Summer Weather Flying in Florida

In one of my earlier posts, I wrote about dealing with convective weather during the summer months, or alternatively, pickling your plane. If you are going to own a aircraft and use it for its maximum utility, or even have a fair chance of staying current, it’s not a practical decision.

Flying in the Southeast during the rainy months simply means doing a little more flight planning, leaving earlier in the day before the convection builds, and having one or more “outs” if the weather does not go as planned. Sometimes it means you cancel your flight altogether, and take the bus. You must become a student of the weather because taking a cursory approach won’t cut it.

On a recent late summer flight from Ft. Lauderdale Exec. to Orlando, there was active weather along my route. The weather at both the departure and destination was relatively clear. My departure time out of Lauderdale Exec was 1700 local, and the peninsula was covered with typical afternoon pop-up rain showers and thunderstorms.

After studying the charts and live radar in the flight planning room at KFLL, I decided to depart and take a look. My first “out” was that it appeared that Ft. Lauderdale would stay clear of any rain. If things started looking ugly, I could simply return to my departure point.

As I neared West Palm Beach, here is what the airborne NEXRAD weather display looked like. There was a cluster of cells west of PBI and two more along my planned route from PBI to ORL. The cells showed signs they were merging, effectively closing the gap and blocking a northwest run over Lake Okeechobee. The Stormscope showed activity to my west and northwest, but was clear to the north.

(right click for larger images)

Once north of the PBI VOR, instead of joining Victor 537 as planned, I requested a reroute from Miami Center to fly north along Victor 3, paralleling the east coast of Florida. This route would avoid the weather north and west of the TBIRD intersection. The weather was moving slowly eastward, but I calculated my ground speed would be fast enough to squeeze by before the nasty stuff reached the shoreline.

Since the frequency was relatively quiet, Center quickly approved my request for direct Melbourne (MLB). The only other traffic I heard being worked by ATC was a Mooney near Pahokee/Lake Okeechobee area (PHK), looking for some VFR weather.

This was my second opportunity to evaluate a continue/retreat decision. If the cells moved faster than thought, rather than be pushed offshore to avoid them, I would land at the closed airport and wait it out.

As I trekked northward near Ft. Pierce, I was in light rain, but still in good visual conditions. I had lots of alternatives behind me in case the weather looked uglier than forecast:

Here is how things looked off the left side as I passed east of the weather north of Ft. Pierce. The view out the front windscreen was still clear of any precip and lightening. Yes, that’s cloud to cloud lightening.

Once I reached the Melbourne area, the worst of the weather was behind me. I turned northwest towards Orlando, avoiding the remaining scattered buildups and showers.

While NEXRAD and Stormscope are vital tools, I don’t like IMC in and around convective weather. The final decision for me to continue the flight, or not, is based on what I see out the front windscreen. If I can’t see anything, I’m likely going to land and let the convection pass.

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