Safety: Winter Weather Woes

Winter is here! You can either work with it or against it.

While the cooler months offer improved aircraft performance and unique snowy views, they can also create some complications in our flying plans. But a subfreezing temperature doesn’t mean you have to abandon the sky—it just requires extra preparation. Here are some (but not all) factors to consider and tips to help keep you safe this season.

Check the freezing level. Even in typically warm and sunny places, the freezing level (altitude) will get lower in winter. Don’t let it surprise you and remember that any amount of ice on a GA aircraft is bad news.

Dress for the worst weather along your route of flight rather than for your destination weather or the capabilities of your cabin heat. If you fly out of a truly wintry spot, even a short local flight can turn into a survival situation. You should be mentally and physically (jacket, boots, survival equipment) prepared to spend at least a few hours in the elements every time you fly—just in case.

In winter weather, surviving a plane crash is only part of the story—a well-executed forced landing can still end in a loss of life from exposure. Depending on how remote of an area you fly in, using a GPS tracker will either be a necessity or a very good idea. With a GPS tracker that will allow you to call for help in a place where you might not have cell service, you can likely reduce the time in between an accident and rescue, and potentially save your own life.

Pay close attention to runway conditions. Is there ice or snow on the runway? How will that change your takeoff and landing performance? Will it affect your wind limit? You don’t want to find out after touchdown that you don’t have enough space to stop! Get into the habit of giving PIREPS on braking action when you go fly to let other pilots know what they’ll encounter.

Don’t forget to take care of your airplane. Be patient and let that oil heat up before you run your engine at high RPM. Be kind to your engine on the ground, too, and keep it well protected when you aren’t flying. If you’re new to a cold place, make sure you’re using an appropriately weighted oil.

Is the weather outside frightful? Are you going to be pushing all your limits if you go flying today? Despite all the best laid plans, weather can keep us grounded when we desperately want to be aloft. Remember that getting weathered out isn’t a failure. Use the time you would’ve flown to refresh old knowledge.

Another step the club could take is investing in a simulator. When the weather outside is too grim to even consider a flight, a great alternative is using a sim to sharpen up instrument skills, work on emergency procedures, or challenge yourself with gusty winds. Even the simplest simulator can help with checklists and flows, and it can keep your skills sharper until the weather improves!

Winter flying can be a special kind of magic and is worth the extra preparation. And if you can’t stand the cold, remember that spring is only a few months away!

Learn more about precipitation and icing in this Safety Advisor brought to you by Sirius XM Aviation.

AOPA Air Safety Institute staff

AOPA Air Safety Institute Staff members share a deep passion for aviation safety. As compassionate pilots, we bring together safety research, analysis, and knowledge in creative ways to share aviation safety education with you—with the ultimate goal of one day having zero fatal accidents in GA.

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