The situational awareness this provides, especially when flying under instrument flight rules, can be game changing.
Two weather datalink technologies make this possible. Flight Information Services-Broadcast (FIS-B), part of the FAA’s ADS-B system, delivers subscription-free METARs, radar maps, graphical airmets, lightning, and forecast icing and turbulence, among other products. SiriusXM Aviation weather delivers a similar array of information via satellite; a subscription is required.
Data latency is generally comparable between the systems, but keep in mind that radar imagery you’re looking at typically is five to 15 minutes old—radar scans must be processed and then transmitted. This is why datalink weather should only be used strategically, to avoid areas of bad weather, and not to pick your way between cells. Airborne weather radar is the only reliable source for that kind of tactical weather information (make certain you understand how to use it).
Some panel-mounted ADS-B receivers can stream data wirelessly to your tablet. If the aircraft you fly is not equipped, or you rent and fly a variety of aircraft, consider buying your own portable receiver. Receivers are not universally compatible, so choose one that works with your preferred app. Portable ADS-B receivers include the Appareo Stratus line, ForeFlight Sentry, Garmin GDL 39 and GDL 50, and uAvionix Scout. The Garmin GDL 51 portable satellite weather receiver supports the ForeFlight and Garmin Pilot apps; the Garmin GDL 52 receives both ADS-B and satellite weather. FT
Dig deeper into cockpit weather with the AOPA Air Safety Institute’s IFR Insights: Cockpit Weather course (airsafetyinstitute.org/cockpitweather) and delve into seasonal considerations with ASI’s webinar “Thunderstorms and ATC” (airsafetyinstitute.org/webinars).