Weather charts are graphic charts that depict current or forecast weather. They provide an overall picture of the United States and should be used in the beginning stages of flight planning. Typically, weather charts show the movement of major weather systems and fronts. Surface analysis, weather depiction, and radar summary charts are sources of current weather information. Significant weather prognostic charts provide an overall forecast weather picture.
SURFACE ANALYSIS CHART
The surface analysis chart, depicts an analysis of the current surface weather. This chart is a computer prepared report that is transmitted every 3 hours and covers the contiguous 48 states and adjacent areas. A surface analysis chart shows the areas of high and low pressure fronts, temperatures, dewpoints, wind directions and speeds, local weather, and visual obstructions.
Surface weather observations for reporting points across the United States are also depicted on this chart. A station model illustrates each of these reporting points. A station model will include:
- Type of Observation—A round model indicates an official weather observer made the observation. A square model indicates the observation is from an automated station. Stations located offshore give data from ships, buoys, or offshore platforms.
- Sky Cover—The station model depicts total sky cover and will be shown as clear, scattered, broken, overcast, or obscured/partially obscured.
- Clouds—Cloud types are represented by specific symbols. Low cloud symbols are placed beneath the station model, while middle and high cloud symbols are placed directly above the station model. Typically, only one type of cloud will be depicted with the station model.
- Sea Level Pressure—Sea level pressure given in three digits to the nearest tenth of a millibar. For 1000 mbs or greater, prefix a 10 to the three digits. For less than 1000 mbs, prefix a 9 to the three digits.
- Pressure Change/Tendency—Pressure change in tenths of millibars over the past 3 hours. This is depicted directly below the sea level pressure.
- Precipitation—A record of the precipitation that has fallen over the last 6 hours to the nearest hundredth of an inch.
- Dewpoint—Dewpoint is given in degrees Fahrenheit.
- Present Weather—Over 100 different weather symbols are used to describe the current weather.
- Temperature—Temperature is given in degrees Fahrenheit.
- Wind—True direction of wind is given by the wind pointer line, indicating the direction from which the wind is coming. A short barb is equal to 5 knots of wind, a long barb is equal to 10 knots of wind, and a pennant is equal to 50 knots.
WEATHER DEPICTION CHART
A weather depiction chart details surface conditions as derived from METAR and other surface observations.
The weather depiction chart is prepared and transmitted by computer every 3 hours beginning at 0100 Zulu time, and is valid at the time of the plotted data. It is designed to be used for flight planning by giving an overall picture of the weather across the United States.
This type of chart typically displays major fronts or areas of high and low pressure. The weather depiction chart also provides a graphic display of IFR, VFR, and MVFR (marginal VFR) weather. Areas of IFR conditions (ceilings less than 1,000 feet and visibility less than 3 miles) are shown by a hatched area outlined by a smooth line. MVFR regions (ceilings 1,000 to 3,000 feet, visibility 3 to 5 miles) are shown by a non-hatched area outlined by a smooth line. Areas of VFR (no ceiling or ceiling greater than 3,000 feet and visibility greater than 5 miles) are not outlined.
Weather depiction charts show a modified station model that provides sky conditions in the form of total sky cover, cloud height or ceiling, weather, and obstructions to visibility, but does not include winds or pressure readings like the surface analysis chart. A bracket ( ] ) symbol to the right of the station indicates the observation was made by an automated station. A detailed explanation of a station model is depicted in the previous discussion of surface analysis charts.
RADAR SUMMARY CHART
A radar summary chart is a graphically depicted collection of radar weather reports (SDs). The chart is published hourly at 35 minutes past the hour. It displays areas of precipitation as well as information regarding the characteristics of the precipitation. A radar summary chart includes:
- No information—If information is not reported, the chart will say "NA." If no echoes are detected, the chart will say "NE."
- Precipitation intensity contours—Intensity can be described as one of six levels and is shown on the chart by three contour intervals.
- Height of tops—The heights of the echo tops are given in hundreds of feet MSL.
- Movement of cells—Individual cell movement is indicated by an arrow pointing in the direction of movement. The speed of movement in knots is the number at the top of the arrow head. "LM" indicates little movement.
- Type of precipitation—The type of precipitation is marked on the chart using specific symbols. These symbols are not the same as used on the METAR charts.
- Echo configuration—Echoes are shown as being areas, cells, or lines.
- Weather watches—Severe weather watch areas for tornadoes and severe thunderstorms are depicted by boxes outlined with heavy dashed lines. The radar summary chart is a valuable tool for preflight planning. It does, however, contain several limitations for the usage of the chart. This chart depicts only areas of precipitation. It will not show areas of clouds and fog with no appreciable precipitation, or the height of the tops and bases of the clouds. Radar summary charts are a depiction of current precipitation and should be used in conjunction with current METAR and weather forecasts.
SIGNIFICANT WEATHER PROGNOSTIC CHARTS
Significant Weather Prognostic Charts are available for low-level significant weather from the surface to FL240 (24,000 feet), also referred to as the 400 millibar level, and high-level significant weather from FL250 to FL600 (25,000 to 60,000 feet). The primary concern of this discussion is the low-level significant weather prognostic chart.
The low-level chart comes in two forms: the 12- and 24-hour forecast chart, and the 36 and 48 surface only forecast chart. The first chart is a four-panel chart that includes 12- and 24-hour forecasts for significant weather and surface weather. Charts are issued four times a day at 0000Z, 0600Z, 1200Z, and 1800Z. The valid time for the chart is printed on the lower left-hand corner of each panel.
The upper two panels show forecast significant weather, which may include nonconvective turbulence, freezing levels, and IFR or MVFR weather. Areas of moderate or greater turbulence are enclosed in dashed lines. Numbers within these areas give the height of the turbulence in hundreds of feet MSL. Figures below the line show the anticipated base, while figures above the line show the top of the zone of turbulence. Also shown on this panel are areas of VFR, IFR, and MVFR. IFR areas are enclosed by solid lines, MVFR areas are enclosed by scalloped lines, and the remaining, unenclosed area is designated VFR. Zigzag lines and the letters "SFC" indicate freezing levels in that area are at the surface. Freezing level height contours for the highest freezing level are drawn at 4,000-foot intervals with dashed lines.
The lower two panels show the forecast surface weather and depicts the forecast locations and characteristics of pressure systems, fronts, and precipitation. Standard symbols are used to show fronts and pressure centers. Direction of movement of the pressure center is depicted by an arrow. The speed, in knots, is shown next to the arrow. In addition, areas of forecast precipitation and thunderstorms are outlined.
Areas of precipitation that are shaded indicate at least one-half of the area is being affected by the precipitation.
Unique symbols indicate the type of precipitation and the manner in which it occurs.
Prognostic charts are an excellent source of information for preflight planning; however, this chart should be viewed in light of current conditions and specific local area forecasts.
The 36- and 48-hour significant weather prognostic chart is an extension of the 12- and 24-hour forecast. It provides information regarding only surface weather forecasts and includes a discussion of the forecast. This chart is issued only two times a day. It typically contains forecast positions and characteristics of pressure patterns, fronts, and precipitation.