On a recent business trip, Pam and I enjoyed flying what was our very first cross country business flight together. We flew my Cessna 172, “Betsy”, to Gwinnett County/Briscoe Airport in Lawrenceville, Georgia. It was mid-January and the weather was a concern as wintry weather was forecast, so I had been checking the weather forecasts several days in advance of our planned trip.
Of all the weather information available on the internet today, there are a few sources that I rely upon regularly: AOPA, NOAA, and Weathermeister.com. AOPA has all the “official” and highly dependable aviation weather and airport information, and NOAA gives local forecasts in simple laymen’s terms. Weathermeister.com however provides pilots with a collection of weather and airport information from various sources and displays that information on a single webpage.
Weathermeister.com is a result of ten years of development by Dan Checkoway, a pilot, airplane builder, and computer software engineer located in Chino Hills, California. His initial intent was to have quick and concise weather information for his personal flying. Over the years, tweaking the website led to Dan’s offering it to other pilots.
Weathermeister.com charges a monthly fee for all but its limited-use service. For upgraded functionality, there are three fee tiers: Basic, Premium, and Corporate. The Basic tier offers a saved aircraft profile and a few custom routes and area reports. The Premium tier offers additional aircraft profiles, more custom routes and area reports for pilots that fly routes regularly, TFR notifications, email and internet instant weather messaging. The Corporate tier offers yet more aircraft profiles and custom routes and area reports. All three paid tiers have METARs, TAFs, PIREPs, NOTAMs, National Weather Service forecasting, and Flight Optimizer.
All of the weather reports on Weathermeister.com roll out on one webpage, so there is no need to click on several links to get the complete weather picture covering your intended route. And, there are mouseover functions and items to click on to find even more information such as airport information, maps, sectional charts, runway crosswind information, etc.
We planned to depart early enough Sunday so we would have smooth air for the trip over, but as Sunday drew closer, weather forecasts were looking like IFR or marginal in the morning, but possibly lifting by afternoon. Additionally, our proposed return flight either Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning was still in question due to iffy weather moving into the area around that time.
Monitoring the weather for several days in advance of the trip provided great insight as to how the weather reports change from day to day. Good weather on Sunday, bad on Wednesday a week in advance. Marginal on Sunday and good on Wednesday as Sunday approached.
Finally Sunday morning arrived. Up early, coffee and laptop in hand, a look at Weathermeister.com revealed that a morning flight was not possible due to low overcast. The METARs and TAFs along the route all indicated IFR in the morning, but showed the clouds lifting by noon. So I was checking the weather reports often, hoping the weather would lift before late afternoon. If not, we’d have to drive and who wants to do that when you can fly!
This is where Weathermeister.com really shines. I chose my route (already saved from earlier), in our case it was Columbia Downtown Owens Field, Saluda, McCormick, Athens, and finally Gwinnett County/Briscoe in Lawrenceville. Weathermeister.com then displays the weather and airport information for this route on a single webpage and updates every five minutes automatically. You only need to scroll down through the page to review all of the necessary data to make a highly-informed go or no-go decision.
First you see a flight recap: distance, magnetic course (wind accounted for), your departure time, best altitude and economy, which is based on aircraft performance and wind conditions.
Next is a small Google map of the flight route showing your waypoints. Then you see the Flight Optimizer which shows ETE, fuel, ETA, climb, cruise, and descent data at various altitudes – even thousands plus 500 for westerly routes or odd thousands plus 500 for easterly routes. It displays several altitude options: 4500, 6500, 8500, etc, and gives all the time, speed and economy data and highlights the altitude that is best for economy and speed. Many times they are the same altitude but sometimes speed and economy are at different altitudes – you decide which is important.
If any TFRs are reported along the route, they will be displayed. METARs are displayed for every reporting point along the route. The route’s corridor width is selectable in the route menu, as are departure time, aircraft profile, etc.
Next are pilot and air reports, AIRMETs, and SIGMETs, if any are reported.
Several graphics are displayed, including: current surface, flight rules, radar mosaic, satellite views of departure and arrival areas, infrared satellite, AIRMET and SIGMET chart, freezing levels, winds at various altitudes – all these overlaid on maps of the US.
Next is the winds aloft table, displaying winds aloft for all waypoints, with wind direction and speed, and calculated headwind/tailwind data. Freezing temperatures are color coded blue for easy visual reference.
Sunrise and sunset data for all waypoints is next, then TAFs are diplayed and interpreted into plain language for really easy reviewing. All available TAFs along the route are displayed.
Then there are the very handy National Weather Services forecasts for the route, showing predicted weather information for various times of the day. Area Forecasts are next and then an array of front/precipitation images are displayed for various future time periods such as: 12-hour, 24-hour… 3-day, etc.
The all-important NOTAMs report is next. A table of all NOTAMs along the route are given.
This default report ends with a display of a portion of the sectional chart for the departure and arrival airports and a button to click to find fuel prices along the route. The display of all of this information is customizable, depending upon user preference.
