"Insight of some snowbirds needed"


Here we are closing in on Winter and I want to do a flight up north from the warm comforts of MS. My problem is my lack of experience in decision making for “winter flying”.

I have looked / read books on icing and all that good stuff, but nothing that I have seen helps make a good “sound” decision whether to undertake a 700 nm trip in the winter.

Eliminating the obvious typical N’easter or massive lake effect snow event in Ohio and also recognizing my own limits of not hesitating to go down to approach “minimums” on those low stratiform days, how does one make a reasonably sound decision in a typical single engine plane on a forecast like the following for Stuebenville, OH:

Saturday: Showers, mainly before 4pm. Temperature falling to around 44 by 5pm. West wind between 7 and 15 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100%. New rainfall amounts between a quarter and half of an inch possible.

Saturday Night: Rain showers likely before midnight, then a chance of snow showers. Cloudy, with a low around 33. West wind around 14 mph. Chance of precipitation is 60%. New snow accumulation of less than one inch possible.

Sunday: A chance of snow showers, mainly before 1pm. Cloudy, with a high near 39. West wind between 14 and 16 mph. Chance of precipitation is 50%.

Sunday Night: A slight chance of snow showers after 2am. Cloudy, with a low around 29. West wind between 9 and 13 mph. Chance of precipitation is 20%.

Monday: A chance of snow showers before 11am, then rain and snow showers likely. Cloudy, with a high near 39. Chance of precipitation is 60%. New precipitation amounts between a tenth and quarter of an inch possible.

Monday Night: Snow showers likely. Cloudy, with a low around 29. Chance of precipitation is 60%.

Tuesday: A chance of snow showers. Cloudy, with a high near 32. Chance of precipitation is 50%.

Tuesday Night: A chance of snow showers. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 20. Chance of precipitation is 40%.

When I evaluate the above forecast looking at Saturday and Saturday night, if the freezing level was above my flight level of 7000 (not very likely) it would be a no brainer, launch. If the freezing level was below OROCA or MEA, no brainer stay in MS.

It’s the Sunday through Tuesday night period that seems to put a kink “planning” a safe and sound flight. Is it safe to fly in snow with temperatures projected to be below freezing at cruise altitude?

I’d think the perpetual “zulu” airmet that hangs around the NE section of the country would pretty much ground me for that “known or forecasted” icing issues. I suspect for Monday and Tuesday, the freezing level would be 2000 AGL using normal adiabatic lapse rates.

The way I understand the snow making process, the temperature is actually warmer at the cloud tops. Would that up the risk of icing or would I even find a band of icing on my descent?

I would think “snow” itself is not an issue (unless it’s really heavy snow) but would the cloud vapor between snow flakes up that risk of icing being that it’s “visible moisture” causing an airmet zulu to be issued ???

Airplane engine question as well. I run Phillips XC. Would I need to change the weight of my oil to account for the colder weather? Thinner better in this case?

In my flight planning, I always check freezing level, check airmets and any other resources and realize “one shoe doesn’t fit all” but how do others plan to fly in (and around snow showers?)

Are there any common links I can look for in making sound decisions for winter flying.

I have only had one icing experience and it was only “refrigerator ice” that I saw as I was skimming cloud tops. Quick request to center for higher and “problem solved”.

Any insight most appreciated.


What you will need are some good PIREPS. Not knowing the tops is scary. I like your odds on Sat during the day to get there (looking strictly at temp and chance of precip). The trip home doesn’t look as nice, but Tues during the day is when I would head out.

You are correct that snow in and of itself isn’t much of an issue, it’s biggest threat is to visibility.

I would NOT fly SE at night in a non-approved a/c. To much stress. Look for a day with a higher ceiling and, if possible low tops. If you can pick your way up through a broken layer and end up VMC on top that would be perfect (that hard to do at night).

Trips like this are a bear to plan. It really comes down to leaving yourself a window for getting there and getting home. And being honest with yourself that maybe you will need to scratch the whole trip on the morning of departure.

Good luck.

BTW what’s in Stuebenville? Besides a very cool bridge.


Thanks leardvr for all the tips! The value of pireps really are significant and I have always been a fan giving them myself. While I don’t mind night flying, you are sooooo right about what you cannot see just may hurt you. Didn’t think that one all the way through. And yes, flexibility is not just “an option” for dates of travel, it’s more like mandatory.

I ended up scrubbing, made that decision last night when the cold front came roaring through with 40 knot winds. Figured weather would have been secondary to the “ride quality” of the air on the south end only to have to “worry” about weather and freezing levels on the north end of the trip.

Guess it will take a big ole high pressure system for me to make the trip up.

In-laws live up within the city of murals . :slight_smile: Other then that, really not much for as economically depressed that area is!


