Don’t Like The Weather? Just Wait…

Pilots watch weather- they are trained from the very start to assess weather, both current and forecast. Wind speed and direction, cloud cover, visibility, anything that might affect the safety of flight is carefully examined and evaluated. So what’s the problem? Sometimes, we tend to forget the most important feature about weather- it can change quickly, and because it is so volatile, we can make the mistake of not recognizing how quickly a forecast can go out of date.

Stale weather is the cause of two main pilot errors. The first is that we can end up in weather that is just not supposed to be there. Yesterday’s forecast did not even hint of fog, yet here it is. Of course, this has the most potential to be dangerous to your flight, but also easily remedied- if you start to see unexpected weather, land or reverse course and live to fly another day. It’s really that simple.

The other mistake isn’t dangerous but frustrating- deciding not to fly based on old information and here I am specifically referring to forecasts that are several days old. I have talked to pilots who decided against a flight a week in advance because the weather channel predicted rain for that day. Here’s the problem-weather forecasting just ain’t that good.

My flight instructor for my Private license was Woody Faison- a grand gentleman who had flown bombers in WW2. Actually, he flew just about everything and retired from the Air Force after a long illustrious service. He was soft-spoken, with a Tennessee-mountain drawl, and while we were planning our first cross-country flight, he told me “Any forecast over three days is basically a crap-shoot.” I was concerned because the extended forecast on the local TV station was calling for thunderstorms for the following Saturday- a good week in advance. He was not concerned, even a little, and he was right not to be- the weather for our flight was picture perfect.

I was reminded of this a few days ago- on Thursday, the local weather guys were predicting an 80% chance of rain for the following Monday. There was a front coming in and we were in for a wet start of the week. My wife looked at me and told me she guessed I wouldn’t be golfing on Monday afternoon. Thinking of Woody, I said, “Maybe.” On Friday, that 80% had changed to 50%, and it fell to 20% on Saturday. By Sunday, it was less than 10%. Monday was dry and I golfed- poorly, as usual, but I was outside and dry. That Monday evening, when I came home from the course, she said, ”I’m really surprised you got your game in after that forecast last week.” I had my answer ready: “Any forecast over three days is basically a crap-shoot.”

Thank you, Woody.