March 2018 SporkNews

Hello and welcome to WeatherSpork!

March 1, 2018 was the public debut of WeatherSpork, your best online source for aviation weather and education.  At WeatherSpork, we couldn’t be more pleased at the response we’ve gotten thus far.  Over the last month we’ve received a ton of very positive feedback you can read here. A big thanks to our current members and to all of those that have taken the leap of faith and joined the WeatherSpork family.  We appreciate how many of you have already spread the word to other pilots about this awesome new app. Please keep that momentum going!

What’s new

This month we spent refining the app, making it more stable and fixing a few bugs.  You will find a history of the content of each of our releases on our website here.  At WeatherSpork, we are working hard to add new functionality to the app.  While we don’t have specific dates,  we have dozens of groundbreaking features we are planning to add over the next year – you can read about a few of those here in Scott’s blog, The Spork Report.

From time to time we will be adding new weather imagery to the WeatherSpork app. In this month we add the National Forecast Chart.  It will describe the big picture of the weather over the next three days.  Read more about that new imagery in The Spork Report here.

Webinars

In March we held two free live webinars.  If you were not able to attend, you can enjoy the recorded version of the second webinar here.  We will likely hold one or two free webinars each month as we introduce new functionality and provide some tips on how to use the app in the context of your preflight weather planning.  If you want to be notified when these webinars are occurring, be sure that you have your email preferences set appropriately by logging into avwxworkshops.com and review your settings under the My Account page.

Running WeatherSpork on portable devices

We have been beta testing the WeatherSpork app on Android devices and feedback thus far has been excellent. For the moment, if you don’t have an iPad or iPhone, no problem.  WeatherSpork is designed to work on any of your portable devices using an Internet browser.  In fact, it’ll look and operate just like the app.  To have the best experience, however, we recommend using Google Chrome to launch the web-based version of WeatherSpork.

Come visit us at Sun ‘n Fun this year 

If you are headed to Lakeland, Florida this year for Sun ‘n Fun, be sure to mark your calendars for an Introduction to WeatherSpork. This will be a live presentation to be held Tuesday, April 10, 2018, starting at 13:00 EDT in Room CFAA-9.   The program offers one credit for Basic Knowledge towards the Wings program.   For more information or to reserve your seat you can visit the FAASTeam.gov website here.  Looking forward to meeting you there!

Stay tuned for more SporkNews next month.  Fasten your seat belts, we are “all” in to make your weather planning much simpler so you can fly with more confidence.

“Most pilots are weatherwise, but some are otherwise.”

Scott Dennstaedt
Weather Systems Engineer
Co-founder, WeatherSpork

Weather weirdness explained

As you might imagine, I get a lot of questions from pilots about weirdness in the weather. They see something that doesn’t look quite right or doesn’t make logical sense and want to know more.  With a little forensic weather sleuthing, I can usually explain what’s going on.  Here’s one such request for more information…

One of my WeatherSpork customers saw the following two METARs from Albany, New York and Glens Falls, New York; the two airports are just 37 nm apart.  However, the winds were significantly different.  Given their close proximity he was curious why such a large difference in wind speed?

KALB 300151Z 17013G25KT 3SM BR OVC006 09/08 A2981 RMK AO2 SFC VIS 4 SLP097 T00940078=
KGFL 300212Z AUTO 29003KT 3/4SM -RA BR SCT003 OVC011 06/06 A2980 RMK AO2 RAB12 P0000 T00610061=

Some of the reasons for this are related to terrain.  But I’m not going to focus on that element.  Instead, let’s drill down at each location and see what’s going on.  But first, you might think there’s a front in between these two airports.  Not the case as you can see from this surface analysis chart valid at 00Z. The red circle shows the locations of both KALB and KGFL.  Certainly no front in the immediate vicinity of either airport.

First and foremost, to see significant differences in weather between two airports in close proximity isn’t all that uncommon.  In some places around the country it’s quite predictable.  Pilots that frequently fly out of these airports can usually describe these local anomalies.  But the devil is in the details.  And yes, that means we cut to the Skew-T diagram to see those details.

Gusty winds are usually a result of air “mixing down” from faster air above.  An unstable atmosphere near the surface (in the planetary boundary layer) is a good example of when the atmosphere is mixy (yes, not a real word, but what seemed appropriate here).  This is quite easy to see in a thermodynamic diagram called a Skew-T log (p).  Below is the Skew-T analysis** from Albany valid at 02Z (highly zoomed in).

