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Weather Advisories, the VATSIM Way!


Zachary Beard
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Hey y'all, after starting at actual ZAB as a developmental controller/trainee piece of scome, I've noticed how much weather plays a factor in affecting the complexity of controlling air traffic. Keep in mind, only IFR aircraft require a weather deviation control instruction. VFR aircraft still should be issued weather advisories, however. It's also important to refer to displayed precipitation as "an area of (insert intensity here) precipitation", not as "weather".

 

Here's a pretty good way to use the resources available to us hobbyists to call weather, almost like traffic, to aircraft that may need to deviate for it.

 

Skyvector! Our best friend and holy savior. To quickly set up a weather radar display, load up Skyvector, turn on the high map (or low if the traffic is below FL180), then center it over SJN or otherwise to see the whole center airspace. I haven't found a way to import the ZAB outline into Skyvector, but I have some tips on finding the weather reference your traffic.

 

Now that you have the whole airspace in view, click on "Layers", then "Weather Radar". Now, compare your traffic with any displayed precipitation, and we'll figure out how to put it all together below:

 

What to Tell The Pilot! (It's a lot like giving traffic advisories)

 

  • - "area of (insert intensity, moderate, heavy, or extreme here) precipitation..."
    - Clock position
    - Distance
    - Size of precipitation in diameter in miles
    - Depth of precipitation in miles (likely optional, but I'm unable to find supporting docomeentation, and these "requirements" are based on my observation of actual ZAB controllers alone)
    - Tops, if known

 

Example: "N123, area of moderate to heavy precipitation twelve to one o'clock, three zero miles, two five miles in diameter, one five miles deep. Advise if you need to deviate."

 

How to Issue a Weather Deviation

 

- You've issued the weather advisory, and the pilot advises he needs to deviate. They may specify how many degrees, or they may not. What they should definitely advise is which direction, however. If you care how many degrees they deviate (because of traffic), restrict how many degrees they may deviate, then issue where to fly direct to next to resume their route of flight, or a heading to fly to rejoin an airway.

 

Example: "N123, deviation up to twenty degrees right of course approved, when able cleared direct Gallup and advise." or "N123, deviation left of course approved, when able fly heading 100, join V60."

 

It's actually a lot of fun to do this when you're able on VATSIM, and it adds a level of realism that I'd imagine not many VATSIM controllers are comfortable, or able, to provide.

 

Advise if you have any questions!

 

ZB

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I have not heard depth nearly as much as I have heard tops, which can be found on an RCM Radar Plot or can be reported by pilots in the area.

 

Just for more information on some (optional) components of a weather advisory. From Boston Virtual ARTCC's ATC Handbook:

 

Areas of precipitation are shown on real-world ATC radar screens. For our purposes, precipitation areas can be cross-referenced from SkyVector or other sources.

 

Issue advisories about areas of precipitation to pilots by defining the area of coverage in terms of azimuth and distance, or the general width of the area. Use the term “precipitation” when describing radar-derived weather, and describe the area as “light”, “moderate”, “heavy”, or “extreme”.

 

JBU917, area of moderate precipitation between 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock, 20 miles, moving eastward at 20 knots, tops reported at FL240 by a Boeing 737.

 

Pilots may request to deviate around areas of precipitation. Approve requests to deviate whenever possible, or issue alternative instructions if the requested deviation is not possible.

 

Boston Center, AAL469, request to deviate 10 degrees right for weather.

 

When approving the deviation, state the word “approved”, and issue instructions allowing the pilot to return on course once clear of the area.

 

AAL469, deviation 10 degrees right approved, when able, proceed direct MHT.

 

AAL469, deviation approved, advise when able to resume own navigation.

 

AAL469, unable deviation, turn thirty degrees right, vector for traffic, advise clear of weather.

 

Hope this helps. I try to advise pilots of weather as much as possible while controlling on the network. I have found that it is rare to receive this from controllers, but the pilots really appreciate it considering most of them are running real-world weather engines and are seeing the same things you are. Makes things more fun and interesting!

 

Great post, ZB.

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Camden, good point about issuing tops if they're known. From what I've seen at ZAB, they're not often known or issued, because during monsoon season in the Southwest, they're generally very tall, i.e. FL400 and up.

 

Josh, essentially you'd include the adjective "scattered", i.e. "N123, an area of scattered moderate precipitation 12 o'clock and 33 miles, lasting 88 miles along your route of flight, advise if you need to deviate, I'd recommend deviating north."

 

I am only [Mod - Happy Thoughts]uming the color coding for intensity using the Skyvector weather radar. I imagine green is light, yellow moderate, orange heavy, red extreme.

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Now if only we could get a weather radar on our clients

 

I would think that, if nothing else, some enterprising plugin developer could probably create an overlay that works with ActiveSky using their radar API... (would also have the benefit that it should be pretty close to what most pilots would experience).