But if you can catch one of these highs in the Winter up north, it’s some of the most beautiful flying youll get. Visibility is nearly unlimited and you’ll climb like an F-15. Other than the frigid preflight, and the 15 minutes it seems to take to get the engine warm enough to get heat, it’s one of my favorite times of the year to fly!


Do things even move when temps are below 32F???

:smiley: :smiley: :smiley:


Are we talking plane or pilot? :smiley:

Those days of around 15* and below are usually severe clear, usually relatively strong winds associated w/ those H systems, but the air is still usually smooth and just crystal clear. That is if you can move your arm to operate all of the cockpit systems on account of the layers upon layers of clothes you’re wearing.

Of course, with the exception of January-ish, the other winter months are just like you’re running into, temps between 20-30 low clouds/vis, precip of various liquid-solid states, and icing at nearly all levels.



Manowar, can’t believe how good I got it! Here I complain when the wind whips around on the ramp bringing the *wind chill *down to 32F

I figured the control surfaces would creek from the lubricants being frozen (if they move at all), brakes frozen solid from morning dew freezing.

I didn’t think about the billions of layers of clothing with gloves protecting our precious fingers!


Hey, come on up in February. We’ll take you to Buffalo when there’s 11 feet of snow, 60kt winds, and 3 inches of ice on the runway. Oh yeah, the temp will be -8 or so. We’ll be waiting for you! :smiley:


Loooong wait. I doubt my blood will flow any faster then molasses for as soft as I gotten moving down here!

I know, it’s t’shirt weather for you while you preflight! :smiley:

I’d love to see the performace of my plane at that temp!

Coldest weather I have flown in my short 7 years is 19 above and that was at my final cruise altitude of 7000 feet!


19 above? :laughing: I’ve preflighted in 10F in my T-Shirt.

Of course under that I had 2 layers, and a heavy coat over everything.
Still say it’s the best flying though, once you warm up and the feeling to the fingers comes back. Bring the Sundowner up to IJX or SPI one of these days and we’ll do some cold weather performance tests. I’ll even preflight it and get it warmed up. You can sit in the terminal until the oil is flowing.


Too funny! I don’t know if I have enough hair on my chest to protect me from the elements along with the 12 layers of clothing from the terminal on the ramp! :smiley: :smiley:

I was about to break out my jacket this evening doing my night currency work but thought better of it knowing this thread was on the back of my mind. Kinda gets nippy on the ramp when the sun dips and temps are 62 degrees with a 7 knot wind from the west :stuck_out_tongue: But hey, what little discomforts melted away watching ole sol sink below the horizon. Got the obligatory pics and videos of course!

Another data point in my winter experiences… In my limited time of flying, I have only had to uhhhh de-ice my wings 2 times ever from you got it, frost! Lesson learned, NEVER pour water on it! It only freezes :smiley: Best de-icer is the sun, flat out melts it quickly once it rises above the tree line.

Only once did I ever hear the word “ice” in clouds and that was from another plane who went through a freezong rain shower while I was under a non precipitating cloud deck.



Admittantly most of my experience with ice was in my airliner days being a ramper who got to deice the heavier iron. I did get a pretty good understanding of ice and the weather that you would see it in temps etc.
As you mention frost, In my amateur flying career, I’ve been lucky and the rental plane has always been in the hangar. Not warm mind you, but no frost. My only experience with ice, was during my instrument training. It was a day like you described in your original post. 25F-30F, occasional light snow. Ceiling was right around 2500 AGL but varied a bit. My flight school was about 80 miles from home, near St.Louis but we were already there for my son’s hockey game. I called my instructor and he said, come out and we’ll look at the WX then. We got there, and it was about the same, no precip, temps were right around 30, so we decided to go, we were just shooting the ILS, so if it got to be a “flight into known icing” we’d call it quits. We took off, I think we filed like 2500 and were were skimming the ceiling, in fact going into IMC from time to time, and picking up ice. We did 2 or 3 approaches, I can’t remember now, but as some know, with the C-172, you have a great indicator of how much ice, that being the tire to your left or right. As we popped through the clouds we encountered light snow and picked up a bit of ice. I think it was 3 approaches, and by the 3rd, the controls weren’t mushy, but you could definitely feel that there was a little less in the yoke (not quite as reactive). That was one of about 3 lessons that I put at the top of my list of valueable learning lessons, and ones that I will always remember. I was able to be shown what that ice is going to feel like, and how little of it will affect the controls, and good methods for checking for contamination. Of course in a low wing that method does not work as well, (although the PA28 has the thermometer sticking up from the windscreen).
As mentioned, most of my experience was non flying, but still was something that I could take with me into my own flying regarding icing.

