Brief­ings and Weather De­ci­sion Mak­ing” should be­come the starting point for any pilot. It takes a great ini­tial look in­side the at­mos­phere for a new pilot and can act as a great re­fresher to more sea­soned avi­a­tors. Other im­por­tant re­sources in­clude the FAA’s ad­vi­sory cir­cu­lar AC 00-45H, Avi­a­tion Weather Ser­vices, as well as the NOAA Avi­a­tion Weather Cen­ter’s web­site avi­a­tion­weather.gov.

ForeF­light’s Sen­try makes it easy to bring ADS-B weather data to the cock­pit.

Some­times, hand­held de­vices like Garmin’s aera se­ries with an­i­mated weather are all pi­lots need to see the big pic­ture.

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