Dynamic Winds and Temperatures, Taxi Routing, Airport 3D Runway Lighting, and more in ForeFlight 13.3

One of our most feature-packed releases ever, ForeFlight 13.3 includes new Dynamic Winds and Temperatures map layers, the introduction of our ForeFlight Labs program for cutting edge features with Taxi Routing as the first experiment, Runway Lighting in Airport 3D, new ways to import and organize documents, support for background downloads, and more.

Dynamic Winds & Temperatures

View global forecast wind speed, direction, and temperatures at multiple altitudes and times using these stunning animated weather layers. Both the “Winds (Temps)” and “Winds (Speeds)” layers use colorful heat maps covering the globe to represent their primary forecast values at the selected altitude and time.

Wind Temperatures on the left, Speeds on the right. Use the slider to view both.

Overlaid on each layer’s heat map are smoothly-flowing particle animations representing wind direction and speed, providing an intuitive view of large-scale weather patterns in relation to the layer’s primary forecast value (wind speed or temperature). Use the Time Slider to view wind forecasts in a ~24 hour period, and move the Altitude Slider to view winds from the surface up to 63,000 ft.

The new Weather Layer Legend just above the time slider dynamically adjusts its range of values as you view different altitudes to only show the colors and associated values that are present at the current altitude, a feature unique to these two layers.

Both layers are saved when you Pack for a flight so you can view them offline, but ForeFlight only downloads the portions of each that cover your route to limit the download size.

Both layers are available with ForeFlight Performance subscription plans. BUY NOW



Weather Layer Legend

Easily interpret ForeFlight’s graphical weather layers with a new color legend just above the time slider.

The legend appears when any of the following layers are enabled: Radar (Composite, Lowest Tilt, ADS-B, Sirius XM), Enhanced Satellite, Color IR Satellite, Icing and Turbulence (US, Global, ADS-B, Sirius XM, 557WW), Clouds, and the new Winds (Temps) and Winds (Speeds) layers.

You can disable the legend by deselecting “Map Legend” in the Map Settings menu.

Learn more about weather layers in the ForeFlight Legends Guide in Documents > ForeFlight, or view it online here.



Introducing ForeFlight Labs

ForeFlight Labs is a collection of cutting-edge capabilities that need your feedback before becoming fully-fledged features!

These features are disabled by default, but you can enable them independently in More > Account under the ForeFlight Labs banner.

Like other features, those added to ForeFlight Labs may be limited by subscription plan level, so the ForeFlight Labs section will only be visible if at least one of its features are available with your subscription plan.



ForeFlight Labs: Taxi Routing

Chart a course to or from the runway with an interactive and contextually-aware taxi route bubble editor. Available as a ForeFlight Labs feature with ForeFlight Performance subscription plans (BUY NOW). Enable Taxi Routes in the ForeFlight Labs section of More > Account.

Tap the new Taxi Route button in the Maps FPL window, the Plates view, or tap the bubble for any airport in your route and tap “Edit Taxi Route” to open the Taxi Route Editor for that airport.

If you are at the airport then ForeFlight will set your current position as the starting point; otherwise, select from a list of runways and FBOs to set your starting point, then select a destination runway or FBO from the same list.

ForeFlight will automatically create a taxi route between the two points which you can edit by tapping taxiway names, hold short and crossing locations, back taxi or runway taxi instructions, and other options.

The dynamic Taxi Route keyboard and bubble editor allow you to quickly add, remove, and rearrange route elements as your clearance is read out to you, with dedicated Clear, Undo, and Redo buttons for flexible editing.

Your finished taxi route is displayed directly on the moving map as well as on the airport’s diagram in Plates. Tap the route on the map to clear it or make additional edits.



Download in Background

ForeFlight can now download charts and data even when the app is in the background, allowing you to use other apps on your iPad or iPhone without interrupting the download process.

ForeFlight can download but not install data when backgrounded, so the next time you open the app it will take a couple minutes to install the new data before all downloads show as completed and the data become available.

Items that are downloaded but not yet installed will show a full progress bar until installed.

iOS may pause the background downloads if you sleep the device while low on battery power, so we recommend connecting to a power source if you plan to sleep the device while downloading.



Airport 3D Runway Lighting

Prepare for a night approach or establish a mental picture with toggleable Day/Night modes and realistic Runway Lights in Airport 3D.

Use the Day/Night toggle in the bottom-right corner of Airport 3D to dim the surrounding terrain and expose the airport’s runway lights.

Runway edge lighting is supported for most paved airports around the world, while larger airports may also display touchdown zone lights, PAPI lights, displaced threshold lights with approach light system if available, centerline lights, end light flashers, and more.

Airport 3D is available with ForeFlight Performance plans. BUY NOW



New Ways to Import Documents

Easily import documents into ForeFlight and add them to custom binders using a dedicated Import button and intuitive drag-and-drop gestures.

The new + button in the Imported Drive’s toolbar allows you to add files from the iOS Files app, your Photo Library, or by taking new photos with your device’s camera.

On iPad you can also drag-and-drop files from other apps that support the gesture into the Imported Drive by opening both apps in split screen and dragging files over to ForeFlight. Import multiple files at once this way by tapping additional items while still holding the initial file to “stack” them, then drag the stack over to ForeFlight and release it.

