Metars, tafs, rainfall radars – decoding the weather
As it’s the end of January and we are all hoping for sun and blue skies 365 days of the year, I thought I’d talk about weather.
Unfortunately, in the UK, the weather is not perfect; we often have fog, low cloud and rainy days to deal with. Before we start feeling too sorry for ourselves though, remember that we are lucky enough to not suffer from any extreme weather systems such as hurricanes, tornadoes or earthquakes!
Depending on where you fly, different weather sources will be more useful. Here in the UK, the Met Office is where you can find out most of the important information. They do have a specific General Aviation section but don’t forget to use the standard weather forecast too. This can be very useful to supplement what you see on the aviation side of things.
If you are wondering where to start, during my training I was always taught to look at the big picture first i.e are there any fronts moving over us? Is there an area of high/low pressure nearby? In terms of flying there are specific conditions to be wary of, but in order to get an idea of the general trend; the larger scale outlook is an ideal place to start and you can try using the Form 215 from the Met Office to help you.
Once you have an overview, you can start looking at what will happen closer to home. Again the Met Office can provide updated current observations (METARS) and forecasts (TAFs) for most areas using airports around the UK. If you are going further afield i.e on a cross country/navigation exercise, you would want to check out the forecasts/trend for your destination too. Keep in mind that not all airports produce weather information so you may have to use the airport closest to you instead. Not only that, the upper winds will vary from what you can experience on the surface so it is a good idea to check those too using Form 214.
Whatever the weather forecast is, make sure you know what your limits are. I’m not talking about those imposed by your flight school or your licence, (those will apply as well!) but your personal limits i.e what you would feel comfortable flying in. If you’re not sure what they might be, have a chat with your instructor and see if they can help you decide.