Frost= frost, while frozen, does not need freezing or below temps to form. I once deiced an overnighting SAAB, the reported temp on ATIS was +2C. (On overnight aircraft, SOP was to deice it if precip was not present nor forecasted). The crew arrived, and I advised the Captain of the glycol mixture , temp etc, and he asked me why we deiced. I explained that there was frost on the aircraft. “That’s impossible, it’s 37 degrees outside”. It became an international conspiracy and I had to write it up explain my side, and write a mini thesis on the phenomenon of frost :laughing: . As you mentioned, the sun is the best deicer. When we had two overnights, our second aircraft would leave around 7:30am-ish. The sun would’ve been up for about 45min to 1 hr. We would spray the first aircraft (6am departure) and let the sun take care of the 2nd aircraft. Sometimes we’d have to spray here and there but usually the sun would get most of it for us. …Usually if the sun wasn’t working completely or if it was light frost, we got really high tech, and had a bug sprayer, which was filled with 50/50 glycol water, and had been sitting on the heater vent. The fan spray of the sprayer would usually be very effective and economical to clean the frost off, compared to a big truck spraying however many gallons a minute.

Enroute icing- usually a non event, you could tell in typical overcast that they flew through the cloud for a couple of minutes and picked up snow, or rime ice etc. Usually it was kinda compacted to the wings, tail any thing forward facing and protruding. It was usually relatively light as the tops of the clouds were usually between 2000-8000AGL, and obviously these guys are through those levels in minutes. There was a Beech 1900 we had come in one day though, and it looked like a sno-cone. This thing must have been in it all the way from ORD, and it was close to freezing temps that it flew through, the ice was clear like an unflavored snow cone, rough and just covered, even above and beyond the deice boots on the wings, the eyebrows, the wipers, nose, it was covered! Full load, heavy fuel because of the need for an alternate, it was amazing that thing could still fly with all that ice. That type of ice seemed to occur when the temps were pretty close to freezing, thus looking more like frozen water than compacted snow (even though they’re obviously the same in the end).

Ground icing- this was the least applicable to GA, but when frozen precip was falling we were in “ground icing” conditions. The aircraft had a particular time allowed (based on a chart) to have the deicing begin, startup, taxi out, and takeoff without being contaminated. It seemed like it was always that really wet snow , big flakes literally pouring, and you had 5 minutes to spray it and start up and taxi and t/o. It was crazy. Obviously something you don’t do in the old 4 banger.

Freezing rain- definitely not a fun thing to fly it, but even the aircraft on the ground that get covered with it, you will empty the truck of glycol sometimes. It was tricky too. It would not only adhere to the top side of the aircraft, it would drip as a rain drop underneath and then freeze on the underside of the wing, tail, fuselage etc. Especially scary was how it trickled into the flight control hinges.

It seemed like the colder it was though , if there were clouds present the less ice. Sometimes there would be a 1000 ft overcast layer and the ground temp was somewhere in the low 10’s F and you wouldn’t even pick any ice up. Some of that may have been the crew’s use of de/anti-ice systems, but alot of times the crews would say they just didn’t pick anything up, the surface was too cold to stick.

and that’s all I know, or think I know :blush:


Shoot way more information then I know. Thank you for such an informative post. Quite different ramping and you sure gave me a good insite of the behind the scene thoughts as I sit in seat 19F watching y’all do your magic with that sprayer on a commercial bird.

I always thought it was kinda cool to be “inside the action” with the spray operations, but it always did make me wonder how good the air filters to the air intake of the jets were with all that stuff being spewed over the plane.


haha, sometimes you can smell the glycol in the cabin. They’ll leave the bleeds closed so that it doesn’t inadvertantly get sprayed in, but some older regionals have bad seals, and the doors are airstairs so the pax track in the glycol from the ramp.

Oddly enough, for a dangerous chemical (in large doses) Propylene Glycol is quite tasty. In fact up until a few years ago, it was used in Dr. Pepper, and is still used in deodorants and other household items. It is somewhat sweet, with a slightly bitter aftertaste. It makes you smell like syrup the rest of the day. It is also very good at drying out your skin.


This “feature” (sweetness) has lead to the demise of untold numbers of dogs and cats that lap up the EG based antifreeze from under cars and trucks.


Hey JHEM, is that the ethylene version? When I started we used ethylene glycol, and then about a year later we switched to the “non toxic” propylene glycol. The ethylene glycol was more orangeish, where as the propylene was maroon/crimson in color. Tastewise, though, MMMM MMM
they’re both deeee–lish! :wink:


The ethylene based version.


gotcha, yeah they always said the propylene stuff was “non toxic” , but I’d bet a decent amount would get too you a little bit. We always used to say that stuff was the best tasting toxic chemical around


Yea, but on the C172 you have to really strain your head to see the wing leading edge. On the P28 you can see the leading edge and entire airfoil no prob. The thin thermometer is definately a plus!


Allen-- you may not have experience flying in the cold, but you probably have some serious mountain flying skills.