This drag-and-drop workflow (including the “stacking” gesture for multiple files) also works within any Document Drive to add documents or entire folders to a custom binder. Simply drag the documents and/or folders over any binder in the Catalog on the left and release to add them to the binder, or drop them on the Add New Binder button to create and name a brand new binder containing the selected items.



Link Multiple Jeppesen Accounts

Connect more than one Jeppesen account in ForeFlight for expanded access to chart coverages, or combine linked coverages with those purchased through ForeFlight for even greater flexibility.

Combine your chart coverages from a linked Jeppesen account with those purchased directly through ForeFlight.

Individual customers can sign into multiple Jeppesen accounts by tapping “Add Jeppesen Account” in More > Jeppesen after adding the initial account. ForeFlight Business account administrators can sign into and manage multiple Jeppesen accounts on the web at plan.foreflight.com/account/jeppesen.

Individual customers can also combine their chart coverages from a linked Jeppesen account with those purchased through ForeFlight, allowing access to special coverages that may not be available through ForeFlight and enabling more flexible chart management. BUY JEPPESEN CHARTS NOW

Learn more about Jeppesen charts in ForeFlight at foreflight.com/jeppesen.

Daily/Hourly Forecasts, Parachute Jump Areas, and more in ForeFlight 12.11

ForeFlight 12.11 brings Daily/Hourly Forecasts for an all-purpose look at the weather, Parachute Jump Areas and Airport Hotspot details on the Aeronautical Map, and more.

Daily/Hourly Forecasts

Get a detailed 10 day, hour-by-hour forecast for anywhere in the world for flight planning or just keeping tabs on daily weather.

Daily/Hourly Forecasts are available with all ForeFlight subscription plans except for the discontinued Legacy Basic ($74.99) and Legacy Pro ($149.99) plans for individuals.

You can access Daily Forecasts from the Daily tab in the Airport Weather view, which provides a tappable summary of each day’s forecast; 

from the Add to Route popup after tap-holding anywhere on the map; 

from the Nearby Airports list in the top-right corner of the Airports view, which shows the forecast for your current location; 

and from ForeFlight’s Quick Actions list after tap-holding on the app icon, which provides an even faster shortcut to view your local forecast.

The Forecast window is divided into three rows: Daily Forecasts at the bottom, Hourly Forecasts in the middle, and Hourly Forecast details at the top. The row of Daily Forecasts provides graphical depictions of each day’s general weather, as well as daily temperature ranges. The multi-colored band along the very bottom of this row depicts changes in flight category throughout each day, with green, blue, red, and magenta representing VFR, marginal VFR, IFR, and low IFR, respectively. Tap on any Daily Forecast to automatically scroll to it in Hourly Forecasts and select a morning forecast period.

The row of Hourly Forecasts in the middle provides more details about each forecast period in its own column. Tap on each column to view complete details about it and highlight the appropriate cell in the Daily Forecasts row. 

The timestamp in the top-right corner of the window shows how long ago the entire 10-day forecast was downloaded. When you Pack for a flight ForeFlight downloads the latest Daily Forecasts for any airports included in your route, which you can then view offline for up to 24 hours after packing.

ForeFlight also uses Daily and Hourly Forecasts to improve the accuracy of Takeoff and Landing Performance calculations, which are available with ForeFlight Performance plans. When other sources of weather like METARs, TAFs, or MOS forecasts are unavailable for a given airport or time, the text just below the Weather section states that “general forecast data” is being used, which ForeFlight derives from the Daily and Hourly Forecasts.

Parachute Jump Areas

View Parachute Jump Areas in the US directly on the Aeronautical Map and tap-hold on them to view additional information. 

Tap Details in the Add to Route popup to view a PJA’s information, including its name, associated airport or aerodrome, upper and lower altitude limits, active hours, and more. You can disable PJAs using the Parachute Area switch in Map Settings > Airspace, or by disabling all airspace.

Airport Hotspot Details

Tap on airport hotspots on the Aeronautical Map to view each one’s description so you can be better prepared for taxi.

The hotspot popup includes each one’s name, airport, and a description of the hotspot with any remarks. If there are multiple overlapping hotspots where you tapped, a disambiguation popup allows you to choose which hotspot you want to view information for. 

Recommended Route Constraints: Include Track

Guide ForeFlight’s Recommended Route while planning oceanic flights by requiring it to follow a particular oceanic track using the new “Include Track” Route Constraint. The Recommended Route with Constraints is included in ForeFlight Performance plans.

With Route Advisor open, tap the Constraints button in the top-right to edit constraints, then tap Include Track at the bottom of the list. Switch between westward and eastward tracks using the toggle at the top of the window, and tap any track name from the North Atlantic Tracks or Pacific Organized Track System to select it. 

Tap out of the Constraints view and ForeFlight will attempt to generate a Recommended Route that includes the track you selected. Learn more about Route Constraints for the Recommended Route here. 

Runway Slope Details

ForeFlight now displays a runway’s slope alongside other details in the Airport view’s Runway tab. You can also view Runway Slope in the Airport popup on the Maps view. 

Download and Pack Tweaks

Both the Download and Pack views have improved and consistent interfaces that display the combined size of pending and in-progress downloads. In Downloads, the Pause and Download buttons are now grouped together in the bottom-right corner, while the Delete button is accessible in the top-right corner.

