Weather Briefing Checklist

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Listed below are helpful NOAA weather briefing bookmarks and tips for student pilots and private pilots alike to help you make smart and safe aviation weather decisions when you fly.

(Chapter references, and most links and notes, are from Rod Machado's Instrument Pilot's Handbook, 2nd Edition 2018. While not defined by Machado's book, equivalent Foreflight Imagery resources are noted where applicable.)

Weather Briefing Resources and Tips Foreflight Imagery Equivalent

Nexrad Radar Summary Chart (10-26)

  • CHAPTER 16:
  • Always avoid Level 3 and higher dBZ returns (those beginning at 40 dBZ and above).
  • Always avoid the entire cell (even the green/yellow areas) if a red level 3+ 40 dBZ color is in the cell.
  • Always avoid Level 2 and higher dBZ returns too (those beginning at 30 dBZ and above).

  • CHAPTER 10:
  • Issued 16 times during a 24-hr period.
  • Provides the location of radar echoes resulting from precipitation suspended in clouds.
  • If radar shows enough water, there's a strong possibility thunderstorms are present.
  • Helps determine the location of precipitation echoes, their intensity, intensity trend, configuration, coverage, echo tops, bases and movement.
  • Also a good indication of how convective the air might be. The presence of echoes should be a clue to look at other charts and wx reports to get idea of thunderstorm potential in the air.

DOPPLER RADAR > Static Regional Radar

Surface Analysis (10-32)

  • CHAPTER 16:
  • Compare with the NEXRAD radar to see where the cells on the radar map might be going.

  • CHAPTER 10:
  • Issued every 3 hours.
  • Shows the location of pressure patterns and fronts.
  • A very large visual portrayal of hundreds of METARs, it provides you with a big picture of the weather for individual stations along your route.
  • Can show temperature/dew point spread over a large area, providing you with a good deal for the likelihood of fog or low cloud forming before and after sunset.
  • COMPARE with PROG CHART to compare present location of pressure systems and fronts on SURFACE ANALYSIS with predicted future locations on PROG CHART, to see where these fronts are now and where they're likely to be in future.
  • COMPARE with the WEATHER DEPICTION CHART to give you a picture of what effect these fronts and pressure centers are having on surface weather.

CONUS WEATHER > Prog Charts > Latest Surface Analysis

12-HR and 24-HR Prog Charts
Low-Level Significant Weather Prognostic Chart (10-28)

  • CHAPTER 16:
  • Compare with the NEXRAD radar and SURFACE ANALYSIS to see where the cells on the radar map might be going, to help confirm those assumptions.
  • Helps determine where moderate turbulence will be forecast; marginal VFR conditions; IFR conditions; and freezing levels.
  • If it's freezing or below and clouds are present, the possibility of icing exists.

  • CHAPTER 10:
  • Issued 4 times daily, once every 6 hours.
  • A graphical version of the text information found in the TERMINAL AREA FORECAST, WINDS ALOFT FORECAST, and AREA FORECAST (which was discontinued by FAA, replaced with GRAPHICAL FORECAST FOR AVIATION).
  • A picture forecast for the entire continental US.
  • Shows areas of IFR conditions, MVFR conditions, VFR conditions, freezing levels at altitude, forecast of turbulence.
  • Also provides you with the expected location and movements of fronts, pressure systems, and their generated weather.
  • Aviation symbols meaning:

CONUS Weather > Prog Charts

CONUS Weather > Outlook (SIGWX)

Compare Area Forecast (GFA) to Prog Charts
(AF was replaced by Graphical Forecast for Aviation ("GFA")

  • Evaluating these together helps develop a 3-dimensional idea of where cloud coverage might be changing.
  • Area Forecast provides an overall weather picture along your route and potential hazards.


Area Forecast Synopsis
(AF was replaced by Graphical Forecast for Aviation ("GFA") (10-43)

  • CHAPTER 16:
  • Is there still a text-summary of this forecast somewhere??

  • CHAPTER 10:
  • Gives a look at the weather across the continental US from 14 hours in the past up (observational data) to 15 hours into the future (forecasts).
  • Valuable to see how the weather has evolved over time, which helps you evaluate your confidence level in the newest forecast weather.
  • Area Forecast provides an overall weather picture along your route and potential hazards.


Winds Aloft Forecast (10-21)

  • CHAPTER 10:
  • Issued 4 times daily, valid for 6, 12, or 24 hours.
  • Provides an estimate of winds for up to 24 hours in advance.
  • Winds are forecast for true altitudes starting at 3,000 feet and additional 3,000 foot increments up to 12,000 feet (no need to worry about higher for light aircraft).
  • This chart's forecast temperatures are useful to predict where temperature inversions will occur. Any time you see the forecast temperature increasing (or not decreasing) with altitude, you know you have a stable air situation.
  • Helps identify the most favorable winds for cruise.