Notice how the temperature (shown in red) is nearly dry adiabatic (lapse rate of 3 degrees C/1000 ft). That’s an unstable situation.  Unstable air can easily move up and down.  If you look at the same Skew-T analysis below, notice the wind at the top of the boundary layer (about 1300 ft MSL in this case) is moving along at 31 knots.  The unstable air allows the winds at the top of the boundary layer to “mix down” toward the surface creating gusts.  Using the wind at the top of the boundary layer is a great way to estimate the wind gusts at the surface when there’s no TAF available.

What about Glens Falls?  In the Skew-T analysis below also valid at 02Z, you can see the atmosphere is very stable.  This essentially decouples the surface from the winds aloft.  In this stable environment the stronger winds aloft can’t mix down to create surface gusts.

The moral of the story is that we should be very careful assuming that two airports in close proximity will have the same weather.  So using the “closest” TAF  isn’t always a good idea.  As you can see from this example, the winds can be significantly different.

** An analysis is NOT a forecast and is always valid in the past despite what you might see on some flight planning apps.

“Most pilots are weatherwise, but some are otherwise.”

Scott Dennstaedt
Weather Systems Engineer
Co-founder, WeatherSpork

National Forecast Chart now part of the WeatherSpork imagery

In WeatherSpork version 4.2.9 we recently added new forecast guidance to the Imagery view.  The new National Forecast Chart is  issued by the Weather Prediction Center (WPC) and provides an overview of expected weather for up to the next three days, with emphasis on certain hazardous and significant weather. This guidance summarizes forecasts from the Storm Prediction Center (for severe thunderstorm and tornado outlooks), the National Hurricane Center (for tropical storm and hurricane forecasts), and the Weather Prediction Center (for information concerning heavy rainfall, flooding, winter weather, and general weather). With overlaid frontal forecasts, these displays serve as a good overview of the expected weather for the next three days.  Below is the 2200Z issuance of the Day 1 National Forecast Chart.

The Day 1 (today’s) National Forecast Chart is prepared twice daily at the WPC. The initial product is issued by 5 a.m. EST/EDT, with an update provided by 2200 UTC (5 p.m. EST).  The Day 2 (tomorrow) and Day 3 (day after tomorrow) National Forecasts are prepared once daily and issued by 5 a.m. EST/EDT. Valid times of the features displayed in these products vary depending upon issuance time and the particular weather phenomenon of interest. In WeatherSpork, you can find the new National Forecast Chart imagery conveniently between the MSL Surface Analysis and Prog Charts as shown below.

 

“Most pilots are weatherwise, but some are otherwise.”

Scott Dennstaedt
Weather Systems Engineer
Co-founder, WeatherSpork

About “time” in WeatherSpork

It’s essential to know the valid time of any weather guidance you may use.  There are two choices in WeatherSpork for time, namely, device time (local time) and Zulu (GMT).  In WeatherSpork you will find times listed in many locations.  With the exception of the charts shown in the static Imagery, you have the option of displaying local or Zulu time.  You can make that choice in your Preferences view as shown below.

If you set your preference to Zulu (as shown above), you will notice a Z located behind each time in the route profile as shown below.  If there isn’t a Z, then you have your preferences set to the device time (local).

As mentioned above, the only exception is the static Imagery.  The time is typically Zulu (UTC) and that will be labeled in some location on each image.

 

“Most pilots are weatherwise, but some are otherwise.”

Scott Dennstaedt
Weather Systems Engineer
Co-founder, WeatherSpork

Syncing the Wheels Up Departure Advisor

Based on some of the great feedback we have received, WeatherSpork version 4.2.5 will now sync up with the three “Wheels Up Departure Advisors.”  These departure advisors appear in the Route, Map and Grid views at the bottom center of the display.  Simply tap or click on the EDT button and the advisor will appear above.  When you adjust one of them to a specific time, in this case Monday, 19 March at 1400Z as shown in the image below, you will be able to switch to the other two views to see the departure advisor set to the same departure time. This will take some of the burden off of you to reset this when switching between views.

Wheels Up Departure Advisor in WeatherSpork. This is available on the Map, Route and Grid views.

Keep those ideas coming!

“Most pilots are weatherwise, but some are otherwise.”

Scott Dennstaedt
Weather Systems Engineer
Co-founder, WeatherSpork

WeatherSpork’s simple design

WeatherSpork (@weathersporkapp) has a very elegant and simple design that is mission-oriented.  Even for the most technically-challenged pilot it will only take you a few minutes to harness its true power.  Furthermore, it’s designed to be nearly identical across platforms with very few exceptions.  So once you learn how to use the app on one platform, you are a guaranteed expert on the rest.