G-AIRMETs in ForeFlight

In 2008 the FAA’s Aviation Weather Center began phasing out AIRMETs (Airman’s Meteorological Information) in favor of G-AIRMETs (Graphical AIRMETs). In anticipation of the switch to exclusively using G-AIRMETs, ForeFlight recently made the change to displaying G-AIRMETs in the AIR/SIGMETs/CWAs layer in the Maps view. 

AIRMETs and G-AIRMETs have their differences, but since they are made from the same data, they are consistent in their messages. Why are G-AIRMETs used and how does that affect pilots using ForeFlight? 

IMG_2467

Most pilots will notice that G-AIRMETs in ForeFlight don’t contain the same text that is usually associated with AIRMETs. That text usually indicated geographical information for the AIRMET and since G-AIRMETs are graphically depicted AIRMETs, the additional text is not needed. In the past, ForeFlight would parse this geographical description to display it on the map the same way we display G-AIRMETs, resulting in no noticeable change to pilots. 

IMG_2468

Additionally, AIRMETs are limited by a character count, making it difficult for forecasters to fully convey weather conditions. Some forecasters have been forced to combine geographical areas of the forecast or cut out sections of the text to get their message through the FAA system. 

AIRMETs provide geographic data using VORs to describe the area of weather conditions, while G-AIRMETs use lat/long coordinates and can use many more points to describe an area (due to the lack of character limit), giving pilots a more accurate geographical depiction of weather. 

The FAA issues G-AIRMETs in 3 hour blocks and AIRMETs in 6 hour blocks that blend the data into one image. This means that multiple G-AIRMETs issued for different times could be turned into a single AIRMET lasting for much longer than required, possibly preventing pilots from flying in an area that would be otherwise cleared with G-AIRMETs.

map_small-airmets

map_large-airmet

Since G-AIRMETs use smaller time increments, ForeFlight provides a time slider at the bottom of the Maps view when you enable the AIR/SIGMETs/CWA layer. Scrub the time slider to view G-AIRMETs that will be active at different times in the future. If you have another time-based weather layer turned on, ForeFlight will replace the time slider increments with the other layer, letting you view G-AIRMETs that are active at the time of the other layer’s frame. If you combine the AIR/SIGMETs/CWA layer with a longer term forecast layer like Surface Analysis or Icing, you’ll find that the G-AIRMETs will disappear if you move the slider past the expiration time of the final active G-AIRMET.  

Weather in 3D Preview, Visual Approaches and Traffic Pattern Altitude, Internet Traffic Search, and more in ForeFlight 12.7

ForeFlight 12.7 includes Weather in 3D Preview, Visual Approaches and Traffic Pattern Altitude, Internet Traffic Search, and more.

Weather in 3D Preview

Enhance your preflight weather planning with interactive Icing and Turbulence forecast layers in 3D Preview. Weather in 3D Preview is available with ForeFlight’s Performance Plus and Business Performance subscription plans.

Access 3D Preview by loading a planned route onto the Maps or Flights views and tapping the 3D button in the Flight Plan Editor. 

Tap the layer selector in the bottom left to access forecast weather layers in 3D Preview. 3D Preview supports US and Global Icing and US and Global Turbulence. All four weather layers use the same data as their corresponding layers on the overhead map, and are depicted in 3D as colored tiles along your route. 

Enabling any layer will add an altitude slider on the right to control which altitude weather is displayed at. Enable the RTE button at the top of the altitude slider to only show weather at the same altitude as your route, which creates a stair step effect if weather is present during your climb and descent.

From the outside, forecast weather appears as solid rectangular blocks, colored to indicate severity. When the aircraft is inside these blocks they become transparent except for the edges to provide better visibility. Moving the 3D camera outside the blocks preserves a window of transparency around the aircraft. When the edge of the window is sharp it means the aircraft is within the blocks at that altitude, and when the edge is soft it means the aircraft is outside the blocks on the other side, which you can confirm by moving the camera.

In addition to the color of the blocks, the severity of forecast weather is also indicated by the color at the very top of the route line, as well as in the info panel in the top-left. These allow you to easily compare the severity of weather at your planned altitude with other nearby altitudes by adjusting the altitude slider.

Like Profile View, 3D Preview combines all forecast periods that will be active during your flight in one seamless display. If a portion of your route’s planned active time lies beyond the selected weather layer’s forecast range, ForeFlight will display a hatch pattern in place of the colored blocks to indicate where data is not available. It will also provide a tappable warning below the altitude slider letting you know that forecast data is not available for some or all of your flight.

Visual Approaches with TPA

Specify the pattern altitude for a new visual approach or traffic pattern entry in Procedure Advisor to add a prominent waypoint with the TPA in your route.

Access visual approaches in Procedure Advisor’s Traffic Pattern or Approaches menu. Enter a custom traffic pattern altitude in either MSL or AGL formats, or tap the Select button to choose from a list of recommended pattern altitudes.

Select the type of traffic pattern entry or a straight in approach and tap Add to Route to insert the pattern entry with marked TPA waypoint into your route. Tap the pattern entry in the FPL Bubble Editor and tap Set Pattern Altitude to change the selected altitude and update the TPA waypoint.