Turbulence Forecast


Winds/Temps Forecast


24-HR Convective (Severe) Weather Outlook Chart (10-30)

  • CHAPTER 16:
  • Always avoid where thunderstorms are, even if they aren't severe.

  • CHAPTER 10:
  • Day 1: Issued 5 times daily, a 24-hr forecast.
  • Day 2: Issued 2 times daily, a 24-hr forecast.
  • Show areas of severe storm potential, general thunderstorms, to avoid those areas where thunderstorms are forecast.
  • A text notation coming from the CONVECTIVE (SEVERE) WEATHER OUTLOOK CHARTS, where needed.

CONUS Weather > Convective Outlooks

In-Flight Aviation Weather Advisories (10-36)

  • CHAPTER 16:
  • If AIRMETs exist, check for potential icing and freezing levels.
  • These are amendments, or significant weather additions, to the AREA FORECAST (which was replaced by Graphical Forecast for Aviation ("GFA")).
  • Potential for icing along your route.
  • These are amendments, or significant weather additions, to the AREA FORECAST (which was replaced by Graphical Forecast for Aviation ("GFA")).

  • CHAPTER 10:
  • AIRMET: Warns of significant weather but describe conditions at intensities lower than those that trigger a SIGMET.
  • AIRMET SIERRA: IFR and mountain obscuration.
  • AIRMET TANGO: Turbulence, strong surface wind and low-level wind shear.
  • AIRMET ZULU: Icing and freezing level heights.
  • G-AIRMET: Graphical representation of AIRMET information. Issued 1 time every 3 hours.
  • SIGMET: Advisory of non-convective weather (non-thunderstorm type weather) that is potentially hazardous to all aircraft. Severe icing, severe/extreme turbulence, clear air turbulence, dust storms, sand storms, volcanic ash.
  • CONVECTIVE SIGMET: The worst of the worst for weather that is hazardous to all types of aircraft. Severe (or worse) turbulence, severe icing, low-level wind shear, etc.



Icing Forecast


Constant Pressure Chart (10-32)

  • 850 mb:
  • This pressure level is near an elevation of 5,000 feet though it ranges from 3,800 feet (1,170 meters) to 5,200 feet (1,590 meters).

  • 700 mb:
  • An air pressure of 700 millibars is commonly said to occur near 10,000 feet (3,100 meters) in elevation. But the height typically ranges from near 7,700 to 10,500 feet (2,350 to 3,150 meters).

  • 500 mb:
  • Ranging in elevation from 16,000 feet (4,980 meters) to nearly 20,000 feet (6,000 meters) this is considered the "middle" of the atmosphere.

  • Helps assess atmospheric moisture conditions, relative to fog and icing potential.
  • Also helpful to determine wind direction, by comparing the current chart to previously-issued versions.


Observed Winds Aloft Chart (10-35)

  • CHAPTER 10:
  • Issued 2 times daily at 1200Z and 0000Z.
  • Depicts the winds and temperatures at the second standard level (between 1,000' AGL and 2,000' AGL at that reporting station), and at 14,000 feet, 24,000 feet, and 34,000 feet.
  • The second standard level is the altitude for a reporting point that's between 1,000 and 2,000 feet AGL, to help determine any low-level wind shear and ground frictional effects on winds.
  • Can help pilots determine how your airplane will be affected during an instrument approach.
  • COMPARE with any AIRMETs and SIGMETs currently issued.


Weather Depiction Chart (10-23)

  • CHAPTER 16:
  • This also shows some areas of VFR, which is good for having options when flying IFR.
  • To better understand what is seen on the WEATHER DEPICTION CHART, compare it with the RADAR SUMMARY CHART.

  • CHAPTER 10:
  • Issued every 3 hours beginning at 0100Z.
  • Check when the chart was issued. If it's stale, wait for a fresh one.
  • An excellent place to begin your briefing and determine the general weather conditions upon which to base your flight planning.
  • A broad overview of weather conditions; a graphical view of where VFR and IFT conditions prevail.
  • Where are the VFR or MVFR conditions in the direction I'm headed?
  • Which way is the front moving?
  • COMPARE with the RADAR SUMMARY CHART to get an idea of the convective activity associated with areas of IFR, MVFR, and VFR conditions.
  • If an area of MVFR conditions is associated with large, fast-moving echoes (meaning thunderstorms), you should reconsider planning a flight in this direction.
  • The WEATHER DEPICTION CHART will generally be a few hours older than the RADAR SUMMARY CHART.
  • COMPARE with the 12-hr and 24-hr SURFACE PROG CHART to provide you with the expected location and movements of fronts, pressure systems, and their generated weather.

