How Weather Can Affect Your Flight Plan

Every private pilot knows that weather is the most important risk factor to safe flying. As such, pilots work double duty as airplane navigators and amateur meteorologists.

Modern technology gives private pilots more platforms than ever to get immediate weather information and warnings before and during their flight. This access to up-to-date information helps ensure that safety and travel time aren’t compromised by weather events.

But despite the advantages of weather-predicting technology, some weather patterns can be hard to predict and plan for. Pop-up summer thunderstorms can move in quickly, and charged cumulonimbus clouds can turn into serious problems for pilots in minutes.

Whether you’re flying in summer or winter, every season poses its own weather-related challenges. Here’s how different types of weather can affect your flight plan, and how to stay prepared as a pilot.

Extremely Hot Weather

Although snowstorms and ice are the most commonly-known instigators in flight delays and cancellations, extremely hot and dry weather can also be a burden for pilots.

Many aircraft are safety rated to operate in temperatures of up to around 128 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning they can handle even the warmest dog days of summer with ease. And some private aircraft are fitted with energy-efficient, high-performance cooling systems, so you can travel in comfort no matter how hot it may be outside.

But extremely hot weather can pose difficulties for the plane’s performance. Because warm air is thinner than cool air, the aircraft’s fuel usage and aerodynamic abilities can be compromised by extremely hot, dry weather.

This means it takes more power to get the aircraft into the air, necessitating a longer runway to get off the ground It’s important for private pilots to factor these warm-weather challenges into their flight plan so they can reach their destination safely.

Summer Thunderstorms

When most people think of taking a flight in the summer, they probably imagine blue skies, sun, and no delays because of snow or ice. But pilots must navigate bumpy flights thanks to summer thunderstorms.

Pop-up thunderstorms throughout the summer (although much better predicted these days in areas) can be hard to predict in specific locations for even the best private pilots. That means you could encounter unexpected convective SIGMETs for turbulence throughout your flight.

In the warmer months, high humidity and warm temperatures can push massive amounts of warm, moist air into the atmosphere. This combination can quickly lead to a turbulent thunderstorm.

Pop-up summer thunderstorms can be some of the hardest weather events to predict. Unlike a warm or cold front, summer thunderstorms can be sparked by pressure and temperature shifts from previous thunderstorms, sea-breeze fronts, and higher or mountainous terrain.

If a storm is directly above the departure airfield, pilots are given no choice but to delay their departure until it passes. But despite the challenges posed by quickly-escalating summer storms, some pilots are lucky enough to be flying equipment able to handle this weather event by being able to top the weather, while others need to circumnavigate around the storms. Be aware of the direction of the storm movement, and give yourself plenty of distance to stay safe.

Before any trip, be sure to plan the most advantageous route around turbulent areas, and map out options for alternate airports and hangar spaces where you can take refuge in case the one you plan to arrive at is surrounded by storms.

Snow and Ice

If you’re a frequent flyer — either as a private pilot or a commercial passenger — it’s rare to have never experienced a flight delay because of snow or ice. Maybe most obviously, snow or other heavy precipitation can compromise a pilot’s visibility.

Accumulated snow or standing water that’s over a half-inch deep on a runway can make it difficult for pilots to generate enough flying speed for takeoff. The water can cause such extreme drag on the aircraft tires that the plane can’t take off before the runway ends.

Freezing rain is one of the most challenging weather events that keeps pilots on the ground for several reasons:

  • The aircraft can gather ice faster than de-icing equipment can remove it
  • The aircraft can lose traction in the ice, making it difficult to control
  • Braking can become uncertain if not impossible
  • Critical equipment can freeze

When it comes to extreme snow and ice, sometimes there is little a pilot can do besides wait out the conditions before it’s safe to fly.

All pilots are trained to predict and plan for weather-related challenges. While a particularly heavy snowstorm may keep your plane on the ground for a few hours or even a few days, other events should be safe enough for you to navigate, such as summer turbulence.

But even on the clearest of days, weather can change quickly and with little warning once you’re in the air. Paired with a global increase in severe and unpredictable weather patterns, it’s more important than ever for pilots to have a safe and thorough diversion plan for bad weather before taking flight.

In the case of dangerous weather, finding the closest diversion airport to you with available hangar space can be a lifesaver — for both you and your plane. Discover how Daily Hangar is giving pilots new options for streamlining their diversion plan »