Internet Traffic Search

Find active Internet Traffic targets anywhere in the world by typing a tail number or call sign into the Search bar. ForeFlight displays matches for partial and complete search terms under an “Internet Traffic” header in the Search results list. Tap on any traffic result in the list to reposition the map and highlight the aircraft, which will also enable the Traffic layer if it isn’t already.

You must have an internet connection and be on the ground to search for Internet Traffic. Searching for aircraft while connected to an ADS-B In receiver will only show traffic targets received by that device.

FBO Detail View Enhancements

The FBO detail view now displays self- and full-service fuel prices for both 100LL and Jet-A or Jet-A+ in a more compact table. Information about contract Jet-A pricing via your JetFuelX fuel cards is also now available above the retail fuel prices at the top of the Information tab, rather than in a separate tab. Integrating your JetFuelX fuel cards into ForeFlight is available with ForeFlight Performance plans.

ForeFlight Adds New Forecast Graphics to Imagery View

We recently added two new collections of graphical forecasts to the Imagery view on mobile and web: Graphical Aviation Forecasts for cloud cover and surface conditions, and Ceiling and Visibility Analysis graphics.

Graphical Aviation Forecasts

While the Graphical Aviation Forecasts were already available as part of ForeFlight’s Graphical HTML Briefing, they are now even more accessible alongside ForeFlight’s other graphical weather imagery. The new cloud and surface forecasts replace the GFS MOS ceiling and visibility graphical forecast products, which NOAA discontinued in mid-December 2019. The GFS MOS textual products for ceiling and visibility are still available on NOAA’s site and in ForeFlight’s MOS airport weather tab.

graphical_aviation_forecasts2.PNG

The Graphical Aviation Forecasts for both cloud cover and surface conditions are provided for CONUS and nine additional regions: Northeast, East, Southeast, North Central, Central, South Central, Northwest, West, and Southwest. Each region and forecast type includes graphics for six forecast periods: 3 HR, 6 HR, 9 HR, 12 HR, 15 HR, and 18 HR. Forecasts are typically updated every 3 hours.

The Cloud Coverage product depicts not only the degree of cloud coverage (few, scattered, broken, or overcast), but also cloud top altitudes and icing or mountain obscuration AIRMETs.

cloud_northeast.JPG

The Surface product depicts even more, showing obscuration hazards and types (haze, fog, smoke, or dust/sand), weather conditions with color-coded probabilities (rain, snow, mix, or ice), thunderstorm probabilities, surface visibility, IFR or surface wind AIRMETs, and surface wind barbs with gust speeds indicated by red extensions on each barb’s tail.

surface_northwest.JPG

Ceiling and Visibility Analysis

The Ceiling and Visibility Analysis collection provides three graphics depicting Flight Category, Visibility, and Ceiling information for CONUS and 18 major subdivisions, each named after a city in each region. 

IMG_1605.PNG

These detailed graphics replace the single “Weather Depiction” chart that was previously available in the National > Featured section. Visit this page hosted by NOAA for information about the different symbols used in these forecast graphics.

IMG_F7CF5F67E059-1.jpeg

As with other graphics in the Imagery view, you can share, copy, or download the new forecast products using the Send To menu in the bottom-right while viewing them.

imagery_send_to.PNG

A Closer Look at Global Icing, Turbulence, and Surface Analysis Map Layers

Available with ForeFlight Mobile 9.4, five new weather layers bring global Icing, Turbulence and surface pressure data to the map, with detailed Surface Analysis available to much of North America. These weather products significantly enhance local and global flight planning and your weather decision-making abilities. In addition, the recently introduced time slider provides frame-by-frame control over animation of the new weather layers.

The new layers are available both on mobile and web with the Pro Plus and Performance Plus subscription plans, as well as Business Performance, MFB Pro, and MFB Performance. If you don’t have one of those subscription plans, click here to upgrade and unlock these powerful weather layers.

Layer Animation Time Slider

The animation Time Slider tool provides better control over weather layer animation, as well as more clarity on the age of the weather product you are viewing. The slider automatically displays when you select any Radar, Satellite, Icing, or Turbulence layer.

Weather Layer Time Slider

In addition to the familiar play/pause button, the Time Slider allows frame-by-frame control over the animation. The slider’s position on the time scale indicates the valid time for the currently displayed weather graphic. Tapping to the right of the slider head advances the layer by one time step, while tapping to the left of the slider head retreats the layer by one time step. Alternatively, tap-hold and move the slider head left and right to manually control animation speed and enable back and forth (rocking) animation, a useful capability when analyzing local storm cell changes on radar.

The time scale changes as appropriate for each weather product displayed. Forecast-based weather layers, such as the Icing and Turbulence layers, use a white vertical bar to indicate the present time, splitting the time slider into two parts: forecasts that are valid for the past (gray line) and for the future (white line).

Products that indicate past information only, such as the radar and satellite layers, are presented with a gray time scale with the product age, relative to the current time, displayed with each frame. The absolute time is displayed in a callout with each frame as you manually scrub left or right, as well as to the left of the time scale.

Providing full manual control over the weather layer animation and easily reading relative age and absolute time for each weather product frame provides better insight to how the weather is trending.

