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Understanding A Weather Briefing

| April 11, 2021 | By: Severe VFR
Clouds Passing Over An Airport

14 CFR 91.103 requires pilots to become familiar with all available information before beginning a flight. 

The most popular and easiest way of becoming familiar with all available information is through a weather briefing. 

Sources Of Information

Pilots can receive a weather briefing in 3 different ways:

  1. Online (Self-Brief)
  2. Flight Service Specialists

Online self briefs have grown to become one of the most popular ways a pilot can receive a weather briefing. Self-briefings have become the most popular method a pilot can receive a weather briefing due to their ease of use and ability to rapidly get information to the pilot. 

However, the online self-brief is dependent on the pilot's ability to read weather products and interpret what that information is providing. To help pilots, the Flight Service Specialist is available. 

Flight Service Specialists are trained professionals that are capable of interpreting weather and aeronautical information. Flight Service Specialists remain an option for pilots that have additional questions or want to discuss weather factors that may not fully understand. 

Types Of Weather Briefings

A pilot has 3 different types of weather briefings available to them:

  1. Standard Briefing
  2. Abbreviated Briefing
  3. Outlook Briefing

Standard Briefing

The standard briefing provides the most complete weather picture and is the most detailed briefing of the three types of briefings. The information provided in a standard briefing should be used as the source of information for flight planning.

Standard briefings should be received no sooner than 6 hours before departure. However, given the nature of the weather, some aspects of a standard briefing can not be given until 2 hours before departure. Therefore, it is recommended to receive a standard briefing about 2 hours before departure. There is no limit to the number of standard briefings a pilot can receive. Obtaining multiple briefings when planning to fly through dynamic and fast-changing weather is encouraged. 

Pilots should receive a standard briefing at least once before conducting a flight, either through an online self-brief or through a flight service specialist. 

The information that is given in a self-brief or through a flight service specialist will always be given in the following order and will include:

  1. Adverse Conditions: Information that may result in a decision to cancel or alter the route of flight, such as thunderstorms, icing, turbulence, wind shear, mountain obscuration, current and forecasted IFR conditions, airport/runway closures, air traffic delays, and TFRs. 
  2. VFR Flight Not Recommended (VNR): If a pilot is opting to fly under VFR and the route of flight is below VFR minimums, or if the weather briefer is doubtful the flight can be made under VFR, the briefer may state that VFR flight is not recommended. (In extreme cases, the briefer is allowed to refuse to continue giving the weather briefing at their judgment). This advisory should be weighed heavily, and a pilot must decide to cancel or continue the flight under VFR. A VNR recommendation is only given when receiving a briefing through a flight specialist. It is not given through online or in cockpit technology sources. 
  3. Synopsis: The synopsis involves an overview of the larger weather picture. Online self briefs will include a surface analysis chart that the pilot must interpret. Weather briefers will describe the fronts and weather systems that may affect the flight along and near the route of flight.
  4. Current Conditions: Includes current surface weather observations (METARs), PIREPs, and satellite and radar data. Pilots requesting a standard briefing with a departure time greater than 2 hours away will not be given current conditions in their briefing. 
  5. En Route Forecast: A summary of the weather forecasted along the proposed route of flight
  6. Destination Forecast: A summary of the weather expected at the destination airport at the estimated time of arrival
  7. Wind and Temperatures Aloft: A forecast of the wind speed and temperatures at specific altitudes along the route of flight. Online briefings will always include winds and temperatures aloft. However, when speaking to a flight service specialist, a pilot must request winds and temperatures aloft.
  8. NOTAMs: NOTAMs are always given with online sources. However, NOTAMs are only given upon request when speaking with a flight specialist, and a flight briefer will state "NOTAMs available upon request." NOTAMs given by a flight specialist may not be published in the NOTAM publication and are generally the most up-to-date source of NOTAM information, where online and in-cockpit technology may not be the most up to date, or not transmitted at all. 
  9. Prohibited Areas and Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA): When appropriate to the route of flight, information regarding prohibited areas P-40 and P-56, as well as the SFRA in Washington, D.C., will be given. 
  10. ATC Delays: If ATC delays are known and may affect the route of flight, they will be given. 
  11. Other Information: Any additional information requested by the pilot will be given here. 

Abbreviated Briefing

An abbreviated briefing is a shortened version of the standard briefing. A pilot should request an abbreviated briefing when a flight is delayed or when specific information is needed to update a previous standard briefing. Online and in-cockpit technology is often the medium of receiving an abbreviated briefing as the pilot can look up specific weather elements as they deem needed. However, flight specialists can be used for the same purpose. When receiving an abbreviated briefing through a specialist, a pilot must state the previous briefing time and source, so the briefer does not accidentally omit any necessary weather information. A pilot may also ask for specific weather elements for the briefer to describe any weather factor they wish, such as icing conditions, frontal movement, or destination forecasts. 

Outlook Briefing

Outlook briefings are used when a pilot wishes to receive a weather briefing with a planned departure time 6-48 hours away. Outlook briefings provide limited information due to the timeframe, based on weather trends and existing weather conditions at or near the departure airport, but are a good source of flight planning information. Outlook briefings indicate the weather elements that may be a factor for your flight and help determine the route of flight, altitude, and go no-go decision. 

Information Needed To Receive A Weather Briefing

When calling a weather briefer, a pilot needs to provide background information so the briefer may tailor the briefing to the pilot's needs. The briefers end goal is to give the pilot a picture of meteorological and aeronautical information required for a safe and efficient flight. 

When requesting a preflight briefing from a flight briefer, identify yourself as a pilot and provide the following information:

    1. Type of flight planned, e.g., VFR or IFR.
    2. The aircraft's tail number or pilot's name.
    3. Aircraft type.
    4. Departure Airport.
    5. Route of flight.
    6. Destination.
    7. Flight altitude(s).
    8. ETD and ETE.

Briefers will then use this information and all available information to create a summary applicable to the proposed flight. Briefers will not read weather reports and forecasts verbatim unless requested by the pilot. 

The briefer will not provide FDC NOTAMs pertaining to special instrument approach procedures unless the pilot asks for it. Therefore, pilots authorized to use special IAPs must specifically request these NOTAMs if they are not received electronically.

When Things Go Wrong

All information given through a flight briefer or online system is entered into the FAAs flight plan system.

This information can then be used as a later reference to file or amend a flight plan. The same information is also used to help locate or find aircraft that are overdue or reported missing.

All information given through an online system is time-stamped and archived for 15 days. All phone calls or voice recordings are retained for 45 days.

These recordings give the pilot the benefit of being able to be better rescued in the case of an off-airport landing.

The same recordings also reduce the amount of liability on the pilot to some extent. If some regulatory regulation is broken due to a pilot not receiving the information in a briefing, then the pilot may have a potential out should legal action occur. This could be especially true in the case of a TFR or NOTAM that is accidentally violated due to it not being provided during the pilot's briefing.

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