There can be no disputing one fact about flying machines...most of them HATE ice. Sure the rich guys up in the flight levels get to tool around in jets and turboprops that are certified for FIKI (flight into known icing), but the rest of us 'Ham and Eggers' have to clod along below FL180, avoiding any opportunity to turn our airplanes into popsicles.
As a strictly VFR driver for the past 11 years, I have not cared much about the icing dangers lurking inside freezing wet clouds. But now as an airplane owner and IFR flight student, the chances are high that very soon – when I begin actual IFR training in our new 235 – I will find myself looking at the inside of clouds, the realm of only a fraction of licensed pilots.
I consider myself to be quite good at guessing the weather, and can use any number of Internet tools to make an educated stab at what is going to be happening outside my window. Of course, like many of my readers, I look at DUATS text forecasts, and can decipher all but the most obscure gibberish. But the one thing that has always been a challenge was trying to figure out what the freezing levels are along my route, based on this kind of thing found in Airmet Zulu:
FRZLVL...RANGING FROM 045-ABV 160 ACRS AREASee, the rub here is that to translate this, you need to either (a) go look up a bunch of NAVAID identifiers in the latest AF/D, or (b) have every freakin' one of the VORs in America memorized. The first option is very time-consuming, and the latter is impossible unless you're Kreskin the Magnificent.
080 ALG 20NW BLI-PDT-30SW BKE-40WNW REO-50SW REO
120 ALG 140WSW HQM-40S EUG-50SSE OED-50W FMG-40NNE CZQ-40SSE BTY
160 ALG 140SSW SNS-120WSW RZS-80SW LAX-40WNW MZB-20S MZB
But...as always, someone out there on The Internets has developed a solution that is perfectly easy.
We all know Trade-a-Plane is top shelf for searching out (or selling) a plane, but did you know they have very good weather available for their subscribers? WeatherTAP.com is turning out to be my first look source for my personal cyber WX briefings. Here is what I look at with weatherTAP.com with a collection of bookmarks I have on my Firefox bookmarks bar:
First, I look at their surface observations for the Northwest, and if I'm off to Cali, the observations for the Southwest as well. Here I get a quick look at ceilings, sky coverage and surface winds. Next, I look at their graphic for freezing levels, which has clean isobar lines depicting the different altitudes where sno-cones may be waiting. I then grab a look at the NEXRAD/Satellite composite, which quickly shows me fronts and precipitation that is occuring. I then glance at winds aloft, presented in a clean graph, and finally, browse the pilot reports for clues to what is REALLY happening.