Surface Analysis

The Surface Analysis layer adds a global surface pressure overlay, displaying isobar lines and associated pressure values in millibars. For much of North America, the isobar lines are complemented with depictions of surface fronts, troughs, and high/low pressure center markers. Besides displaying the current surface analysis, the forecasted surface analysis can be viewed for up to two days into the future using the Time Slider.

The Surface Analysis product and its forecast is a collaboration between multiple weather centers and is primarily based on the National Weather Service Global Forecast System (GFS) and the North American Mesoscale (NAM) models, with additional guidance from the European ECMWF and the United Kingdom’s UKMET models. Surface features (fronts, troughs, pressure centers) are analyzed manually by a NWS meteorologist, and are therefore only available for the North America region.

Surface Analysis features follow the standard depiction convention as outlined in the table below:

View global isobars and more detailed weather features for the U.S.

Icing

Icing severity data for the United States has been available in the ForeFlight Mobile Imagery view since 2015. Now, icing severity is available as a dynamic weather layer in the Maps view in ForeFlight Mobile and on the web. And not just for the US, but for the entire world.

You will now see two icing products in the Maps view layer selector: Icing (US) and Icing (Global). Both serve the same purpose, but are based on different weather models.

For the US coverage, the Forecast Icing Product (FIP) is a Numerical Weather Prediction model that employs a 20km grid in the horizontal and a 1000 ft grid in the vertical (from 3000’ to FL450) to calculate icing severity and the potential for SLD (supercooled large droplets). The FIP model is run hourly and forecasts are available out to 18 hours.

For a fast analysis of conditions at each altitude, you can quickly scrub between altitudes using the Altitude Slider in the lower right corner of the Maps view. The Altitude Slider is also available on the Turbulence layer.

Altitude Slider

Altitude Slider

Please note that SLD threat is currently only available to customers flying with the SiriusXM SXAR1 aviation receiver and who are subscribed to the SiriusXM Pilot for ForeFlight plan. SLD threats are depicted with red squares.

The Global Icing product is based on the Global Forecast System (GFS) weather model with a coarser horizontal and vertical grid and is run four times per day (every 6 hours). Global Icing forecasts in ForeFlight are available out to 24 hours.

Because of the coarser grid, as well as the less-frequent model runs of the GFS, it’s worth comparing the two icing depictions side-by-side. The difference in horizontal resolution and model update frequency between the US icing layer (left) and the global icing layer (right) is evident. When operating within the limits of the US icing model coverage area, the US icing layer should be referenced instead of the global layer to take advantage of its frequent updates and finer horizontal and vertical grid resolution.

Regardless of whether you have US or global icing selected, each layer uses the same color scale to depict conditions of no icing, light, moderate and heavy icing, as shown in the legend below:

Icing intensity is based on how long it would take for ice to build up on an airfoil

It’s important to note that the icing severity is roughly based on the accretion rate of ice on an airplane. The severity levels are defined by how long it would take for ¼ inch (65mm) of ice to build up on an airfoil. Time ranges are given for each level because the build-up rate depends on variables like airfoil properties, airspeed, and atmospheric conditions.

Since the icing forecasts are produced with no human modifications, they are intended for flight planning purposes only and should always be used in combination with AIRMETs, SIGMETs and PIREPs.

Turbulence

Similar to the Icing map layer, there are two new Turbulence map layers, one for the United States and the other for Global coverage.

The US turbulence product is based on the Graphical Turbulence Guidance (GTG). The GTG and the associated Eddy Dissipation Rate (EDR) data scale used by GTG were both covered in detail in a previous ForeFlight article. It’s worth re-reading that post to brush up on the turbulence product, especially how the relationship between EDR and in-flight turbulence intensity changes based on aircraft weight. The information in that article applies equally to the US and global turbulence layers.

The US turbulence layer data are still based on GTG-3 with an available lead time of up to 18 hours. This layer displays the maximum EDR of clear air turbulence (CAT) and mountain wave turbulence (MWT). It is not intended to predict convection and thunderstorm turbulence sources, but may provide some guidance if the storm event is widespread. Furthermore, the graphics represent a snapshot at that time and not a forecast for a time range. Finally, it is important to realize that turbulence is a dynamic event and rapidly changing conditions may not be accurately reflected.

The global turbulence layer displays EDR derived from the GFS forecast model using a proprietary algorithm. This layer differs from the US GTG-3 derived layer in that the global turbulence data only forecasts CAT and not MWT. The forecast lead time can be up to 24 hours. The same reduced horizontal and vertical resolutions discussed previously in the global icing section apply to the global turbulence layer. Also, since the global turbulence layer uses GFS model data, the same reduced model run rate limitation applies (every 6 hours for GFS versus hourly for GTG-3), resulting in the US turbulence layer being updated more frequently. For all of these reasons, it’s important to use the US turbulence layer when operating within its coverage area.

Since the layer’s EDR scale is aircraft dependent, it is important to review the scale applicable to your aircraft category (the article linked above contains scales for light, medium, and heavy aircraft classes). The following color scheme is used in the turbulence map layer:

These new weather layers are an exciting and useful feature addition for our US and worldwide customers. Keep in mind that there is no human involvement in creating the turbulence and icing products and the information should be supplemented as much as possible with SIGMETs, AIRMETs, and PIREPs to understand the full weather picture.

