This wasn't an unforecasted surprise. The system could be watched for days as it crossed the continent and the meteorological models did an accurate job of predicting where all the pieces would be at the end of the week. Thus, I knew by mid-week that my usual trip from Connecticut to the DC area was seriously in doubt.
For what is usually about a 2 hour and 20 minute trip, the very accurate algorithm at FltPlan.com was predicting an enroute time of over three hours:
KBDR 011143Z 0112/0212 21018G35KT 5SM -SHRA BR SCT010 BKN020 WS020/22060KT TEMPO 0113/0115 23025G40KT 3SM SHRA FM011600 23014G25KT P6SM VCSH SCT020 SCT030 BKN080 FM012000 24012KT P6SM SCT050 FM020100 VRB05KT P6SM SCT050=
For the time I'd consider departing, showers with gusty southwest winds would be on the menu, and the winds aloft would still be very strong. The good news: for the overnight period (after 01Z) there would be light, variable winds, good visibility and only a scattered cloud layer around 5,000 feet.
Hey, it's only wind. No convection in the forecast, freezing level up around 9,000 feet. I could make the flight. But as the wise adage says, "Just because you can doesn't mean you should." I decided to opt for a "Dawn Patrol" departure early on Saturday morning.
With the departure of the weather to the east and north, the winds aloft moderated quite a bit. From the depiction at left, the winds at 6,000 feet over New England and down to the mid-Atlantic were forecast to be mostly westerly at about 25 knots by 12Z. A lot better! So I set an early alarm and got myself to the airport by about 5:20 AM.
I seemed to be completely alone on the field. The control tower was closed until 6:30 AM. I pre-flighted N631S in the dark, and checked the weather. The automated weather system was reporting this:
KBDR 020952Z AUTO 02004KT 10SM BKN075 11/08 A2967=A light wind from the northeast, good visibility under a broken ceiling at 7,500 feet. I started the engine and taxied to the hold short line for Runway 6. From there, I called New York Approach: "November 631 Sierra, on the ground at Bridgeport, looking for my IFR clearance to Victor Kilo X-Ray."
The approach controller read my clearance, asked which runway I'd be using, and released me for departure. N631S's wheels were off of the runway at 0957Z. After takeoff, she had N631S and I climb to 6,000 feet and headed us west. Soon we were transferred to the next sector and that controller said, "Skylane 631 Sierra, climb and maintain 8,000 feet."
Thinking there was no harm in asking, I said, "New York, 631 Sierra wonders if there is any chance for 6,000 as a final altitude."
The controller replied, "No, that's an 8,000 foot route. I can let you stay at 6,000 for another 10 miles but then you'll have to climb to 8."
I responded, "Thanks for that. I originally filed for 6,000 on another route; I was thinking there's a bit less headwind at 6.'
There was a pause. Then, "31 Sierra, did you file for a DIXIE route?" I said "Yes" and she replied, "Let me see if I can work that out for you. Stand by."
In less than a minute, the controller came back with, "Skylane 31 Sierra, we're working on a route for you. For now turn left to heading 190, vector to Kennedy, and I'll have your new route for you in a couple minutes."
New York handed me off to McGuire approach and I requested a descent to 4,000 feet hoping for a bit less wind (and hence more ground speed) and a better view below the clouds. That all worked out nicely and our passage through Atlantic City and Dover airspace was uneventful. Soon I was talking to Potomac Approach. Almost home!
Potomac said, "Advise when you have the weather at VKX." I said, "Wilco" and tuned a radio to the frequency for the automated system at Potomac Airfield. Three clicks on the push-to-talk switch gets you the weather at the field. But to my dismay, the robotic voice reported "Visibility one-half mile." Rats! VKX is in a small valley, and sometimes the fog does linger there. Getting back to the approach controller, I advised him of the situation and said I'd like to go have a look, and if conditions really were prohibitive for landing I'd have to divert or go hold somewhere. He said, "You can expect that."
"A pilot who just departed from VKX said that it isn't nearly as bad as the automated system is saying." Great news! I said, "Thanks for that, I should be in good shape then." And I was. The photo at left was taken from the taxiway as I exited the runway after landing at 1210Z (2:13 enroute). As you see, there were just a few wisps of ground fog.