In the blog two weeks ago, “It’s working,” I misspoke in saying that controllers were required to provide pilots information on precipitation. After some discussion with FAA officials, while they agreed that safety advisories are critical, would not go so far as to use the “R” word. So, be advised that while FAA is working hard to “encourage” controllers to let you know if there is precip ahead, it’s up to pilots to ask.
The proof on the variability of ATC services came shortly after the conversation. Last week, while I was flying to Michigan, the remains of Hurricane Gustav were raining themselves out over the upper Midwest. The aircraft is equipped with weather datalink so I was getting a reasonably good picture ahead. As you can see, there was a diffuse area of rain farther out and one heavier shower much closer.
Hearing nothing, I asked the controller what he saw. The response was ” There’s precip all along your route to destination.” While accurate, it provided no real information and there was no mention of the shower. When nudged, the controller acknowledged that there was an area of heavier precip. He offered no vectors so we just advised him that we were going to make a small deviation to the West.
Contrast that with the return trip and a weak cold front penetration – again, nothing of real consequence but the controller volunteered that there “was a band of precip about 20 miles wide showing mostly light but some moderate and that preceeding aircraft reported a smooth ride. Based on visual observation, knowledge of the weather system, the data link picture and the controller’s input we decided to press on and emerged on the far side with a little light rain and light turbulence.
The point is be proactive and cautious in gathering weather information. Some controllers will be most helpful and with others you’ll have to work at it. Not unlike pilots.