Probable Cause #54: One-Minute Briefing
This article originally appeared in Aviation Safety, Feb. 2006.It's often easy to forego obtaining a full weather briefing before a flight. Looking at the weather as we drive to the airport, we assess the local conditions, noting the cloud cover and bases, check visibility by seeking out distant landmarks and note if any other airplanes are flying. During a quick turn, we don't take time to pick up a phone to call the local AFSS ... after all, we just came in and experienced that weather, didn't we? We should be telling them about it, not the other way around. When I know I have a cross-country flight coming up in a few days, I'll monitor The Weather Channel and various Web sites to get a feel for trends: Are there any major fronts with which I'll have to contend? What's the general tone to any weather news? What have other areas of the country experienced in the last few days and is that weather going to impact my route or my destination? Still, I usually self-brief, especially if the weather's good, or at least doesn't involve widespread icing or a mess of thunderstorms. When I'm away from home and don't know much about local conditions, I'll definitely pick up the phone and seek out a full briefing. Of course, I balance all that "knowledge" with the understanding that there's no foolproof way to forecast the weather with which I will have to contend on my coming flight. No matter how much technology we throw at the problem of weather forecasting and no matter the tools we have in our panels to deal with it, sometimes we just have to park the airplane and admit temporary defeat. But, I'm probably as guilty of cutting corners on weather briefings as anyone. Most of the time, I know the "big picture" ahead of time and, unless things really suck, I'm good with a glance at the area forecasts, a check of the TAFs and METARs and a NOTAMS update. I'll be flying at altitudes and along routes I know fairly well and, even when I'm off the beaten path, I pay attention to where divert airports are and plan what I'll need to do to get to one if "something bad" happens. While that attitude could be considered lackadaisical, by staying abreast of widespread conditions and then getting up close and personal with the numbers being reported and forecast at stations along my route, I rarely run into anything I haven't been told about. The point is that there's no substitute for getting, understanding and applying as much current and theoretical weather knowledge as we can. Doing so helps enhance our flying efficiency and makes things run more smoothly. That said, there's no such thing as too much weather information. But as we shall see, there is such a thing as too little.