How to Obtain the Perfect Aviation Weather Briefing for Your Flight

How to Obtain the Perfect Aviation Weather Briefing for Your Flight

By Leslie Caubble, CFI/IGI

Technology in aviation has advanced tremendously since the early days of flying, but one thing has not changed: the weather. With all the weather resources we have today, inadvertent flight from Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC) into Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC) continues to be one of the greatest causes of fatal accidents today. Why is this? Perhaps one of the reasons is that the abundance of weather products available on the internet, TV, handbooks, etc. can be confusing and overwhelming. 

When you’re performing the required planning before a flight, how do you know where to look for approved weather information then make a comprehensive analysis if you’re able to make a safe flight? The journey to obtaining the “perfect” weather briefing constantly evolves, just as the weather conditions you’re analyzing. Let’s start with the basics of how to get the most helpful weather briefing.

Assess Your Capabilities

Obtaining a complete weather briefing begins with you and your aircraft. You should have your personal weather minimums written down. Revisit your minimums and keep them in mind as you gather information for your weather briefing. You must also consider the capabilities of your aircraft. You may be an experienced, instrument rated airline pilot, but if you’re planning a cross-country flight in a single engine aircraft with a basic panel, you may be limited on the conditions that you can safely fly in.

The Big Picture

Your weather briefing shouldn’t begin at the airport just before your flight. Develop an overall look at the patterns and forecast several days in advance. You can monitor the forecast and changing conditions by watching reports on TV, internet, or third-party sources such as The Weather Channel. If you’re a VFR pilot with little experience, reading about a large storm system heading to your area the day of your flight makes it an easy no-go call early on. 

The FAA partners with Leidos Flight Service (1-800-WX-BRIEF) to provide aeronautical and weather information to pilots before, during, and after flight. Flight Service offers an Outlook Briefing, which is best obtained 6-48 hours before a planned flight. An Outlook Briefing gives the pilot an indication of which weather elements might impact the flight. This overview is useful in obtaining an overall look at the forecast conditions a day or two in advance.

The Weather Briefing: Preflight Planning

Within six hours of your flight, you should obtain a Standard Weather Briefing from Flight Service. This can be done online at through ForeFlight, or by calling a briefer directly at 1-800-WX-BRIEF.  A Standard Briefing will include many reports and forecasts: adverse conditions, synopsis, current conditions, enroute forecast, winds and temperatures aloft, and NOTAMs.


A great way to get started is by doing a self-briefing online. Because there is a great deal of data and information provided in a Standard Briefing, downloading the briefing online or from ForeFlight allows you to read the weather information and view relevant charts. It’s hard to digest all the data to make an informed go/no-go decision from a verbal briefing alone. 


The more doubtful the weather looks, the more information you need to gather and evaluate. At this point, you may want to do a deeper dive by accessing The National Weather Service at This website is loaded with “Decision Support Imagery” which gives a graphical look at current and forecast conditions. Some products, such as the Graphical Forecast for Aviation (GFA), are weather resources that you’ll find in the Airman Certification Standards (ACS) and could be tested on during your checkride. The GFA is a wonderful product because it’s a comprehensive, fully integrated and interactive tool for understanding weather trends, forecasts and current observations.

Once you have a general picture of the weather conditions for your flight, it’s a good time to call a Flight Service briefer at 1-800-WX-BRIEF. You will ask for a Standard Briefing and give some information about your planned flight, such as departure and arrival airports, planned route and altitude, estimated departure, and aircraft information. Like talking to ATC for the first time, speaking with Flight Service can be intimidating for inexperienced pilots. Rest assured, these men and women dedicate their days to analyzing the weather and are there to provide information to help you make a safe flight. 

When speaking with the briefer, be honest about your capabilities as a pilot or aircraft. Even if you are experienced, you may be flying in a new area with unfamiliar or seasonal weather patterns. Ask questions if you need clarification or don’t understand the information. It’s also helpful to have your VFR (or IFR) chart in front of you when you call so you can get a better mental picture where you might run into adverse weather.

One of the advantages of speaking with Flight Service on the phone is the briefer will also give you a VFR Flight Not Recommended (VNR) analysis, which is not provided over the internet. If the weather looks like it will not remain VFR for the duration of your flight, the briefer will combine the data and their professional training and experience to offer this advisory.

Preflight: The Final Weather Check

You have watched the forecast for several days, researched the charts, received a briefing online, and spoke with a Flight Service briefer, and you’ve decided your flight can continue as planned. Before getting into the aircraft, you should take a final look at the weather for your route of flight. Here are several items that I like to incorporate into my preflight weather checklist:

  1. GET AN ABBREVIATED BREIFING FROM FLIGHT SERVICE. Call Flight Service (1-800-WX-BRIEF) on the way to the airport and ask for an Abbreviated Briefing. You’ll be advised of any conditions that may have changed, adverse weather advisories or NOTAMs that have been issued since you received the Standard Briefing. This call only takes 5-10 minutes of your time.
  2. CHECK METARs and TAFs. Get an updated look at the current METARs and TAFs for your departure and destination airports as well as airports along your route of flight. 
  3. UTILIZE FAA WEBCAMS. If you live in an area where there’s not an airport with METAR and TAF information, or where weather conditions are known to change rapidly, there may be access to a live webcam. These webcams are invaluable to pilots who live in areas where there’s unpredictable weather or rural areas where no weather reporting stations are available. You can access the live webcams at
  4. ASK A FRIEND. If you have a friend living in an area around your route of flight, ask them to give you a local observation or text a photo of the weather conditions. 
  5. CHECK PIREPs. PIREPs are actual pilot reports of current weather observations encountered in-flight. There are several places you can access PIREPS: ForeFlight or other electronic flight bag, Flight Service,, and ATC.


Your weather briefing doesn’t end when you take off. Every pilot must continually monitor and reassess the weather while in flight because conditions can change with little warning. En route weather updates can be access by contacting a Flight Service Station (FSS), ATC, automated weather observations from area airports, and being situationally aware when hearing pilot reports over the radio. One of the best things you can do is look outside and see if the conditions appear as forecasted. Of course, take action if conditions start to deteriorate.

As you gain more experience, you’ll get better at analyzing the weather products and making smart judgement calls. Even if you’re not flying, make it a habit to practice your weather observation and analysis skills. Utilize tools that will help you learn more about the weather: FAA Wings course, Aviation Weather Services handbook (AC 00-45H), Aviation Weather Handbook (FAA-H-8083-28), and familiarize yourself with Chapter 7, Section 1 (Safety of Flight/Meteorology) in the FAR/AIM.

By Leslie Caubble, CFI/IGI

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