Surface Wind Analysis Now Available with SiriusXM

In ForeFlight Mobile 9.0 we’ve added a high resolution surface wind analysis to the list of map layers you can display through the SiriusXM satellite weather broadcast. This new product includes both windspeed and direction presented as wind barbs similar to the winds aloft layer. Tapping on any wind barb will show the specific details.

The surface wind analysis layer broadcast by SiriusXM will provide an overview of the general circulation of the prevailing wind about 10 meters above the surface. Tapping on any wind barb will display the valid time as well as the windspeed and direction at that location.

Two surface wind layers?

Yes, there will be two surface wind layers when connected to the SXAR1. The layer you have been using in prior releases and the one you can view when connected to the Internet is strictly based on surface observations from the various weather reporting stations around the world (typically airports). This depicts the actual wind reported in the routine observation (METAR) or special observation (SPECI). The surface wind layer is depicted at weather stations as colored wind barbs; at this point in time the wind markers shown include the gust factor.

The surface wind layer that is based on observations is shown as wind barbs color-coded based on the observed wind speed at weather stations.

The new surface wind analysis layer is not observed data from weather stations, but instead is generated by a forecast model, and therefore, completely automated. It’s only available when connected to the SXAR1 and shows an analysis of the prevailing wind at 10 meters above the surface; it does not include the gust factor. Unlike the observed data that is updated when new observations are taken, the surface wind analysis is updated once every hour.  When refreshed, this will provide wind data that will be valid at the top of the previous hour.

The surface wind analysis broadcast by SiriusXM shows low level atmospheric circulations very well as seen here as a Nor’easter deepens over the Delmarva Peninsula.

The primary value of this new layer is to show low level circulations at the synoptic scale level. This will point out high (clockwise) and low pressure (counter-clockwise) circulations as well as lines of convergence in the vicinity of strong frontal boundaries. This is difficult to see with the coarse network of observing sites throughout the U.S. But with the high resolution surface wind barb analysis, these circulations and convergence zones show up nicely.

 

Graphical Forecasts for Aviation (GFA) will become operational in April

Effective April 13, 2017, the experimental Graphical Forecasts for Aviation (GFA) produced by the NWS Aviation Weather Center (AWC) will transition to operational status. As you may have heard, the GFA was created in response to a formal request by the FAA to discontinue production of the textual Area Forecasts (FA). According to the NWS headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, “the requirements for the underlying meteorological information in the FA have not changed. The FAA recognizes that, given modern advances within the NWS, the legacy text FA is no longer the best source of en route flight planning weather information.”

The new graphical forecasts are designed to provide meteorological information equivalent to the textual FA. The GFA product includes observations and forecasts for the continental United States that provide data critical for aviation safety. The data is overlaid on high-resolution base maps that you can test drive here. Given this will be the replacement for the FA, it means that all of the forecasts will terminate at the U.S. borders. FAs for Hawaii, Alaska, the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico will not be affected at this point in time.

For the time being, the legacy FA will continue to be generated in parallel with the GFA. The GFA is automated whereas the legacy FA is issued by forecasters at the AWC. At some point in the future, forecasters at the AWC will discontinue issuing this textual forecast. And don’t be surprised if the two forecasts contradict one another – let’s look at an example:

Below is the GFA valid at 23Z (issued at 2102Z) for cloud coverage along with tops and bases for the Northeast and Great Lakes. Notice that it forecasts just high cirrus clouds over a majority of Maine.

The GFA cloud forecast shows cloud coverage (color contours) as well as bases and tops. (click for larger image)

However, the legacy FA for this area shown below suggests a totally different forecast. This area forecast was amended by the FA forecaster for the eastern region at 1935Z. This forecast (highlighted below) suggests that after 21Z NW Maine is expected to have overcast clouds with bases at 2,000 – 3000 feet MSL. And NERN Maine is expected to have overcast cloud bases of 1,500 feet MSL. The forecaster also issued an AIRMET for IFR conditions covering most of the northeastern U.S.

000
FAUS41 KKCI 141935 AAA
FA1W  
BOSC FA 141935 AMD
SYNOPSIS AND VFR CLDS/WX
SYNOPSIS VALID UNTIL 151200
CLDS/WX VALID UNTIL 150600...OTLK VALID 150600-151200
ME NH VT MA RI CT NY LO NJ PA OH LE WV MD DC DE VA AND CSTL WTRS
.
SEE AIRMET SIERRA FOR IFR CONDS AND MTN OBSCN.
TS IMPLY SEV OR GTR TURB SEV ICE LLWS AND IFR CONDS.
NON MSL HGTS DENOTED BY AGL OR CIG.
.
SYNOPSIS...SEE MIA FA FOR SYNOPSIS.
.
ME NH VT
NW ME/NRN-SW NH/VT...OVC020-030 TOP FL250. VIS 3SM -SN BR. 21Z
OVC020-030. VIS 3SM -SN BLSN. WND N 20G30KT. OTLK...IFR CIG SN
BLSN WND.
NERN ME...OVC030 TOP FL250. VIS 3-5SM -SN. 21Z OVC015. VIS 3SM
-SN BR. 03Z OVC015. VIS 3SM -SN BLSN. WND NELY G25KT. OTLK...IFR
CIG SN BLSN WND.