DOPPLER RADAR > Static Regional Radar

Radar Summary Chart (10-26)

  • While this can be more than 1 hr old, it does tell you about the present convective potential of the air.
  • Mentally superimpose the RADAR SUMMARY CHART on top of the WEATHER DEPICTION CHART, to help get a 3-dimensional image of how the atmosphere looks.
  • Allows you to have a rough idea of how extensive the cloud coverage is horizontally and how extensive the water is vertically.

DOPPLER RADAR > Static Regional Radar

PIREPs (10-38)

  • CHAPTER 16:
  • Actual current reports, if others are flying in that area.

  • CHAPTER 10:
  • Real-time weather info reported by pilots in flight.
  • Can include info on weather, flocks of birds, balloons, anything affecting flight.
  • Be suspicious of PIREPs more than 1 hour old.


Aviation Terminal Forecast ("TAF") (10-16)

  • CHAPTER 16:
  • Lets you determine if a climb to visual conditions might be possible, if needed.

  • CHAPTER 10:
  • Issued 4 times daily, once every 6 hours starting at 0000Z.
  • Provides a description of surface weather you can expect to occur at an airport (i.e. a 5-mile radius around a terminal area).
  • Excellent means to identify weather you can expect upon arrival at an airport.
  • When used with METARs, TAFs provide a good idea of the present weather and how it's expected to change.
  • COMPARE the METAR against the TAF to gauge the reliability of the TAF's forecast.
  • If the TAF said this hour was to be clear, but the METAR showed clouds, then that particular TAF might be too optimistic, and thus be less inclined to trust its forecast accuracy.
  • Decoding TAFs:


METARs (10-10)

N/A (listed in each Airport's page)

Ceiling and Visibility Observation


Helicopter Emergency Medical Services Tool

  • This product is for flight planning purposes only and should always be used in combination with ceiling and visibility (C&V) information from official sources such as METARs, AIRMETs, TAFs and Area Forecasts.
  • CVA (Ceiling and Visibility Analysis) is intended to aid situational awareness with a quick-glance visualization of current C&V conditions across an area or along a route of flight.
  • CVA derives C&V for areas between METAR stations so may, as a function of distance from a METAR, misrepresent actual conditions.


Aviation Forecast Discussion

N/A (listed in each Airport's page)

Center Weather Service Unit

  • Another excellent source of weather information, issued by a meteorologist at the Center.
  • An accumulation of the latest monitoring, analysis, and interpretation of real-time weather.



N/A (listed in each Airport's page)


N/A (on 'Map' screen)

Select Alternate Airport

  • Review Terminal Forecast again (and other wx charts as needed) for nearby (but not too nearby) airports.
  • Far enough away that there's a good chance it would have different wx conditions (but not too far away to cause fuel concerns).
  • Review Approach Charts for that airport, when tower will be open using dCS booklet, if approaches are valid during the expected arrival times at this alternate airport, and if forecasted wx at this airport is acceptable to legally list this as an alternate.

(All of the above)

Density Altitude Calculation

  • Departing airport
  • Destination airport
  • Alternate airport


Adjust Flight Planning Accordingly Based On Weather Forecasts

  • Make flight planning adjustments as necesary depending on weather


Smoke Forecasting


Flight Service (10-2)!/

  • Used when you are calling the FSS for weather information six or more hours in advance of your proposed time of departure.
  • Usually call the night before a flight, to obtain a general idea about the weather the following day.

  • Always request a standard briefing if you haven't collected any weather information prior to your first call.
  • Tell the FSS briefer (example):
  • "Good morning. I'm an instrument pilot planning an IFR flight. 2132B, a Cessna 210, leaving John Wayne at 1100 Zulu. Cruising 8,000 feet, direct San Jose. Estimate 2 hours and 15 minutes enroute. Request a standard weather briefing."
  • Briefer will provide the following information in this order (some may be omitted if there is no data for it):
  • Adverse weather conditions
  • Weather synopsis
  • Current weather conditions
  • Enroute forecast weather
  • Destination forecast weather
  • Forecast winds aloft
  • Alternate routes if any
  • NOTAMs
  • ATC delays
  • Always ask the briefer for any in-flight advisories.

  • Contains the weather information you need to update or supplement a previous weather briefing.
  • To update or supplement previously acquired weather information. Tell the briefer the specific information you need.

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