Don't let the recent and upcoming weather catch you by surprise. Prepare for storms and ice across the US as winter turns to spring.
February 2nd marked Groundhog Day, and Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow this year. If you get your weather predictions from groundhogs, that means six more weeks of winter. Yet the trained weather folks aren't disagreeing with Phil for the moment; the Pacific Northwest United States was hit with a blanket of white earlier this week, and another burst of winter weather is busting into the Northeast as the week closes. Current predictions indicate we're in for a variable March, too. Thunderstorms, damp weather, chill in the north, and dry heat in the south will make for an interesting introduction to the spring storm season no matter where you're flying.
The sudden uptick in winter weather may come as a surprise after such an unseasonably warm December and January, but it's a good reminder that you can never be too prepared. As we enter the stormy transition from winter to spring, it's vital to stay up-to-date on current weather information and prepare your flight accordingly.
You may need to perform an anti-icing or deicing prior to flight, which might mean calculating holdover times and performing thorough pre-takeoff contamination checks. You may encounter contaminated runways and degraded braking conditions, possibly resulting in diversions. Overcast skies or heavy precipitation may make VFR flight impossible. All of these necessary precautions will take time, so be sure you're starting your preparations early enough so as not to feel rushed. If you're in too big of a hurry, you're more liable to make dangerous errors.
Depending on your operation and anti-icing capabilities, you may find yourself forced to divert or reroute during a flight due to unexpected icing or storms. For those capable of flying in such conditions, exercise extreme caution while flying through or around icing. Aircraft icing can result in any number of problems from blocked pitot tubes or static ports to loss of lift and airspeed. Beware, too, of whiteout or flat-light conditions that make visual referencing difficult or impossible.
Take care not to fall into mental traps such as believing you can fly through conditions you or your aircraft cannot handle, or pushing the limits to meet a deadline. It only takes one moment of poor judgment to cause an unintended and undesirable flight situation.
However, with thorough preparations and a solid understanding of your aircraft and the outside conditions, risks can be properly mitigated and plans can be put in place to handle them. Take some time before your next flight to refresh yourself on your aircraft's capabilities for handling winter weather. Be familiar with your operation's policies on flying in and around severe weather, and what the rules are for handling unexpected conditions. Always review the most current weather reports before a flight, and remain up-to-date during the flight's duration. If you're ever in doubt that you can complete a flight, don't be afraid to make a no-go decision. Such a decision may save your life.
Remember, good preparation is the best way to prevent weather-related incidents! Stay safe out there.
- Aviation Weather Theory
- Winter Operations