Notice the Synopsis section simply says “SEE MIA FA FOR SYNOPSIS.” Most pilots were probably not taught that the FA has a 3,000 character limit. So, with a raging Nor’easter occurring in the Northeast, they didn’t have enough characters available for the Boston FA to provide a complete synopsis. In that case, the forecaster opted to place the Boston synopsis in the Miami FA.

For the potential of clouds in Maine, the legacy FA proved to be much more accurate than the new GFA. Most of Maine was experiencing IFR conditions as denoted by AIRMET Sierra shown here.

At this point in time, the AWC is not providing public access to some of the underlying data you may see on the webpage mentioned above. We are busy at ForeFlight trying to determine how to best incorporate these forecasts from the GFA once they become available. So stay tuned.

ForeFlight Tops it Off with Two New SiriusXM Weather Layers

If you surveyed a group of IFR pilots, tops are likely one of the most requested features. Now, the wait is over. With ForeFlight Mobile 8.3, you can view both echo tops and cloud tops when connected to the SXAR1 SiriusXM satellite receiver. These two sought-after weather products are now included with the current ForeFlight Mobile SiriusXM pricing tier at no extra cost.

tops-selections

You can find the echo tops and cloud tops selections in between the radar and satellite layers in the ForeFlight Mobile app.

Cloud top height

First and foremost, the cloud tops depiction from SiriusXM is not a satellite image per se. Instead it depicts the height of the cloud tops in reference to mean sea level (MSL). Second, the cloud tops overlay does not infer the depth of the cloud layer. Consequently, a high overcast cirrus deck at 30,000 feet may mask one or more cloud layers below. Third, not all cloud layers may be shown, especially when there are regions of low-topped stratus or scattered to broken fields of fair weather cumulus clouds. So it’s important to always overlay the sky coverage markers to augment the cloud tops layer.

lowstratus-tops

Here’s a common limitation during a low-topped stratus event. Notice that the sky coverage markers around Houston, Texas indicate the presence of overcast skies, however,  the cloud tops layer shows the sky as clear. 

The cloud tops layer is always valid in the recent past since it’s based on observed data. It is typically updated with a new image once or twice an hour. Tops above 25,000 ft MSL are color-coded using blue, orange and red to visually enhance the highest tops. Tops below 25,000 ft are shown as simple shades of gray.

echo-tops-layer

The echo tops layer (left) may appear to look like a radar depiction (right) from a color perspective, However, it has a much lower spatial resolution than the composite or lowest tilt radar mosaic.

Echo top height

Like cloud tops, echo tops depict a height above mean sea level so it’s not a radar depiction per se. Simply put, echo top height is based on the highest elevation angles at which greater than 18 dBZ reflectivities are detected. Keep in mind that echo tops are primarily used by meteorologists to identify more significant storms by locating the highest tops. So it’s important know that echo tops are not the same as cloud tops. The actual top of the cloud is always higher than the echo top.

echotops

In this vertical cross-section of a thunderstorm, reflectivity is shown using colors similar to what you would see on a NEXRAD mosaic. Dark blue represents a reflectivity of 15-20 dBZ. So, the echo tops are likely found near the top of the dark blue regions on this image.

Filtering by altitude

On the ForeFlight Map view, both the echo tops and cloud tops can be filtered by altitude. When selecting either one of these layers, an altitude selector similar to the one that appears with the winds aloft layer is shown. This provides a quick way to determine tops that are above a selected MSL altitude. Initially, the altitude selector will be positioned at the lowest setting, namely, 0 feet MSL. This is the selection that will show all cloud or echo tops. Setting the cloud tops altitude selector to 10,000 feet, for example, will remove any clouds with tops below this altitude leaving only clouds with tops above 10,000 feet. Therefore regions without tops data are regions without clouds or tops that are below the selected altitude.

cloud-tops-filter

The altitude selector allows you to filter all of the cloud tops (or echo tops) below a specific altitude. In this example, all cloud tops below FL300 are removed leaving only those tops above that altitude. For convective tops, it’s also a good idea to overlay the lightning layer.

Echo top clutter

Echo tops received through SiriusXM do not go through a rigorous filter like you may see with the two radar layers. Therefore, it is normal to see echo top clutter around and near the various NWS radar sites as shown below. Typically these are not associated with real areas of precipitation and often occur during fair weather. Simply moving the altitude selector up to the next rung at 5,000 feet will remove many of these annoying areas of clutter.

clutter

Echo tops clutter showing tops below 5,000 feet will often occur around the various NWS radar sites. Here you can see clutter around the NEXRAD sites at Charleston, W. Va., Sterling, Va., Dover, De., and Mount Holly, N.J.

True Colors of IR Satellite

Now in ForeFlight Mobile 8.3, you have a choice between one of two satellite layers on the ForeFlight Map view. The legacy satellite layer was renamed to Enhanced Satellite and the new layer is appropriately named Color IR Satellite. For many, the new satellite layer will look quite familiar. That’s because it was created to generally match the infrared (IR) satellite images located within the ForeFlight Imagery view. Or you may have seen similar color images on aviationweather.gov. While there are some differences, this color IR satellite layer has a rather high glance value to depict the locations of significant adverse weather and help to locate the height of the cloud tops.

satellite-selection

The older satellite layer was renamed to Enhanced Satellite with the new layer now called Color IR Satellite.

