METARs, TAFs and rainfall radars – How to predict the weather

METARs, TAFs and rainfall radars – How to predict the weather

According to the Met Office’s Meteorological Glossary, Meteorology is “the science of the atmosphere… embracing both weather and climate. It is concerned with the physical, dynamical and chemical state of the earth’s atmosphere (and those of the planets), and with the interactions between the earth’s atmosphere and the underlying surface.” Well that would certainly be a lot to cover in just one blog!

We all hope for settled weather 365 days a year but for pilots even more so as the weather directly affects our ability to fly. Being able to ‘predict’ or rather understand the nature of and how weather develops is essential for pilots, the ability to anticipate the weather and how it may affect your flight and of course the aircraft.

Unfortunately, in the UK, the weather can be rather unpredictable; we often experience rainy days, low cloud including fog and more recently so much WIND! We shouldn’t feel too sorry for ourselves though, remember that we are lucky enough to not suffer from some of the more extreme weather systems; tornadoes, earthquakes etc.

Depending on where (which country) you fly, there will be different resources for weather information. Here in the UK, the Met Office is usually our ‘GO TO’ resource for where you can find up to date weather information. They 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. Sky Demon, Aeroweather, lightening radars and WINDY are really useful aviation tools for planning and weather forecasting.

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 using the Form 215 from the Met Office will 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 these are Meteorological Aerodrome Report (METAR) and Terminal Aerodrome Forecasts (TAF) 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 en-route and for your destination too.  Keep in mind that not all airports produce weather information so you may have to use an airport that is closest to your destination instead. Don’t forget the upper winds will vary from what you can experience on the surface so it is important to use Form 214 spot wind chart which is available from the Met Office.

Whatever the weather forecast is, make sure you know what your limits are. Not just those imposed by your flight school or your licence although those will apply as well, but also your personal limits, what would you feel comfortable flying in? If you’re not sure have a chat with your instructor and they will be able to advise.

If you would like to be able to predict the weather (well, best guess) or learn more about Meteorology. Perhaps you are studying for your MET exam and would benefit from some One to One tuition or would just like to refresh your memory ahead of your next trip then please contact our Head of Training Capt. Paul White email

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