The fellow who uttered this statement was wearing long pants and so many shirts, sweaters and jackets that he did not appear able to bend his elbows.
And rightly so. It was COLD, I tell you, on the last day of the Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring, Fla., which took place Jan.17-20. On that day the temperature was in the 40s. The Angel Flight booth next to me sold a few sweatshirts to people who were shivering. I wore so many layers, including polo shirts, that I looked like a preppy version of the Michelin Man. I met one person who swore up and down there was a squadron of penguins on the ramp looking for a place to buy hot chocolate because they were cold, too.
The wind blew hard. Flags flew straight out from their staffs, tents shook and signs fell over. The wind chill encouraged many to cut their visits short or take refuge in the exhibitor tents, parked cars or parked aircraft.
The first few days of the show had been breezy, with scattered clouds and “sunbreaks,” as we say in the Pacific Northwest. The weather was iffy, I heard from a visitor who had intended to fly to the show because it would take all of 20 minutes, then opted to make the hour-long trip by car because he didn’t want to get trapped by the weather. I received a call from a friend who was slated to meet me at the show, which began with “It’s not that I don’t love you, but the weather…” and went on to describe fog and low clouds that prevented launch.
Of course, everything is relative. I also spent time with a group of Midwesterners who remarked that it wasn’t cold to them, since it was 14° back home.
During the event there was much discussion about an approaching cold front. It was supposed to bring some impressive thunderstorms, high winds and tornado watches, and it did. I helped a few exhibitors secure their tents and aircraft, then went back to the hotel. I was okay with everything but those tornadoes.
I had my first experience with tornadoes on a family camping trip in Minnesota, when I was 7. A campground is worse than a trailer park when there are tornadoes because there is no place to take shelter. I remember my mother casting nervous glances at the sky during the tornado watch. At that time, my experience with tornadoes was limited to an annual viewing of “The Wizard of Oz,” so you can imagine where my budding writer’s imagination took me. As the adults discussed what to do should one touch down, I started digging a foxhole in a creek bank. I think I got the idea from a Little House on the Prairie book. Fortunately, nothing happened in Minnesota, nor did anything twisty touch down in the vicinity of Sebring.
One of those attending the Expo was a pilot who was slated to do a photo flight the morning after the thunderstorms. There was a lot of discussion about whether the system would be through the area by morning. The pilot then described how he had called Flight Service for a weather briefing and was told that there was a TFR over the airport because of the Expo. How could that be, he wondered, since a big part of the event was demonstration flights given by manufacturers? Fortunately, he queried the briefer, who replied with something akin to, “Oh, I guess it’s only a NOTAM for a lot of air traffic.” I can’t help but wonder how many people received similar briefings and decided to stay away from the event because they didn’t want to bust a TFR.
Do you think the service from 800-WX-BRIEF is getting better? For the past year or so hardly a week goes by that I don’t hear about someone who had a flight plan lost, got disconnected after being on hold for several minutes, or who accessed a preflight briefer who was several states away from the intended flight area and clueless about the nuances of the local area and its weather patterns.
Does it concern you when you call to get a weather briefing and you have to give a geography lesson to the briefer? I had a briefer from the southeastern U.S. tell me that my flight between Seattle and Spokane could happen as long as I didn’t have to cross any mountain ranges. Physically impossible, I said.
During AirVenture 2007, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey said complaints about the service were being listened to and improvements were forthcoming. If there is a way for pilots to facilitate improvements to the service I sure wish someone would share it with us.
Meg Godlewski, a Master CFI, is GAN’s Staff Reporter.