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Would You Go? VFR Cross-Country With Light Rain And Scattered Storms

Making go/no-go decisions isn't always easy. And with springtime weather on the way, we all need to start thinking about rain and storms in the not-too-distant future.

Take a look at this scenario, make your decision, and tell us what you'd do at the end of the scenario...

mararie

The Flight Scenario

You're a non-instrument rated private pilot flying an IFR-capable Piper PA-28 Archer from KJQF Concord, NC (near Charlotte) to KROA Roanoke, VA. You're taking this 121-mile VFR cross-country flight from Charlotte to Roanoke to avoid a 3.5 hour drive and make it home from your daytime meeting in Concord. It's now 4:15 PM Eastern time.

There are scattered storms along the route. You're trying to decide if there's a safe route that will get you to Roanoke without large diversions east or west, as those diversions will add hundreds of miles to your route.

Weather stations on either side of your route report VFR, MVFR, and even some IFR conditions. Storms are highly localized and it's tough to know exactly how bad the weather will be below the clouds.

As you approach Roanoke, there will be areas of terrain as high as 4,000 feet MSL. If you wait it out for a few hours, you'll arrive at night. While you are night current, you also acknowledge that you'd be navigating around terrain and storms in the dark. So, what's your plan?

Boldmethod / ForeFlight

Red dots indicate IFR conditions, blue dots indicate MVFR conditions, and green dots indicate VFR conditions.

If you're unable to fly through the rain midway along your route, you could turn South and divert to Greensboro (KGSO). If you do make it to Roanoke and storms cover the field, you can divert to the North. You'd like to at least give it a shot and see how things go, before canceling the flight.

Here's the current weather along the route:

  • KJQF METAR (Departure): 121950Z 00000KT 10SM SCT100 33/31 A3001
  • KMWK METAR (Enroute Mid-Point, North): 121955Z AUTO 32003KT BKN008 OVC014 23/21 A3005 RMK AO2 P0003 T02280214
  • KMTV METAR (Enroute Mid-Point, South): 121955Z AUTO 01006KT 10SM -TSRA SCT018 OVC040 26/25 A3004 RMK AO2 LTG DSNT ALQS P004 T02570251
  • KROA METAR (Destination): 121954Z 25006KT 10SM FEW028 BKN120 29/23 A3005 RMK AO2 LTG DSNT SE AND S SLP161 T02890228
Boldmethod / ForeFlight

Your Legal Requirements

VFR cloud and visibility requirements are determined by time of day, altitude, and airspace. Your route will be flown during the day. Depending on how high you want to fly, you'll either be flying in Class G or Class E airspace for the majority of the flight.

  • Class C: 3SM of Visibility + 500' Below, 1,000' Above, and 2,000' Horizontally Clear of Clouds.
  • Class D: 3SM of Visibility + 500' Below, 1,000' Above, and 2,000' Horizontally Clear of Clouds.
  • Class G (Below 1,200' AGL): 1SM of Visibility, Clear of Clouds.
  • Class E (Under 10,000' MSL): 3SM of Visibility + 500' Below, 1,000' Above, and 2,000' Horizontally Clear of Clouds.

The weather stations along the majority of your route indicate that current conditions exceed VFR cloud and visibility requirements. You'll be departing from Class D and landing in Class C airspace.

D. Miller

Destination Airport Forecast

Fortunately, the Class C Roanoke Airport does have a TAF. The current time period indicates VFR conditions, deteriorating to MVFR conditions between 5-6 PM including moderate rain, thunderstorms, and cumulonimbus clouds. Later on, the TAF once again improves to VFR conditions.

There are thunderstorms to the S-SE of the airport, slowly moving Northbound.

Boldmethod / ForeFlight

Considerations

With light rain indicated between scattered thunderstorms, you might be able to find VFR conditions good to make it to Roanoke.

Another problem is the terrain. Roanoke is located in a valley, and peaks nearby extend to 4,000' MSL. That will make "scud running" through rain hazardous.

Wikimedia

There's no great way to analyze the conditions below the bands of light rain along your route other than local airport weather reports. Airports to the north and south indicate MVFR and IFR, but the airports closest to your destination are VFR.

You've always considered yourself a safe, cautious pilot, and you know you have the skills to stay safe and turn around if conditions begin to drop. Plus, you've flown the route before, so you're familiar with the terrain and airports nearby. The flight has you stumped because the weather exceeds legal requirements on paper, but you also don't have an adequate way to see where pockets of rain will result in conditions becoming IFR.

There's a lot to take into account here, and there's no "right" answer. The safest option will always be to stay on the ground. There's risk associated with taking off in any airplane. Should you depart and see how things go, and turn around if conditions get worse? We'll leave this one up to you...

Smithsonian

What's Your Decision?

Would you go? Why wouldn't you? What would it take for you to make a go/no-go decision? Is there any missing information you need to make the best decision?

Tell us your decision in the comments below, or send us an email to scenarios@boldmethod.com to tell us what your go/no-go decision is, and why.

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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