I recall being in a class in grade school, up at a chalkboard drawing a water cycle—evapotranspiration—where water taken in by plants is released to the atmosphere as water vapor, condensed, and transformed into clouds. Was this some exotic process? No, it happens everywhere there is vegetation. To my fifth-grade mind it was a wonderful introduction to the mysteries of cloud formation.
Earning my private and commercial pilot certificates, and then instrument, glider and multiengine ratings, plus an ATP, meant a more formal education in aviation weather. I ate it up. However, a lot of my fellow students were bored out of their skulls, and felt it was something that had to be endured. Something that belonged in the drudgery of a classroom or online setting, and not so much in the cockpit, where the real action was. I think that for some, that attitude can persist throughout a flying career.
With more flying experience, long-range flights, and exposure to changing weather conditions, pilots gain their own real-world education in the ways of weather; book learning fades. Now, individual experience means everything. Less experienced, conservative pilots, piston and turbine, seeing rotten forecasts, would probably stay on the ground. Those seasoned by years of weather flying, in many locations and seasons, sometimes develop their own theories about the weather. Some even distrust forecasts. This is where risk profiles often emerge.
It’s been a long time since that fifth-grade chalk talk. For the past 40 years I’ve been writing about the weather for AOPA Pilot, usually in my regular “Wx Watch” feature—which is, I’m pretty sure, the longest continually running column on aviation weather. When you’ve been heads down for so long it’s extremely gratifying—and surprising—when recognition comes your way. In 2019 I was honored to receive the National Business Aviation Association’s Platinum Wing Award for lifetime achievement in journalism. This year I won the Friends and Partners in Aviation Weather’s 2020 Service Award. Earning praise from the government, airline, academic, and pilot weather communities is certainly humbling. But the real reward happens every month, when the magazine is published and I’m able to share my insights with readers like you.
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