Sky-high decisions start with understanding the weather. Weather insights guide flights from takeoff to touchdown.

Knowing the forecast isn’t just smart; it’s essential.

For pilots seeking to ensure their flights are both safe and enjoyable, understanding and staying ahead of the weather is crucial. I’ve written several resources tailored specifically for this purpose. Pilot Passion’s overview of the best aviation weather services offers a comprehensive guide to the top tools available, helping pilots make informed decisions before and during their flights.

For those looking to delve deeper into weather patterns and potential flight hazards, here’s an in-depth look at the best aviation weather radars specifically designed for private pilots. These radars are invaluable for real-time weather tracking, offering insights into storm movements, precipitation levels, and more.

For a broader understanding of aviation weather and its impact on flying, my general guide to aviation weather for private pilots covers everything from basic weather knowledge to how specific weather phenomena can affect private flights. Together, these resources equip private pilots with the knowledge and tools they need to navigate the skies safely.

a concerned pilot watching the weather

Understanding Aviation Weather Reports and Forecasts

Aviation weather reports and forecasts play a crucial role in the safety and efficiency of flight operations. These reports provide pilots and air traffic controllers with vital information about current and future weather conditions, helping them make informed decisions regarding flight routes and altitudes.

There are several types of weather reports and forecasts available, tailored specifically to the needs of the aviation industry. One of the primary reports is the Meteorological Aerodrome Report (METAR).

METARs contain information on weather observations at specific airports and include data such as temperature, dew point, wind speed and direction, visibility, precipitation, and cloud coverage. Pilots can obtain these reports from airport aviation centers or other government-provided resources.

Another essential report is the Terminal Aerodrome Forecast (TAF). TAFs provide weather forecasts for a specific airport and usually cover a 24-hour period, with updates issued every six hours. These forecasts include detailed information about cloud coverage, visibility, wind speed and direction, and any significant weather changes within the forecast period.

AIRMETs (Airmen’s Meteorological Information) and SIGMETs (Significant Meteorological Information) are aviation-specific weather advisories issued when certain potentially hazardous weather conditions are expected to occur. These advisories warn pilots of turbulent conditions, icing, thunderstorms, low visibility, or any strong weather system that could impact the safety of a flight.

Pilots also have access to three different types of weather briefings: standard, abbreviated, and outlook. A standard briefing consists of a complete synopsis of weather information, including METARs, TAFs, en route forecasts, and any relevant NOTAMs (Notices to Airmen).

Abbreviated briefings provide updated information to supplement a previous standard briefing, while outlook briefings are requested when a flight is planned more than six hours in advance and provide a general overview of anticipated weather conditions.

When planning a flight, it is crucial for pilots to review and understand these various aviation weather reports and forecasts thoroughly. This information helps them determine whether a flight can be carried out safely and efficiently, and assists in the decision-making process for potential route adjustments, altitude changes, or flight cancellations when necessary.

types of aviation weather reports and forecasts

Weather Reports and Their Types

In aviation, having accurate and timely weather information is crucial for flight planning and safety. There are several types of weather reports and forecasts available to pilots and aviation professionals.

In this section, we will discuss some of the most common types of reports, including METARs, MOS, SIGMETs, PIREPs, and Automated Weather Observations.


METARs, or Meteorological Aerodrome Reports, are one of the most commonly used weather reports in aviation. These reports provide information about the weather conditions at a specific airport and are usually updated hourly.

They include essential information such as wind speed and direction, visibility, cloud cover, temperature, dew point, and atmospheric pressure. Pilots rely on METARs to make decisions on whether to land or take off, as well as to determine the appropriate runway to use.


MOS, short for Model Output Statistics, are weather forecasts generated by computer models. They predict weather conditions at specific locations and times, typically out to 72 hours ahead. MOS provides valuable information on temperature, wind, precipitation, cloud cover, and visibility. These forecasts can help pilots plan their routes and make informed decisions about their flight itineraries.


SIGMETs, or Significant Meteorological Information reports, are issued for potentially hazardous weather conditions that may affect aircraft en route. These reports cover phenomena such as severe turbulence, icing, thunderstorms, volcanic ash, and sandstorms. SIGMETs are crucial for pilots to avoid dangerous weather situations and ensure a safe flight.


PIREPs, or Pilot Reports, are voluntary weather reports submitted by pilots while they are in flight. PIREPs provide real-time information about weather conditions encountered during a flight, such as turbulence, icing, and visibility.

