Pilots have always been obsessed with weather, and the iPad makes it easier than ever to view a wide variety of forecasts and observations. What was once reserved for a flight service briefer can now be accessed with a few taps on an aviation app. That means the average general aviation pilot has powerful tools to make better preflight weather decisions – but only if you know where to look.
ForeFlight in particular has added a number of weather products over the last few years, going far beyond the basics of radar and METARs. In our experience, though, a lot of pilots still focus on those basics and haven’t integrated the new weather information into their preflight briefings. Let’s look at five weather tools in ForeFlight you should be using, and why they matter.
Forecast Discussions. We love the addition of this text product. While TAFs often seem black and white, in reality forecasting is anything but. The discussion section, found on the Airports page just under TAF and MOS, helps the professional forecasters add some nuance to their latest forecast, including the probability of significant weather changes and also any uncertainty about timing. If conditions look marginal, make sure you spend some time reading these notes to get a fuller picture of the weather patterns. If nothing else, you’ll begin to understand how forecasters make their decisions, which makes this a great learning tool for new pilots.
Graphical MOS. Model Output Statistics are the raw forecasts that weather supercomputers spit out, uncorrected by human forecasters. They shouldn’t necessarily be used by themselves, but when combined with other forecast tools we’ve found them to be very helpful in understanding the major trends. While the actual MOS product is mostly code, ForeFlight displays the two most important parts of MOS (ceiling and visibility) as easy-to-read charts. Go to the Imagery page, then the GFS MOS section. Here you can see forecast conditions out to 7 days, in 3 hour increments. For VFR pilots planning a trip that’s a few days away, this is essential.
Extended Convective Forecast. As the days get longer and temperatures rise, this chart becomes more and more important. While a radar image can show you where thunderstorms are right now, the ECFP charts can show you where they will be up to 78 hours in the future. We often use this to adjust our departure time if convection is forecast – you can swipe through each 6-hour forecast period to get a sense for the best time to leave. While it’s not precise to the neighborhood level, we’ve found it to be extremely accurate when predicting the movement of frontal storms and larger systems.
Wind components. Besides thunderstorms, wind is often the biggest reason for canceling a flight. Even on a clear day, a 25-knot crosswind can mean your flight is a no-go, and if you’re already in the air it can require a diversion. Instead of guessing how much is “too much,” we like to use ForeFlight’s wind components tool. Go to the Airports page, then the Runways tab. Tap on each runway for your departure or destination airport and you’ll instantly see the headwind/tailwind and crosswind component. This makes it easy to determine which runway is best, or if conditions are simply too windy. If you’re using a Stratus ADS-B receiver or an SXAR1 SiriusXM receiver, these wind conditions will be updated in flight. The best advice is to set a personal maximum for both tailwind component and crosswind component, then follow it.
Graphical briefings. A lot of pilots do their own briefings these days, so the thought of requesting an official text briefing before flight might seem rather quaint. But ForeFlight’s graphical briefing tool makes this much easier than before. You can quickly review all the important information about a proposed flight, delivered in a structured format. In particular, the winds aloft matrix is helpful for choosing the right cruising altitude – this is the only place we know to compare multiple options side-by-side.
Another helpful part of the graphical briefing is the list of METARs and TAFs en route. This shows all current and forecast weather conditions along your route of flight, color-coded by flight condition. Even better, turn on the Plain Text option at the top right for a translated view.
If you’d like to learn more about preflight weather briefings and how to make better go/no-go decisions, sign up for Sporty’s next webinar. Meteorologist Scott Dimmich and iPad Pilot News Editor Bret Koebbe will be talking about “weather fundamentals and strategy” on May 3 at 8pm eastern. Sign up here.