As pilots, we are very interested in the weather. An early lesson one gets while learning to fly is not to put total faith in weather forecasts. I believe it was President Reagan who made famous the phrase– trust, but verify. That certainly applies to forecasts and flying. For the last year-and-a-half AOPA has been working with our friends at the National Weather Service in Alaska to bringing together groups of seasoned pilots from different parts of Alaska to sit down with forecasters and have a discussion about aviation weather needs, primarily focused on VFR flying. Questions asked in these sessions typically start with, “What route do you fly to get from Fairbanks to Eagle?” followed by, “Where along that route do you encounter adverse weather?” A lively discussion regarding the nature of the weather conditions normally follows.
Don Moore manages the Alaska Aviation Weather Unit, located on Sand Lake Road, just south of the Anchorage International Airport, and has led these discussions. After listening to pilots describe some of the conditions that plagued them, he pulled up an experimental forecast product the weather service is working on, and asked if we thought it might be helpful. Following a look at the product, heads started to nod around the table. A few weeks later, an experimental winds aloft forecast was added to the AAWU website, and is available for pilots to use.
This product is based on a computer model, but has finer resolution in time and space than current products we are used to seeing. The arrows indicate the direction of the wind at an altitude selected by the pilot, but the intensity is displayed as a color. Temperature is also displayed as a contour line, with its own color scheme. The legend at the bottom provides the color codes for each feature. Several details about this product are worth noting:
1) The user selects the altitude at the top of the page
2) The tabs across the top allow you to step through different forecast periods
3) The + and – symbols on the top left corner of the image allow you to zoom in (only one step, currently)
4) The + symbol on the upper right edge of the product lets you toggle features on and off (click to expand)
5) The color patches represent the area forecast for each wind speed, the vectors merely show direction.
Please give this product a try. You will find this graphic by clicking a link at the bottom of the Winds Aloft page on the AAWU’s website (see yellow arrows, below).
This product is still in development. For now, the National Weather Service would really appreciate receiving pilot reports to help validate this product, as well as their other forecasts. So when you are headed out to fly, please take a few minutes and file PIREPs enroute, including an estimate of the winds aloft. Remember– trust, but verify!