Why another satellite layer?

Back in November 2014, you may recall that we added color to the global satellite layer. Color was added to enhance or highlight the highest cloud tops that are typically associated with significant large synoptic-scale weather systems and deep, moist convection or thunderstorms. This is especially critical when flying in regions where ground-based radar data is sparse or nonexistent. The new satellite layer takes this a step further by colorizing the entire satellite layer based on a discrete cloud top temperature (in degrees Celsius).

color-satellite-layer

The Color IR Satellite layer should be viewed along with the sky coverage markers. You will notice that many pilot weather reports of icing tend to occur in regions of yellow, green and very light blue.

As I discussed in this earlier blog post high clouds are very cold and emit less infrared radiation than warmer clouds near Earth’s surface. Satellite sensors measure this radiation and meteorologists calibrate this to appropriate temperatures. Knowing the cloud top temperature can help us determine the relative height of the cloud tops and more importantly it can help us understand when supercooled liquid water may dominate the clouds creating a nasty icing threat.

Cloud tops and icing

In this new color satellite image, purple and darker shades of blue are indicative of tops at high altitudes. At the other end of the spectrum, shades of red and orange are indicative of shallow clouds with tops near the earth’s surface.

color-scale-ir

Colors such as dark blue and purple on the left side of this scale (in degrees Celsius) represent the coldest (highest) cloud tops whereas colors on the right side of the scale represent the warmest (lowest) cloud tops.

To use the layer to determine the cloud top height over a particular region, zoom in on the area of concern in the Map view and note the temperature using the color scale above. Next, find the MSL altitude that corresponds to that temperature by referencing the local temperature aloft in that region. That gives you the cloud top height. For example, assume you were departing out of Garden City Regional Airport (KGCK) and wanted to know the height of the tops. Zooming in as shown below provides an orange color representing a temperature of approximately 0 degrees Celsius.

color-height-example

The color IR satellite when zoomed in over Garden City shows mostly orange in this area. This corresponds to a temperature of roughly 0 degrees Celsius.

Using the winds/temperatures aloft provided in the Garden City popover, find the altitude that corresponds to that temperature. Perhaps a more accurate approach is to use a tool called a Skew-T log (p) diagram like the one pictured below. Starting from the surface, work your way up the red environmental temperature line and find the first altitude that corresponds to a temperature of 0 degrees Celsius. In this case, that corresponds to an altitude of 4,285 feet as shown on the left. Additionally, the diagram confirms that saturated conditions occur below this altitude representing the presence of clouds with unsaturated conditions above. This kind of analysis will provide the necessary confidence that a climb to 5,000 feet MSL will get you on top of this cloud deck.

skew-t

A Skew-T log (p) diagram like the one shown here for the Garden City Municipal Airport is an excellent tool to help locate the cloud top height. This depicts a forecast model representation of temperature (red line) and dewpoint temperature (blue line) as a function of height.

The more important colors are perhaps shades of yellow and green and maybe even very light blue. Using the color scale below, clouds with fairly warm subfreezing cloud top temperatures are likely to be dominated by supercooled liquid water and represent a airframe icing threat.

icing-potential

The pale green, yellow and very light blue indicate regions where cloud top temperatures are in the  regime where the clouds below are dominated by supercooled liquid water representing an airframe icing hazard.

Don’t become complacent; clouds with colder (higher) tops can and do contain supercooled liquid water and may pack the threat of supercooled large drop (SLD) icing especially within deep, moist convection. However, these colder-topped clouds of darker shades of blue will normally be dominated by ice crystals or more likely be a mixed phase cloud (containing both ice crystals and supercooled liquid water). However, once ice nuclei begin to activate and ice crystals start to form in the cloud, the cloud tends to grow bigger ice crystals at the expense of supercooled liquid water which lessens the icing threat.

Masking out clear skies

As mentioned above, this layer is a close cousin of the static color IR satellite images found in the ForeFlight Imagery view. The static images show not only the temperature of the cloud tops using the same colors, but also the temperature of the surface of the earth. This can make it difficult to know where clouds exist and where the sky is clear. The main improvement is that the new satellite layer attempts to mask out regions where the sky is clear showing the map background in those regions instead of the surface temperature.

clear-vs-cloudy

Clear regions are masked out to show the underlying map below.

While this masking algorithm works a majority of the time, it can be difficult to get it right every single time simply using temperature alone. For example, anytime there’s a shallow low-topped stratus deck like the one shown below, the tops of the clouds may actually be slightly warmer than the surface of the earth courtesy of a surface-based temperature inversion. So the algorithm may have a difficult time discerning where it is cloudy or clear. So it’s important to always overlay the sky coverage markers to pick up on these issues when they occur.

bad-mask

For some low-topped stratus events, it’s not unusual for the masking algorithm to show clear skies as it did here in the Midwest. The best way to detect this condition is to overlay the cloud coverage markers or during daylight hours check the Enhanced Satellite which operates in the visible spectrum during this time.

So during the late fall, winter and early spring, give this new satellite layer a quick glance. It’ll provide you with a method to determine the tops of most clouds and to reveal where there’s a definite risk of airframe ice.