They can be valuable resources for other pilots, as actual in-flight conditions may differ from the forecasts. PIREPs help enhance situational awareness and contribute to overall aviation safety.

Automated Weather Observations

Automated Weather Observations are weather reports generated by automated equipment at airports and other locations. These systems, such as the Automated Weather Observing System (AWOS) and the Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS), collect meteorological data and generate weather reports without human intervention. T

hey provide continuous weather information that is crucial for flight planning and operations, granting pilots and aviation authorities up-to-date and reliable data.

Weather Forecasts and Their Types

In aviation, weather forecasts play a crucial role in ensuring safe and efficient flight. They provide pilots, air traffic controllers, and other aviation professionals with vital information about meteorological conditions. There are several types of aviation weather forecasts, including Terminal Aerodrome Forecasts, Area Forecasts, and Enroute Forecasts.

Terminal Aerodrome Forecasts (TAF)

A Terminal Aerodrome Forecast (TAF) is a concise, coded weather forecast for a specific airport, prepared by the National Weather Service (NWS) or other meteorological organizations. TAFs are routinely issued every 6 hours and are valid for 24 hours from the issuance time.

They provide essential information on cloud coverage, visibility, wind direction and speed, and any significant weather changes in the vicinity of the aerodrome. Pilots and air traffic controllers use TAFs to plan and safely manage flights around airports.

Area Forecasts

Area Forecasts, issued by the FAA or other aviation authorities, are broad-based weather forecasts that cover large geographical areas. They provide an overall view of the general weather conditions expected within specific regions, including upper and lower levels of airspace.

Typically issued every 6 hours, these forecasts highlight weather systems, significant weather events, and IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) or VFR (Visual Flight Rules) weather conditions. Area Forecasts help pilots and dispatchers plan their routes, assess flight conditions and determine potential hazards during long distance flights.

Enroute Forecasts

Enroute Forecasts provide information on meteorological conditions for predefined routes or airways, enabling pilots to plan flight paths and anticipate any adverse weather conditions along their selected routes.

These forecasts typically include data on temperature, wind speed and direction, cloud coverage, and turbulence. The National Weather Service and other meteorological organizations provide Enroute Forecasts, which are valuable tools for flight planning and ensuring safe, efficient operations in the sky.

Decoding Weather Codes

In the world of aviation, accurate and timely weather information is crucial for pilots and other professionals. There are several types of weather reports and forecasts, including Terminal Aerodrome Forecasts (TAFs) and METeorological Aerodrome Reports (METARs).

TAFs are issued regularly and describe the expected weather conditions at a specific airport, usually within a 24-to-30-hour window. TAFs use a standardized code to efficiently convey this information. Let’s break down some common elements found in a TAF code:

  • ICAO station identifier: A 4-letter unique identifier for each airport
  • Date and time of origin: Noted in the format DDHHMMZ, where DD represents the day, HH is the hour, and MM is the minute in Coordinated Universal Time (UTC)
  • Forecast temperature: The expected temperature at the airport during the forecasted period, usually indicated in degrees Celsius

For example, suppose we have a TAF code as follows:

TAF EGLL 261400Z 2615/2721 27010KT 9999 SCT025 BKN040 TEMPO 2615/2620 4SM SHRA BKN020 PROB40 2620/2624 TSRA BKN015CB BECMG 2700/2703 NSW

This TAF is for the London Heathrow airport (EGLL) and was issued on July 26th at 1400 UTC. The forecast period is from July 26th 1500 UTC to July 27th 2100 UTC.

In the above example, we also see the following additional codes:

  • Visibility: 9999 denotes unrestricted visibility in meters. Other visibility codes include 5SM (5-statute miles) and 4SM (4-statute miles)
  • Weather code: Codes that describe the ongoing weather condition, such as SHRA (showers) and TSRA (thunderstorm with rain)
  • Cloud cover: SCT025 indicates scattered clouds at 2,500 feet, while BKN040 signifies broken clouds at 4,000 feet

There are also a few extra codes dedicated to forecast changes:

  • TEMPO: Indicates temporary fluctuations in weather conditions; in our example, temporary visibility reduction to 4-statute miles and showers with broken clouds at 2,000 feet
  • PROB40: A 40% probability for the occurrence of the following conditions; here, thunderstorms with rain and broken clouds at 1,500 feet
  • BECMG: Denotes a gradual change in conditions; in this case, no significant weather (NSW) between 2700 UTC and 2703 UTC on July 27th

Icing and Turbulence Information

When it comes to aviation weather, understanding potential icing and turbulence conditions is crucial for both pilots and flight planners. Icing occurs when supercooled water droplets freeze upon contact with an aircraft’s surface, typically between 0°C and -20°C. In-flight icing can cause disruptions in airflow and decrease an aircraft’s overall performance.

