I have a question which I believe will invoke some contriversal answers in regards to flying around convective activity and more specifically thunder storms…
As you midwest flyers know, this past month we have seen wave after wave of thurderstorms and supercells. The “go, no-go” decisions (at least for me) get complicated with the scattered and isolated t-storms, as these are sometimes negocable factors in which grounding a flight would be overkill. Now before I get bombarded with accusations of being “unsafe” in my aeronautical decision making allow me quote myself as having said “sometimes t-storms can be negociated”, as there are definately many instances in which my flights are rightously grounded due to convective acitivty, (including one last weekend.)
This morning into the early afternoon a cell moving from Ohama to Southern Illinois skirtted the Quad Cities area. I was visiting some friends in Chitown this weekend and tied down at the DOA Dupage airport. Although the TAFS were stating "TSVC and “-TS / RA” the percipitation appeared as though it would just miss quad cities and move south. After eyeing the radar at dupage I decided to give it a go. I still had numerous feasible alternates to the north which I could resort to if the precip started consuming my planned route. When I copied my IFR I was pleased to receive a route of “vectors to MLI.” (I think my equipment code of /U was a dead giveaway that I didn’t have onboard weather.) So the plan altogether entailed getting vectors back to muscatine with the understanding I may realistically have to divert north if stuff got bad. Altogether it was a debacle of a morning, as dupage was running on backup electrical because another wave of t-storms blew through the area earlier knockin out the electrical.
I started out on Chicago dep. in clear skies and was quickly handed off to Rockford as I was vectored on course westbound. Each time I got a freq change I re-explained to the controllers that I did NOT have onboard weather and requested “vectoring for weather as needed at your discretion.” (At an AOPA seminar I was told many ATCers are under false assumption that most to all GA aircraft have onboard NEXRAD if not more wx equipment so they will not provide vectors for weather unless prompted)
After passing rockford I began expecting at least some rain, as the majority of the convective activity was 20NM SSW of Moline. However, the most action I got was a light drizzle. I only had to be vectored once for precip. It was scattered to broken and almost notable as sunny upon landing at Muscatine. No complaints as I was thankful to get to the desired destination. But seriously, the forecast was unnessisarily overly conservative. The convective activity missed the entire area, just as I thought it would when looking at its radar track.
On a side note and hopefully an ATCer can help me out here, I was surprised to hear Moline and Rockford does not have equipment to identify cell instensity, as the controller explained he could only tell me if there were cells, not their strength. Thus, the one time I was vectored the area of precip may have been no more than a light shower. This is ironic to me, as I have been taught that most to all ASR facilities contained equipment that could ID cell strength to vector pilots around convective acitivities. Are the rockford and moline facility capabilities outdated?
My question, how do you make those go no-go decisions when dealing with convective activity which is notable enough to observe but not necessarily botch an entire flight over? Also, (and this is where it gets subjective) do you think I acted correctly in making and executing my decision? Another fact of interest is, I did have full tanks (5 hours total fuel) for my hop of less than an hour and thirty mintues. This was in anticipation of diverting north.