Friday, June 1, 2012

Some Days It's Not a Good Idea

The weather boffins have been saying all day that the afternoon and evening would be boisterous in the Mid-Atlantic states. The loud noises started around 18Z with thunderstorm cells forming in central Virginia and moving northeast toward the DC area.

My plan was to get a coastal route from ATC, depart Connecticut around 20Z, and fly south until I didn't like what I saw through the windshield. I was guessing I'd make it to Millville (KMIV). Here are a couple of the relevant Terminal Area Forecasts (TAF's) from 18Z:

KBDR 011740Z 0118/0218 10018KT P6SM SCT015 BKN070 BKN200 
     FM020100 11015G23KT P6SM OVC010 
     KBDR 011740Z 0118/0218 10018KT P6SM SCT015 BKN070 BKN200 
     FM020100 11015G23KT P6SM OVC010 
     FM020400 11015G21KT 3SM -RA BR OVC004 
     FM020700 13013G20KT 2SM RA BR OVC004 
     FM021000 17012KT 3SM SHRA BKN005 OVC012 
     FM021400 19007KT P6SM BKN025 
     FM021600 21008KT P6SM SCT030

KACY 012012Z 0120/0218 11011G19KT P6SM BKN020 
     FM012200 12012G21KT P6SM BKN030 
     FM020100 14012G22KT P6SM -SHRA SCT015 OVC035 WS020/19040 
     FM020400 15010G18KT 3SM SHRA BR OVC015 WS020/19045KT 
     TEMPO 0204/0207 2SM +TSRA BR OVC008CB 
     FM021000 28009KT 4SM -SHRA BR SCT015 OVC035 
     FM021200 29010KT P6SM BKN120 
     FM021500 29012G18KT P6SM SCT040
The forecasts have the rain starting in Atlantic City around 01Z and in Bridgeport not until midnight.

But Air Traffic Control had other ideas. When I requested the routing I wanted I was told that there were no routes available into the DC area due to weather. I understand their point...here are some images of what's going on around DC as I write:

This is the Surface Analysis released at 1933Z. (Click to enlarge.) It shows the warm front draped right across DC and the DelMarVa peninsula and the cold front pushing into western Virginia. The convective activity in the warm sector between the two fronts is no surprise.

And here's the long range base-reflectivity display from the Sterling, VA NEXRAD site at 2012Z. You can see that New Jersey looks good, but the weather is encroaching on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. In fact, it was moving from a 210 heading at approximately 30 knots. And yes, the red polygons are tornado warnings.

This one got my attention. It's the Tornado Watch updated at 2017Z. It warns of a moderate risk of severe tornadoes and 2" hail, over the entire DC and Maryland area. Upon reflection, I don't think I want to go there. So, based on a preponderance of the evidence I've concluded that this is one of those days when it's not a good idea to fly. Time to come up with Plan 'B'!

My options were:

  • Depart Bridgeport VFR and fly as far south as seemed to make sense, then land and 'hole up' until the worst of the weather passed (note to self: Could be pretty late), or get a motel room and press on tomorrow.
  • Hustle over to the railroad station and catch the AMTRAK train that departs at 5:02 and is scheduled into Washington about 10:45. Expect to get home about midnight. (Down-side: Then I'm forced onto the train on Monday morning for the return trip.)
  • Pack it in for today. File a flight plan for a 'Dawn Patrol' departure tomorrow morning, then go find someone who will sell me a burger. (Note to self: Turn in early for the early departure.)
The third option wins, hands down...provided the weather forecast for tomorrow morning supports it. Taking another look at the TAF for Bridgeport as it relates to an 0930Z departure:
KBDR 011740Z 0118/0218 ... 
     FM020700 13013G20KT 2SM RA BR OVC004 
     FM021000 17012KT 3SM SHRA BKN005 OVC012 
     FM021400 19007KT P6SM BKN025 
That's acceptable. A normal, rainy IFR departure. If I file for a route west to Sparta VOR (SAX), thence over toward Allentown and then Reading, I'll be moving away from the weather. Here's the Reading (KRDG) TAF for the period:
KRDG 011750Z 0118/0218 ... 
     FM020800 25008KT 4SM -SHRA BR SCT015 OVC035 
     FM021000 29010KT P6SM BKN120 
     FM021500 29012G17KT P6SM BKN040
By the time I get over there, the weather will be clear (although the ride may be bumpy in the aftermath of the cold front). And finally, for arrival at KVKX around 12Z, here's the TAF for KDCA:
KDCA 012001Z 0120/0218 15016G25KT 4SM TSRA BKN035CB OVC050 
     FM020100 17012G20KT 4SM TSRA BKN025CB OVC040 
     FM020500 30010KT P6SM BKN050 
     FM021100 30012KT P6SM SCT050 
     FM021600 29014G18KT P6SM FEW050
That should serve nicely – scattered clouds at 5,000 feet and a mild northwest wind.

So that's the plan. I'm off to find dinner, then an early bedtime and an oh-dark-thirty wake-up. I wish you all a pleasant evening.


Greg said...

Good choice waiting it out. Here is one of the METARS I saw last night during my shift at PCT:

KBWI 012335Z COR 21007G18KT 3SM +FC TSRA BR FEW008 BKN014CB OVC026 22/20 A2970 RMK AO2 PK WND 28032/2321 TORNADO B20 1 W MOV NE FRQ LTGICCG NW-N TS NW-N MOV NE P0015

Frank Van Haste said...


Wow! That'll get your attention. You don't see '+FC' too often (thank goodness).

Honestly, I was not expecting to get to KVKX last evening. I figured I'd get to KMIV and hole up, wit a quick run in this morning. But I was surprised when ATC wouldn't clear me to start!

As it was, I had a rainy IFR takeoff at 0549 local this morning, into the schmoo at about 500 feet. But within about 30 minutes I was between layers at 8,000 and leaving the IMC behind. All's well as ends well.

Thanks for stopping by.


Cedarglen said...

Thanks, Frank. Great post (and blog). You certainly know that territory well, and understand the potential for servious weather even better. Knowing your machine and your personal limits is also part of the package. Perhaps the most important part is knowing when stay on the ground, a skill based on experience that not all pilots seem to have. Smart choices and an excellent post, good sir. -C.

Frank Van Haste said...

Craig, I agree re: knowing when to stay on the ground. But you can accomplish a lot if you get started in the right direction and then react flexibly to actual conditions. This requires really good information and a willingness to accept that you might need to land somewhere you hadn't intended to be that night. And never forget that hubris can be fatal.

Thanks for your comment,


Mohka said...

Excellent to hear this, good job! Hope you're enjoying it.

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