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6 Hazardous Weather Conditions For IFR Pilots

IFR pilots face their own set of unique weather hazards. Here are some of the worst you could encounter.

1) Embedded Thunderstorms

Embedded thunderstorms are obscured by cloudy conditions, making it nearly impossible to determine storm clouds from safe clouds without accurate radar imagery.

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2) Fog

Fog may be present when a small temperature/dew-point spread exists (usually within 5 degrees Celsius). It's most common in areas with abundant moisture, and it generally forms when air is cooled to the dew-point (temperature decreases) or moisture is added to the air (dew-point increases).

Unless equipped for CAT II or CAT III approaches, flying an instrument approach to landing may be impossible. Worse yet, foggy conditions may last for hundreds of miles, making it tough to find a suitable alternate.

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3) Clear Air Turbulence

CAT normally occurs outside of clouds at altitudes above 15,000 feet MSL, and its caused by strong wind shears in the jet stream.

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4) Hail

Thunderstorms can launch hail out of themselves up to 20 miles away, especially under the anvil of a storm. Because of this, the FAA recommends you fly 20 miles or more away from large, severe storms.

Swayne Martin

5) Microbursts On Approach

Microbursts pose serious climb performance hazards that you can't outclimb, especially when low to the ground on an instrument approach. Microbursts can produce downdrafts of up to 6,000 ft/min, and last time we checked, there aren't many GA aircraft that can climb that fast.

Look for the signs of microbursts. Remember that you might not be able to see a microburst descending out of a cloud, and instead, you'll need to look for signs of it blowing dust up from the ground.

6) Severe Icing Conditions

Freezing temps and visible moisture are the two ingredients you need to get structural icing. Typically, the most severe icing exists at the tops of the clouds, and most icing bands are no more than 3,000 feet thick. Plan to avoid cruise flight in the cloud tops, and always have an out if icing is worse than forecast.

Even if your airplane is equipped to handle icing conditions, severe ice could overwhelm your ice protection systems, leading to a loss of aerodynamic control or a loss of reliable flight instrument data.

What other weather is especially hazardous to IFR pilots? Tell us in the comments below.

Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and an Embraer 145 First Officer for a regional airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018, holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525), and is a former pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He's the author of articles, quizzes and lists on Boldmethod every week. You can reach Swayne at swayne@boldmethod.com, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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