All of the textual information provided by Weathermeister.com is given in plain language where possible, such as METARs, TAFs, PIREPs, and are color coded according to whether the data indicates LIFR, IFR, MVFR, or VFR. This, with the plain language interpretation, provides a very visually intuitive report, making go or no-go decisions easy to decide, with all the data from various reporting sources combined into a complete picture of conditions for your flight.
So Weathermeister.com was telling us that our Sunday departure might be possible in the afternoon. So we waited at the SAC for a few hours while the ceiling lifted as reported by Weathermeister.com. We finally departed Columbia at 2:10 p.m. with 1800 feet overcast reported, hoping the weather would indeed open up by the time we reached Lawrenceville. When we got to Saluda, the conditions were as predicted there, and the lower ceiling along the SC/GA border was lifting up nicely. By the time we got beyond McCormick, the blue sky opened up as we ventured on towards Athens, and finally Gwinnett County/Briscoe.
The weather for our departure from Gwinnett County/Briscoe on Wednesday morning was looking good, but as we trudged through our business seminars Monday and Tuesday, a weather system was moving in from the southwest, bringing a wintry mix of rain, ice, and snow. I told Pam that if it looked bad for Wednesday, we would break away from seminars early Tuesday afternoon head for home. I was checking Weathermeister.com every time we got a break on Monday and Tuesday.
By early Tuesday afternoon, conditions looked better for a Wednesday morning departure, so we opted for that, hoping the weather reports were accurate for a late Wednesday afternoon arrival of that nasty system.
Wednesday morning arrived and Pam and I got out to the airport at around 8:00 a.m. The temperature was 29° F and Betsy’s poor battery didn’t make it. The kind lineman tried to jump start us with a generator, but the battery was so far gone it wouldn’t take a charge. Now this, with our weather window closing in on us! We had already decided that if reported weather conditions were not favorable for the flight, we would rent a car and drive home – what a nightmare!
So back in the warm, comfortable lobby at Aircraft Specialists Jet Center, waiting to see if maintenance could locate a battery, I continued to monitor the weather on Weathermeister.com. It was now close to 9:00 a.m. and Weathermeister.com was still indicating a window until around 5:00 p.m.
The maintenance hangar called my cell phone and the mechanic said he had located a battery and that it would be a couple of hours before he would have it installed. A bit pricey, but I gave the go ahead, hoping that they could install it and get us airborne before our weather window closed on us; I wanted to be in Columbia by 3:00 p.m. at the latest.
Sure enough, as promised, the maintenance hangar had our battery installed and the lineman pulled Betsy up in front of the lobby. At around 11:00 a.m., the lineman and I put our luggage into the airplane once again. The engine cranked up better than ever with the new battery. Ironically, I had paid to have the battery checked and serviced only six days earlier.
In our earlier attempt to jump start, I had left the master switch in the off position when the lineman hooked up the generator. An after-the-fact review of my POH told me I should have had the master switch on to avoid surges to the buses. With the switch on, the battery would absorb any surge that might happen. Well, it seems I must learn the hard way at times, and so a surge did indeed happen. It happened, as I would later find out, to take out my turn and bank indicator, and my GPS that was plugged into the cigar lighter. The cigar lighter fuse didn’t break but looked “used” and the fuse in the GPS power cord looked brand new, but the GPS was not turning on. With engine running, I unplugged the GPS and replaced the batteries to see if that would help, figuring that the cigar lighter fuse must have blown. The GPS wouldn’t work. Yikes!
I thought to myself, we have an airspeed indicator, an altimeter and a whiskey compass. I looked at Pam and said, “Hand me the chart.” How we do get so spoiled using the GPS!
So we had a chart and a compass and that’s good enough. We did some radio work with Tower and taxied to runway seven. They asked what type aircraft and what letter. I was thinking, A or U? Or F! I am not so sure after this mornings panel losses. I told them we had mode C. We departed Gwinnett County/Briscoe at 11:25 a.m. – still well within our weather window by a “safe” margin. Off to the east over Winder I realized that I had my little Garmin Geko 201 “hikers” GPS in my flight bag. Pam got it out and I put in on the dashboard by the whiskey compass. I hadn’t learned how to enter waypoints, so the only functionality I could squeeze out of it and still fly the airplane, was to have it display a compass to verify what the whiskey compass was telling us in its rather shaky way.
The air was smooth at 3500 feet and the flight rather effortless, although very chilly in the cockpit. Over the GA/SC border we were several miles north of where we wanted to be but soon we picked up Abbeville and Greenwood several miles to the north of us and finally Lake Murray. A call to Columbia Approach gave us a bee line for KCUB and home.
As it turned out, the wintry mix did arrive just about exactly as Weathermeister.com’s forecasts had reported, in the later afternoon and evening, hitting the Atlanta area first and then Columbia shortly there after. Weathermeister.com had displayed this information to us in a manner that made frequent reviews easy and tireless. Its plain language text and visual queues, along with the mass of the weather and airport information compiled into a single review makes it a reliable one-stop-shop for aviation weather – a weather compendium of sorts. Check it out at http://www.weathermeister.com/.