French instead of Death [Valley]

P1030193

Sometimes you have to be flexible if you want to fly a small plane. Today was one of those days. Even though we didn’t go where we had planned, we still had a great Easter Brunch

We had organized a flyout for our flying club on Easter Sunday. We planned to have 6 of our planes and 20 people go to the Sunday Brunch at the Furnace Creek Inn. We’ve been watching the weather over a week. When long range forecasts first came out, we were concerned to see rain in the forecast, but as recently as yesterday afternoon, it looked like we’d be able to get out VFR and make the trip. This trip illustrates how much forecasts can change in a short period of time and how it can effect whether a flight is possible (safe) to make.

Starting about 24 hours before our planned departure (1600Z/900PDT), we started looking at TAFs that tend to be good indicators. For example

KONT 301315Z 3013/3118
     ... 
     FM310600 VRB04KT P6SM BKN060

This would give us a chance of departing the LA Basin through the Cajon Pass, assuming the clouds were not lower in the pass. Not ideal, but still possible to do safely.

KBUR 301558Z 3016/3112
     ... 
     FM310800 VRB03KT P6SM BKN020 OVC080

The Burbank TAF didn’t go out far enough to cover our departure, but even if these had been the prevailing conditions at EMT, it would probably allow us to depart eastbound and get clear of those lower clouds

One other note of concern was surface winds along our route that might also be indicative of our destination. There are no aviation reporting stations particularly near Furnace Creek and no TAF sites very close either, but all of the stations surrounding were looking similar.

KDAG 301120Z 3012/3112 26011KT P6SM SCT140 OVC250 
     FM302300 27012G22KT P6SM FEW110 BKN150
TAF AMD KEDW 3016/3116 21009KT 9999 FEW130 SCT220 QNH3005INS 
     ...
     BECMG 3115/3116 24012G18KT 9999 FEW180

By the evening before our departure, things were looking much worse for winds (up to 36kt gusts) and a little worse for cloud levels and ONT, but still possible if the winds calmed down a bit

KONT 302340Z 3100/0106 26012KT P6SM FEW080 
     ...
     FM311600 VRB04KT 6SM HZ BKN070 
     FM312000 26012KT P6SM BKN050
KBUR 302325Z 3100/3124 18006KT P6SM BKN100 
     ...
     FM311500 18006KT P6SM SCT015 BKN030 
     PROB30 3115/3119 5SM -SHRA BKN015 
     FM312000 18010KT P6SM SCT020 BKN040
KDAG 302320Z 3100/3124 VRB04KT P6SM SCT140 
     FM310200 26014KT P6SM SCT140 
     FM311400 26018G26KT P6SM SCT140 
     FM311700 26028G36KT P6SM SCT140
TAF KEDW 3018/3124 23012G18KT 9999 FEW080 FEW150 QNH3002INS 
     TEMPO 3018/3020 25018G23KT  
     BECMG 3020/3021 24018G23KT 9999 FEW080 
     TEMPO 3023/3103 25023G30KT 520009 520901

By the morning of our departure, the picture was much worse for clouds at ONT

KONT 311127Z 3112/0118 VRB05KT P6SM SCT015 OVC070 
     TEMPO 3113/3116 6SM BR HZ BKN015 
     FM311600 VRB06KT 6SM HZ BKN025 BKN060 
     FM312000 26012KT P6SM BKN035 BKN050 
     FM010500 VRB05KT P6SM OVC025

and the forecast for winds was looking about the same, though the wind reports were not yet showing the first very strong winds and gusts. It was frustrating to be on the ground at El Monte, looking at a beautiful calm day:

KEMT 311651Z 16003KT 10SM SCT100 17/10 A3013

and yet feel that the right answer was to cancel our planned flight. That’s what we did. ¬†Almost everyone was still interested in getting some flying in (and some food), so we decided to do a shorter flyout to French Valley. This plan eliminated the need to exit the LA Basin (meaning we could stay much lower safely) and kept us away from the areas forecast to get strong winds.

In retrospect, not doing the flight to Death Valley was the right decision. We would have had a tough time safely getting back into the LA Basin VFR, contended with very strong and gusty winds en route and at our destination (at the very least uncomfortable for passengers) and possibly not even have been able to land at our destination after 1.5 – 2 hours of flying

KDAG 311850Z 27021G29KT 10SM CLR 23/02 A3003 RMK PK WND 2730/1840 
KNID 311956Z 21021G28KT 10SM CLR 24/00 A2997 RMK PK WND 19028/1947 
KEMT 312147Z 18010KT 10SM BKN034 BKN042 OVC050 20/12 A3008
KBUR 312253Z 19010KT 10SM FEW015 OVC019 17/11 A3006

Ultimately, we had a great brunch, even if it wasn’t the one we originally planned. Such is flying.

Happy Easter Brunch

Happy Easter

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