A good weather briefing starts with developing total awareness of the overall “big picture” prior to obtaining a detailed or standard briefing. Most pilots start by monitoring weather patterns via TV’s The Weather Channel several days before the flight. The day or evening before the flight, pilots may wish to obtain an outlook briefing from Flight Service Station (FSS), or electronically from a Direct User Access Terminal (DUAT) vendor, or downloading weather and forecast charts from the Internet. (When using DUATs don’t hesitate to contact Flight Service Station to clarify any information you do not fully understand.)
As close to departure time as possible, call Flight Service Station or log on to DUATs for a standard briefing. Of course, you can access high-quality weather products on the Internet nowadays, but make sure that they are suitable for aviation use, and the products are current. If a standard briefing was obtained several hours prior to the flight, or when the weather is questionable, it is a good practice to call a Flight Service Station for an abbreviated briefing just prior to takeoff.
The FAA has established a universal toll-free telephone number for Flight Service Stations: 1-800 WX BRIEF (1-800-992-7433). Prior to contacting FSS you should have your general route of flight worked out. When you reach FSS, you will be answered by a recorded announcement, followed by instructions for both touch-tone and rotary dial telephone users. Touch-tone users can elect to speak with a briefer, listen to any of the direct-access services, or select a menu which identifies those services and their Associated codes. The direct-access services are Telephone Information Briefing Service (TIBS) for weather and aeronautical information, and “fastfile” for flight plan filing. If you are using a rotary dial or pulse-tone equipped telephone, you will be switched automatically to a weather briefer, who will provide the information desired; or if requested, connect you to one of the direct-access services.
To help the briefer provide you with the best service, state your request (i.e., request: a standard, abbreviated, or outlook briefing; or to file a flight plan). So that your briefing can be tailored to your needs,
provide the briefer with the following “background information”:
- Your qualifications (e.g., student, private, or commercial pilot, and if instrument rated)
- The type of flight planned (e.g., VFR or IFR)
- The aircraft’s N-number or Pilot’s name
- The aircraft type
- Departure point
- Estimated time of departure
- Proposed flight altitude(s)
- Proposed route-of-flight, if other than direct; specify any landing en route
- Destination, and
- Estimated time en route
Ask the briefer to provide a standard briefing. This briefing will follow specific procedures and use standard phraseology developed by FAA flight services personnel. The briefer will first advise you of any adverse conditions along your proposed route of flight. When a VFR flight is proposed, and actual or forecast conditions make VFR flight questionable, the briefer will describe the conditions and may advise you that “VFR flight (is) not recommended.” If this occurs you are still entitled to a complete briefing; however, if you feel that the weather conditions are beyond your capabilities or that of your aircraft or equipment, you should consider terminating the briefing, and your flight. This will free the briefer to handle other incoming calls. Just because the briefer does not issue this statement does not necessarily guarantee a flight free from adverse weather effects. Phenomena such as thunderstorms, turbulence, mountain obscurations, and strong winds do not, in and of themselves, warrant this statement. Only you as a pilot-in-command know your own capabilities and limitations.
Briefers will typically summarize weather reports and forecasts, unless you specifically request that they be read verbatim. Try not to interrupt the briefer unless the briefer is speaking too fast. At the conclusion of the briefing ask for any additional information you may require, or for clarification of any point you do not completely understand. The amount of detail in your weather briefing will depend upon the complexity of the weather situation. It is both your responsibility and prerogative as a pilot to obtain a standard briefing.