These excellent notes were very kindly provided by Jim Butcher. I had assumed that, as in the UK, unofficial sites would provide a better service than official ones, but this is clearly not the case at least for short term forecasts.
FAA provided weather briefings
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) provides National Weather Service (NWS) weather observations and forecasts to pilots through its system of Flight Service Stations (FSS). Years ago there were FSS at many airports that you could visit in person for a briefing. There continue to be telephone briefings available but today most briefings take place via computer using Direct User Access Terminal Service (DUATS). FSS also serve as the entry point for flight plans into ATC.
The FAA has contracted FSS to Lockheed Martin (LMFS). Telephone briefings (1800wxbrief) are with a LMFS briefer. You can receive a DUATS (online) briefing from LMFS www.1800wxbrief.com or alternatively from CSC DUATS www.duats.com. The FAA has DUATS contracts with both. Both maintain a log of your visit for legal purposes.
The LMFS site has recently been updated to present information in a more graphic form. You input a flight plan and the site will provide weather for that route during the period of time of your flight. It can suggest different departure times to avoid weather, suggest altitudes for minimum headwinds, and can show graphically on the route expected hazards, the time they are expected and your projected location at that time. There is a header which breaks briefing items into categories such as adverse conditions, SIGMETS, drone activity, etc. and if there are no items that pertain to your route during your planned time, the header marks that category so you don’t need to spend the time to look there. There are videos on the site for help as well as a couple of AOPA videos available.
US Weather Sources (free, no charge)
With as many Van’s Aircraft RVs as there are, this site is a treasure of information of all sorts. I learn about avionics, painting, places to fly, fly-ins etc. There is a separate weather tab which has current weather and forecast weather from a variety of sources such as our National Weather Service, DUATS, The Weather Channel (popular weather), WSI (a high end weather provider intended for corporate users) and UNISYS (more of a research oriented weather provider). There are also links to our National Weather Service. I especially like the NOAA page that gives METARs and TAFs as a scroll over feature. There also is a link to SkewT plots. The forecast thumbnails are nice for looking ahead as is the Windytv Forecast (which gives forecast weather for anywhere in the world).
Gives ceilings and tops forecasts for the next 3 days.
And within that, www.aviationweather.gov have all the available NWS weather products. I especially like the standard briefing page that reminds me of items to check, such as TFRs. I also read the forecast discussion pages, where the meteorologist explains why he forecast as he did and what portions of the forecast area may be affected.
Long Term Forecasts (free, no charge)
When planning a trip, often one wants to evaluate what the weather will be in advance of the trip and also during the return from the trip. Most of the “official” sources do not offer this information. Long term forecasts are available from:
http://coolwx.com/ gives an 8 day forecast for any location in the world
https://www.windyty.com/ offers 14 day weather world wide
www.weather.gov offers seven day forecasts from each of the 122 US NWS offices.
www.weather.com, www.accuweather.com and www.wunderground.com are public weather sites that offer extended forecasts and historical forecasts.
http://weather.unisys.com/ offers detailed forecasts based on each of three different computer models
Flight Planning and Weather (free, no charge)
There are many on line services and apps that help you plan a flight by presenting a map with a course line and the associated forecast weather. Most allow you to input aircraft performance data which is used to generate nav logs (chart of waypoints with estimated time enroute and fuel usage) and select the best altitude to fly (least headwind). Many require log in so that a record of the briefing is kept.
Allows one to enter a performance profile that changes with altitude. For turbo equipped aircraft, you can input your actual TAS at different altitudes and that is used when calculating the best altitude based on winds aloft forecast. You can also file flight plans here. And your visit is logged.
Allows you to plan a flight based on shortest distance or lowest fuel cost and suggests fuel stops based on aircraft performance and fuel type (100LL, MOGAS, or Jet A). I will often start here when planning a long trip. You can select information on specific airports and bring up a sectional map of the surrounding area.
Flight Planning and Weather (fee, subscription)
Weathermeister www.weathermeister.com provides NWS weather in different format – good winds aloft information
Skycharts www.skycharts.net iPad app that has charts and approach plates for the US and charts for most of the world (no approach plates). You can enter two waypoints and it will plot the path on the chart. When connected to internet, it will display METARS and TAFs.
Foreflight www.foreflight.com has become the most popular. It provides weather, flight planning and much more.
Wing X (www.hiltonsoftware.com)
Garmin Pilot (www.garmin.com/garmin-pilot)
FltPlan Go (www.fltplan.com) mobile device version of FltPln.com
SkyVector (www.skyvector.com) it appears that SkyVector offers world wide data
Naviator (www.naviatorapp.com) For android devices, world wide data.
AOPA Flight Planner www.aopa.org/flightplanner requires AOPA membership
How we plan a trip
We use our iPad for charts and approach plates in our plane. The data resides on the iPad, no internet connection is required. The app we use is www.skycharts.net. This gives us our charts in the airplane with our GPS location shown on them (we also have a GRT EFIS which has a moving map). We flight plan with Skycharts on the iPad or AOPA Flight Planner on our home computer to see our route of flight. Since we have our airplane data loaded, we can see the time and fuel burn for each leg of the trip. If we will have to stop for fuel, we can see airports close to the route that might be suitable. If there are no airports with MOGAS close to the route, we look for airports close to a town or a major highway so that we can stop and use the courtesy car to get to a gas station where we can fill our portable gas bags. We often use www.airnav.com to get the phone number to call the airport ahead to see about courtesy car, close by gas station, etc. and to review comments from others that have used the services at that airport. www.airnav.com also will allow you to plan a route selecting the desired fuel type (MOGAS or 100LL or both). We consult http://www.flyunleaded.com/mapusairports.html which is a website that shows the location of unleaded MOGAS. We usually call ahead to verify the information is correct and current.
NAV CANADA is a private, not-for-profit Corporation responsible for the Air Navigation Service (ANS) in Canada, including aviation weather services. NAV CANADA user fee for use of the ATC system is $72/ year or $17.85/quarter year (CDN$). They will send an invoice in the mail.
NAV CANADA provides a variety of aviation weather information in both text and graphical format for use in flight planning. Much of this information originates from Environment Canada and is provided through an agreement between the two organizations.
The website is https://flightplanning.navcanada.ca and offers similar services as the US LMFS website including weather and flight plan filing. One needs to be aware that flight plans may be treated in a different fashion than other jurisdictions when it comes to Search and Rescue notification. If you file a flight plan, you can specify your departure time and time enroute – a SAR communications search will be initiated automatically 60 minutes after your ETA if you have not closed your flight plan. You can specify a longer SAR notification time when opening the flight plan if you feel your ETA may be inaccurate, particularly if you have an intermediate ground stop where a delay may be encountered.
Telephone briefings are available at 1-866-WX-BRIEF.
Flight plans may filed by telephone or on-line.
VFR flight plans are required when outside 25 nm from your home base.
FltPlnGO (www.fltpln.com) has Canadian charts available at no cost.
Foreflight (www.foreflight.com) has Canadian charts available as part of the subscription fee.
http://www.aopa.org/Flight-Planning/Canada AOPA general information about flights to Canada
This site has current and forecast aviation weather.
AOPA general information about flights to Mexico