1. Basic Weather, Preflight Checklist
This is the first in a series of columns that will review step by step concepts concerning weather and flying pointers. Get together with your local instructor and club to discuss these topics in greater detail. Be sure and expand your library of books and videos. This column will recommend certain books and videos, realize that there may be some ideas that are arguable. Practice the weather concepts daily, even when you aren't going flying. Begin to identify the trends that make for the best coastal flying, thermal conditions or exhaust heat sessions. Give your chums a call who flew on days you couldn't and see how close you can get to predicting the conditions. Be thoughtful about going to new areas and how powerful some atmospheric influences may be in contrast to your home sites. There are some sites that become unruly by 9am in August yet others that can be flown all day.
There are a couple of clues in the macro view of the atmosphere that can help you visualize approaching weather as much as 3 days in advance. Planning ahead for the possibility of flying can sure make the "home" scene and relationship with the "boss" much easier. You may rather be at home getting through a list of "honey-do's" instead of driving for 4 hours without any flying.
Through the Internet, television weather reports, and the National Weather Service you can find Jet Stream maps for as much as 5 days away. For example, you can select www.weatherchannel.com (www.paraglide.com has a very thorough weather section also) go to maps and find the Jet Stream forecast for the next 5 days. In general, it seems accurate for only 2 to 3 days out. If the Jet Stream is moving into your area, within 100 miles, there's a pretty good chance that flying will be switchy (changing direction dramatically within seconds), demanding (gust differentials beyond the optimal) or impossible (just too darn strong). Although the Jet Stream is many thousands of feet over the ground it draws cold fronts, which can then drop the pressure and lower upper level temperatures thus reducing stability. The Jet Stream can have an influence on surface winds as strong upper level winds can mix to the ground once the inversion has melted. You may notice on some days influenced by the Jet Stream that surface weather conditions can change within a few minutes. You may also notice fast accumulating cirrus cloud cover with 2nd and 3rd layers of clouds appearing very fast, indicating degenerating stability. Keep in mind that flying sites at sea level, or near sea level, will be influenced less than high mountain sites. If you are going to fly in questionable conditions make sure your glider is user friendly as well as the site - avoid high performing gliders and sites in rough terrain. Keep an eye on the cloud development and landing field winds - land before conditions can make your touchdown eventful.
When hooking into your glider practice a determined routine every time. Always wear your helmet before attaching to the glider. There have been fatalities from people being picked up and smacked into obstacles, each other or the ground while kiting on FLAT ground, let alone at a launch. Check your reserve thoroughly from the shoulder attachment points to the pin and handle. Don't leave your extra gear lying on the hill, pack it or stow it in your truck. Lay out your glider and get set up away from the launch area as a matter of politeness. Always do your leg strap first so you don't forget. Any pre-flight checklist is good. You may use one where you run through a list R,1,2,3,4,R,T,S. The first "R" is for reserve, "1" is for helmet strap (actually pull on the strap to make sure it's fixed), "2" is for squeezing the caribiners to confirm that they are closed, "3" is to remind you to tug on your 3 straps - chest and leg straps, "4" is for confirming that your risers aren't twisted by looking at the 4 corners of the glider - 2 front risers and the 2 brake lines, the 2nd "R" is for a radio check, "T" is confirming that you will be turning out of your reverse position the correct way, and "S" is for making sure your speed bar is hooked up and routed properly.
There have been completely avoidable accidents for lack of a consistent and through pre-flight check list. Go to the park and practice getting in and out of your gear 10 times without a glitch in your preflight.
Look for the next article where we will review "Lows and Highs" and "Isobars" in the weather discussion and then how and why you should hook into your glider from a reverse position.
The videos "Starting Paragliding" and "Weather to Fly" are my favorites, of course. You should read Whittal's "Paragliding: the Complete Guide" and Pagen's "Understanding the Weather". When reading Pagen's book you may want to try learning a new concept a day from the list of items in the glossary. Check the index for Jet Stream to help further your understanding of the discussion in this column.