When you call 1-800-WXBRIEF or use many of the popular flight planning apps to get a weather briefing, they are typically focused on departing at a specific time in the future.  WeatherSpork, however, has been designed to be oriented around the mission.  This signature feature called the “Wheels Up Departure Advisor” leverages dozens of forecasts so you can quickly pick out the most favorable time to fly.  On the map, route and grid view, tapping on the Estimated Time of Departure (ETD) button at the bottom-center of the display will bring up the Wheels Up Departure Advisor.

Shown here is the Wheels Up Departure Adviser found in the Map view on an iPad.

Shown in green, blue, red and magenta on the Departure Advisor time line are the VFR, MVFR, IFR and LIFR flight categories, respectively, for stations (airports) along your proposed route.  This allows you to quickly see when the route will have the best weather…or perhaps the worst.  On a touch screen (or using a mouse), just press and hold down the filled circle (time selector) and drag to the right (and left).  As you advance the time, you’ll notice the station markers on the map will also change color representing the surface weather conditions (flight category) at the time shown above the time selector. Gray station markers indicate a lack of ceiling, visibility or sky coverage in order to determine the flight category.

Drag the airplane along your route with your finger or mouse to see how the forecast weather is expected to change while en route.

Once you’ve chosen your departure time (and picked up your finger) you can press and hold down the airplane (jet) located at your departure airport and drag that along your route.  As you move the airplane along your route, you’ll also see how the weather is expected to evolve while you are en route to your destination.  If you have elected to display SIGMETs and/or G-AIRMETs from the settings (gear button), they will also change based on their valid time as the airplane is advanced backward and forward in time. By the way, you don’t have to keep your finger directly on the airplane as you drag.  In fact, once you start to move the airplane with your finger pressed against the display, just shift your finger away from the airplane, while dragging.  This allows you to better see the markers along your route.  Give it a try!

We’ve got some real cool stuff planned for the Wheels Up Departure Advisor, so stay tuned to The Spork Report.

“Most pilots are weatherwise, but some are otherwise.”

Scott Dennstaedt
Weather Systems Engineer
Co-founder, WeatherSpork

 

Using WeatherSpork to brief a flight with a departure tomorrow

Let’s say you are planning to make a flight sometime tomorrow morning from Savannah, Georgia to Atlantic City, New Jersey. What will the weather be along that proposed route?  What’s the best time to depart?  And what might be the best altitude to avoid flying into adverse weather?  Can I fly this VFR or will it require an IFR clearance?  This video will demonstrate how to use just a few of the many rich features found in WeatherSpork that makes answering these kinds of questions quite easy.

“Most pilots are weatherwise, but some are otherwise.”

Scott Dennstaedt
Weather Systems Engineer
Co-founder, WeatherSpork

 

What’s ahead for WeatherSpork

Since formally releasing the app on March 1, we’ve gotten a ton of feedback that the app is awesome.  First, we’d like to thank you for giving it a try!   Many of you requested several new features that we’re working to implement right now.   We are really just in the beginning stages of development, so you will see many implemented over the next few months.  Keep in mind, it may appear we’re just throwing more weather guidance at you like many of the other apps have done in the past and continue to do; please understand this is all part of the foundation of building a simpler approach to deciphering the weather along your route.  While I can’t provide gory details or the date of release of these new features at this time, here are a few that are on the top of the list.

  1. Radar mosaic.  Yes, we’re in the process of building one of the most technologically advanced radar depictions available online.
  2. Android support.  At the moment we have done our own internal testing and it works very well on Android devices.  At some point in the near future we will be releasing the app to Google Play.  For now, WeatherSpork is designed to be highly responsive and compatible with most versions of the common Internet browsers on many portable Android devices.   Give it a try!
  3. More robust airport and navigation database.  We started with a database consisting of primarily sites that contained a Model Output Statistics (MOS) forecast.  So that limits what airports you can explore within the app.  Soon, you will have a more complete database of airports to choose from and you will be able to view METARs and TAFs from the map view.  Moreover, we will eventually be providing sites in Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.
  4. More robust planning.  At this point you are limited to just four airports that include your departure and destination airports.  We are looking to expand this database to allow for other waypoints such as VORs.  We are also looking to expand the number of waypoints that can be added to the route.
  5. Support for profile view and meteograms in the flight levels.  Currently the app stops at 20,000 feet, but we are looking to expand this to FL450.
  6. Syncing of the Wheels Up Departure Advisor.  In order to provide consistency between the route, grid and map view with respect to time,  the Wheels Up Departure Advisor will be synced between these views.

These are just a few of the improvements we’re currently working to build.  There’s even more features planned on the horizon, so stay tuned.

“Most pilots are weatherwise, but some are otherwise.”

Scott Dennstaedt
Weather Systems Engineer
Co-founder, WeatherSpork

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