The importance of meteorology in aviation

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – If you’ve ever flown on a passenger plane, there’s a good chance you have experienced a weather-related delay. But as most pilots will tell you, including private pilot Bob Pitchford, the connection between aviation and meteorology is much closer than many realize.

“Meteorology and flight planning are totally hand in hand,” says Pitchford. “Not only where you’re going, but what it’s going to be like when you get there.”

Pitchford has gathered his fair share of weather stories from his years in the air. He along with other pilots will look at weather forecasts up to two days in advance of a planned flight. It’s not just weather forecasts, though. Pilots go through extensive training to get their license and need a high understanding of meteorology to pass the course.

“Weather is probably the foremost indicator of a good day to fly,” explains Pitchford.

Knowing the forecast at takeoff is just as important as forecasting for the destination. The weather data pilots examine is similar to what the WNKY Weather Team interprets, but pilot’s forecasts cover a much larger area than those for a television area, as flight instructor John Bailey explains.

“The things that we’re going to have to look for are way beyond that, so the things that we’re going to have to look for are hundreds of miles towards the direction that you’re going to be flying,” says Bailey.

Pitchford adds, “When you get out there and the wind sock is straight out and it’s a crosswind on your runway, and you have to figure out am I good enough for this? and if you are, you’ll go. And if you’re not, you don’t fool yourself, you leave your aircraft in the hangar.”

Different weather impacts can ground flights, but there are certain criteria pilots look for outside of precipitation or visibility. For Bailey, those factors are even more important to consider when it comes to dealing with beginners and students.

“The main thing as a flight instructor at the get-go would be the winds,” says Bailey. “We’re not going to put a student out there when you’re being jostled around the cockpit.”

Bailey adds, “You can encounter icing, severe turbulence, your visibility can change, those type of things.”

Knowing and interpreting the forecast is vital for pilots because as Pitchford explains, once a pilot takes off, they need to have a plan to safely return to the ground.

“One of the first things i learned when i was in my primary flight training, is that it is better to be down here wishing you were up there, than up there wishing you were down here.”

“Take-offs are optional. Landings are mandatory.”