For those of you that fly, you know all about short final. It’s that last 30 or so seconds before landing when your eye is on the prize: putting that nose wheel on the center line of the runway and kissing it – that gentle squeak of the main wheels touching the runway in a smooth-as-glass landing.
However, short final the last place you want to start having a conversation about the finer points of flying. Likewise, for all of you that know a person who flies, you probably feel a little lost when they start talking about those small details that go into flying. So, this section of the blog will be dedicated to those finer points.
What better place to start then the one factor that determines whether or not we will fly today? WEATHER!!! Since there is a lot involved in weather, I decided to focus on a really cool invention that gives the weather at a glance: METARs (sorry, this is where the alphabet soup starts!).
METAR stands for Meteorological Terminal Air Report. It is an observation of the current weather at the surface. This particular weather report is useful before I head out to the airport because it tells me what the winds are, what the cloud ceilings are at and it only takes a few seconds to read. It is also updated every hour.
Here is an example of a METAR at my home airport, KFCM, or Flying Cloud Municipal Airport.
KFCM 121953Z VRB05KT 10SM SCT055 20/06 A3009 RMK A02 SLP191 T02000061
I know, that’s a little daunting at first glance and looks like it makes no sense, at first. So, let’s break down each section.
KFCM – This is the four letter identifier for the airport: Flying Cloud Municipal Airport.
121953Z – This is the time and date for the METAR. 12 is the day of the month, and 1953 is the Zulu time. Zulu time is the current Universal Time Coordinated based on the location of Greenwich, England where the prime meridian is. Zulu time is used in aviation because that time is constant all over the world.
VRB05KT – This is the wind direction and velocity. VRB stands for variable. So today, the winds are variable at 5 knots. Usually the wind is from a particular compass heading, but today it looks like it is a little all over the place.
10SM – This is the current visibility. Today it’s 10 Statute Miles. It’s actually a great day for flying.
SCT055 – Scattered at 5500 feet Above Ground Level (AGL). Take “055” and add on two zero. This means there are a few clouds out there, but nothing to worry about.
20/06 – This portion is the current temperature and dew point spread in Celsius. Currently it’s 68°F and the dew point is 43°F.
A3009 – Current altimeter (pressure) is 30.09 measured in inches of mercury.
RMK A02 SLP 191 T02000061 – This is the remarks section (RMK). Sometimes there is information pertaining to the actual airport or special information about weather. This particular section for today indicates that there is a precipitation sensor (A02), the Sea Level pressure is 1019.0 millibars (SLP 191) and the exact temperature dew point spread is 20°C and 6.1°C (T02000061).
There you have it! A breakdown of the METAR! At first it’s a bit like reading a foreign language, but now you can see what a cool invention this is. It’s one of my favorite weather reports. For a visual look at METARs all over the country in real time, check out this map!