There are various weather reports and forecasts available to provide detailed information about icing and turbulence conditions. One such example is the Significant Weather Report, which includes data on icing vertical and horizontal conditions. These reports are usually updated every hour and forecast up to five days in advance.

The National Weather Service maintains a helpful online resource for turbulence and icing forecasts called ZSE Turbulence and Icing Forecasts. This platform helps pilots stay informed and plan their flights accordingly.

Turbulence, on the other hand, can be attributed to factors such as wind shear and rapidly changing air pressure. Knowledge of these conditions is essential for pilots to maintain the safety and comfort of all onboard.

Wind shear is the change in wind speed or direction over a short distance in the atmosphere. This phenomenon can adversely affect aircraft performance and may lead to severe turbulence.

Thunderstorms, Fronts, and Precipitation

Thunderstorms are a common occurrence in aviation and can pose significant risks to pilots. They often form in various meteorological conditions, such as warm and humid summer days, where air masses with different temperatures and humidity levels meet.

A typical thunderstorm consists of a single cell and lasts for about 30 minutes to an hour, although some can become more severe and last longer. Pilots must always be aware of thunderstorms and their potential impact on flight safety. You can learn more about thunderstorms in aviation from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Fronts are another critical aspect of weather that pilots need to be familiar with. These are boundaries separating air masses with different temperatures and humidity levels. There are several types of fronts, including cold fronts, warm fronts, stationary fronts, and occluded fronts.

Each of these fronts brings distinct changes in precipitation, temperature, and wind direction. The AOPA’s Weather Regions page provides more detailed information on various weather fronts and their impact on aviation.

Precipitation is an essential factor to consider in aviation weather as well. It can take several forms, such as rain, snow, sleet, or hail, depending on the temperature and atmospheric conditions. In the context of thunderstorms, extreme precipitation can be particularly dangerous. Air traffic control facilities may provide alerts to pilots to warn them about extreme precipitation, as mentioned in CFI Notebook.

To stay updated and informed about current and forecasted weather conditions, pilots rely on various aviation weather reports and forecasts, such as the Graphical Forecasts for Aviation provided by the Aviation Weather Center (AWC). They include gridded displays of different weather parameters, such as icing, turbulence, and wind, as well as textual weather observations, forecasts, and warnings issued by National Weather Service (NWS).

Weather Advisories and their Elements

Weather advisories are an essential aspect of aviation as they provide vital information to pilots and help them make informed decisions regarding their flight plans.

There are different types of advisories, each designed to address specific weather-related hazards. Some of the most common ones include AIRMETs, SIGMETs, and Volcanic Ash Advisories.

AIRMETs (Airmen’s Meteorological Information) are issued to inform pilots about potentially hazardous weather conditions that may affect a large area. These conditions typically include low visibility, turbulence, and icing.

AIRMETs are issued every 6 hours and can be updated if needed to reflect significant changes in the forecasted weather. More information about AIRMETs can be found at the Federal Aviation Administration website.

SIGMETs (Significant Meteorological Information) are issued to warn pilots about hazardous weather events that are more severe and less common compared to those addressed by AIRMETs. These events include thunderstorms with hail, volcanic ash clouds, and severe turbulence. SIGMETs are issued on an as-needed basis and are valid for a shorter time period, typically up to 4 hours. The Aviation Weather Center is a good resource for further information on SIGMETs.

Volcanic Ash Advisories are critical for pilots, as volcanic ash can severely impact aircraft engines and other systems. These advisories specifically address the presence, movement, and forecasted path of volcanic ash clouds. They are issued by Volcanic Ash Advisory Centers (VAACs) situated around the globe. Timely updates on volcanic activity can be vital for flight safety and avoiding unexpected encounters with volcanic ash clouds.

Apart from these advisories, there are In-flight Weather Advisories that provide real-time updates on hazardous weather conditions to pilots during their flight. These advisories incorporate data from various sources and are essential for making adjustments to flight plans while in the air.

Final Thoughts

Every report, every forecast, shapes a safer sky. Pilots and controllers translate weather into action.

With knowledge in hand, the horizon is clear.

Stay safe out there!