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Alaska loses five weather reporting stations

Alaska pilots are already “weather challenged” when it comes to flight planning. Obtaining current weather information can be a challenge depending on your destination and route of flight. That just got a little more difficult due to FAA cancelling the contracts for weather observers at five locations as of October 1st. Those stations are:

Farewell Lake          Manley Hot Springs
Merrill Pass West    Nabesna
Chandalar Lake

These are not the conventional automated weather stations (AWOS or ASOS), that have become the national standard for aviation weather. These stations are called A-PAID sites, because they were locations where a human observer, certified by the National Weather Service, actually looked at the sky and filed a report for a limited number of observations during the day. They don’t report “specials,”  and when the observer is on vacation or sick, no report is filed. But they are far better than nothing, which is what we are left with for the moment.

Over the years, I personally counted on the Manley weather, not only to figure if I could make it into Manley Hot Springs, but to determine what conditions were like for longer flights down the Yukon River headed to Galena and Nome. I also used the Chandalar Lake weather as an important observation when establishing if I could fly directly from Fairbanks to Galbraith Lake or Happy Valley– or if I needed to make the much longer trip via Bettles and through the lower mountain passes to get across the Brooks Range.

AOPA, the Alaska Airmen’s Association, Alaska Air Carriers Association and the Alaskan Aviation Safety Foundation were already concerned about changes to the network of surface observations that started in 2011– when the National Weather Service announced it was replacing A-Paid observers with a new automated weather stations. The replacement equipment is not certified by the FAA to produce official METAR observations. While the development of the FAA Weather Camera Program has provided an excellent source of supplemental weather information, the value of this network is limited to daylight hours only, and is not a substitute for actual weather observations that include ceiling and visibility measurements. We will continue to aggressively pursue both the FAA and National Weather Service to improve, and not degrade, our already sparse network of weather stations.

Your input needed
Below are maps showing the stations that have just gone dark. If you have a need for aviation weather from these locations, please drop me an email with a brief note listing the station or stations and why weather observations from those locations is important to you. Being able to articulate the role these stations play may help us when it comes to justifying our aviation weather needs in some of these areas.

You can expect to hear more on this topic!

Farewell Lake, near the west entrance to Rainey Pass.

Farewell Lake, near the west entrance to Rainey Pass. The black circle on this series of screen captures from the Alaska Aviation Weather Unit website means NO DATA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manley Hot Springs, along the Tanana River between Nenana and Tanana.

Manley Hot Springs, along the Tanana River between Nenana and Tanana.

 

Merrill Pass West

Merrill Pass West

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nebesna, between the Alaska Range and Wrangell Mountains.

Nebesna, between the Alaska Range and Wrangell Mountains. Paxson and Slana stations were closed previously, leaving no stations along the southern flanks of the eastern Alaska Range.

 

Chandalar Lake, on the south side of the Brooks Range almost directly on the flight path from Fairbanks to Deadhorse.

Chandalar Lake, on the south side of the Brooks Range almost directly on the flight path from Fairbanks to Deadhorse. Fort Yukon is about 100 miles away.

 

7 Comments

  1. Farewell lake is yet another loss for trying to fly through Rainy Pass. The loss of Hayes River A-PAID a couple of years ago and now Farewell. This means we have only two stations between town and McGrath and the interior. The camera’s are a huge help but without the stations we still have to guess if the weather is good enough to make it. On this side I have friends living in the Susitna Valley with regular phone service I can call for weather, on the other side by Farewell thats not an option. For years now we have been asking, begging the FAA to get the small remote stations (can’t remember what they are called) the weather service wants to install approved, as well as the wind info on the camera site!

  2. John Zarling, Ph.D.,P.E.

    October 24, 2014 at 5:58 am

    Weather from Manley Hot Springs is critically important to me. I make 25 to 30 flights to Manley or the Manley area per year and the increase in flight safety is certainly warranted by having weather observations at Manley. Over the 25 years I have learned the weather can be significantly different between Fairbanks and Manley. I knew the past weather observer at Manley before his unfortunate death in May. The cost of operating a weather station there is no more than a blip on the Weather Service’s budget given the pay these observers receive.

  3. We live about 45 miles south of MHS at Wien Lake. Manley has always been a helpful reporting station when we’re trying to flight plan especially when trying to get home from FAI. We’d sure miss MHS.

    Michael and Robin Maher

  4. Flying between the MatSu area and Galena as well as Fairbanks/Nenana area to Galena the weather stations in-between are enormously helpful.

    There have been times where both Galena and Fairbanks were easy clear VFR and I’ve turned around for weather that no one knew about. Stations like these help fill in the blank spots as far as real world weather. These routes are not frequented enough to get weather from other airplanes.

    The Fairwell site is the decision maker location as the mountains are too high to fly over VFR with any type of weather. The IFR option is usually out in any type of Single Engine as very high MEA’s and icing become factors. Nicolai is in the flat and has very different weather than Fairwell being snuggled against the mountain range. These are very long legs with few fueling and real divert options.

    As a high time ATP, and Alaska pilot I would argue to keep the Fairwell Lake site as well as the Manly Hot Springs.

  5. Fairwell is extremely important to realistic decision making on VFR flight through Rainy Pass. I can’t believe we are losing it. I have already missed Manley when trying to figure out what is happening down river from Fairbanks. There are some lonely stretches now and Wx can vary a lot from Fairbanks. Typical of people without a clue making decisions from afar costing pilots lives while spending large amounts of funds on meaningless programs. The many, many, brochures lying around Flight Service that contain absolutely no usefull information would keep these stations open and many more.

  6. I have been flying between Wasilla and McGrath for about the last 20 years and have used Ptarmigan Pass primarily. So have used the Rainy Pass area to travel. There are two areas of concern that seem to cause trouble along the route. One being Hayes River and the other Farewell.
    Since the live observer has been gone from Hayes River there have been at least 3 times that I have had to divert from going through the Rainy Pass area and all have been caused by weather at Hayes River. The weather cam at Rainy Pass Lodge does not do any good and neither does the one at Skwentna. Both are too far removed. I have been told that the live observer is also going away at Skwentna.
    While the weather cam is located at Rohn it helps with the vision but does not give the actual weather. I was told by Dewey Covey who lived in Farewell for years that if the wind is above 25 knots to stay away. I have paid attention to that ever since. Now there is no longer a live observer at Farewell Lake to help us out there.
    Rainy Pass area probably has the second highest fatality rate of any pass in Alaska. The only one higher is probably Merrill. With the loss of these two live observers I believe it will go even higher now.

  7. The loss of Farewell Lake weather is a significant one for weather reporting. I fly to the Farewell area regularly for work and personal reasons and this report is critical. This is also an essential weather report for the many pilots who travel through rainy pass. This pass can be extremely difficult to navigate and doing it with incomplete weather can be a real safety hazard. Getting an AWOS/ASOS at Farewell station would be a significant improvement vs no weather at all. If the FAA is really interested in safety they should place a high value on these weather systems that actually make a big difference.

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