Vice President, Pilot Training

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Now if only we could get a weather radar on our clients

 

I would think that, if nothing else, some enterprising plugin developer could probably create an overlay that works with ActiveSky using their radar API... (would also have the benefit that it should be pretty close to what most pilots would experience).

 

that would be awesome

Luka Stevens

Belux vACC Training Director (ACCBE2)

Belux vACC | vACC for Belgium and Luxembourg on VATSIM.

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For which area of the world is this relevent too...

 

FAAland.

 

As far as phraseology is concerned, yes. Outside of that, no.

 

Looks like SkyVector has also fluidly included the world VFR map, as well as IFR high and low maps as well. For example, I just followed ZB's instructions in his original post, but centered over YMMM. I just found a nice cell of weather activity over Mildura (YMIA), which is accompanied by a couple of SIGMETs. This matches with what the BoM in Melbourne is reporting as well.

 

Wash/rinse/repeat for a cell off the cost of Ireland, just east of EIDW.

 

I think this should work worldwide, where the only true limitation would be the reporting of weather phenomena. So with that, it comes down to phraseology for each division. Get that to match up in your local areas, and this should work worldwide.

 

BL.

Brad Littlejohn

ZLA Senior Controller

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Now if only we could get a weather radar on our clients

 

I would think that, if nothing else, some enterprising plugin developer could probably create an overlay that works with ActiveSky using their radar API... (would also have the benefit that it should be pretty close to what most pilots would experience).

 

I have always wanted to see weather overlays on our scopes. I actually had strong hopes with vSTARS and the new DSR client. I don't know why they didn't make it into the program. I am not a programmer by any means, so I don't know the complexities. I know Ross creates some amazing tools, and if it was a possibility to put them in, he may be open to it. I have heard, and unreliably so, that perhaps the "juice wasn't worth the squeeze" as there was always the factor of displayed weather not matching up with the pilots displayed weather based on pilot choice or client use. I think that even in the face of these transient inaccuracies, we can still be well served by having and providing this information from our scopes. Again, however, I do not know the programming feasibility of this.

 

As far as plug-ins go, I'm sure somebody could probably do something. The only platform I have seen plug-ins for is Euroscope, which personally does not work for me. I think there are some great plug-ins out there for Euroscope too, like importing ADS-B traffic feeds, Tower view, and several others. The client just doesn't suit me personally and would love to see the ingenuity for plug-in creation brought to other clients as well. Anyway, my cent and a half

 

Nick

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The likely mismatch between what the controller sees and what the pilots see (and indeed the mismatch from one pilot to the next) is the main reason I haven't bothered to implement any weather radar overlays in my clients. It would be a fair amount of work, for the payoff of a half-baked feature. I know that some would rather have a half-baked feature than no feature at all, but I'm very much not in that camp.

 

If there was a way to get the majority of our pilots all using the same weather engine, and that weather engine provided consistent placement of storm cells from one pilot to the next, then I think we'd have a path toward a viable solution. Maybe it's possible now ... I don't know. I haven't put the (presumably considerable) time into figuring out if the FSX/P3D weather system can be coerced into consistent placement of storm cells. I read somewhere that it doesn't give you that level of control, but that was several years ago, and I don't recall the validity of the source.

 

Sure would be nice ... and we could maybe solve the winds aloft problem along the way.

 

And a solution so that X-Plane users aren't left out in the cold (vague pun intended) would be a bonus.

Developer: vPilot, VRC, vSTARS, vERAM, VAT-Spy

Senior Controller, Boston Virtual ARTCC

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Josh,

 

I use Skyvector all the time and get sigmets and the outline of the affected area, but I have yet to see an option to show weather cells like your screenshot shows. What the heck am I missing? PM me please so I don't force this thread too far off track.

 

@Zachary,

 

Sorry to hijack your thread, even if only momentarily, I apologize.

 

Randy

Randy Tyndall - KBOI

ZLA I-11/vACC Portugal P4

“A ship is always safe in the harbor. But that’s not why they build ships” --Michael Bevington ID 814931, Former VATSIM Board of Governors Vice President of Pilot Training

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Thank you Ross for your response. I understand and respect your viewpoints as a programmer and maintaining the overall vision of the product. Could it be generally said though, that for the most part a "cell" or a thunderstorm a size requiring some form of routing deviation would generally show up regardless of weather client though? I understand no 2 pilot's clouds are going to show up in the exact same spot and what not, but I would think something sizeable would show up in some form roughly, somewhat, similar between clients. Just like visibility, cloud ceiling, and other general phenomena. Just spitballing here.

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Josh,

 

I use Skyvector all the time and get sigmets and the outline of the affected area, but I have yet to see an option to show weather cells like your screenshot shows. What the heck am I missing? PM me please so I don't force this thread too far off track.

 

@Zachary,

 

Sorry to hijack your thread, even if only momentarily, I apologize.

 

Randy

 

Randy,

 

On SkyVector, Click on Layers, then under Radar and Satellite, Check Weather Radar.

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Could it be generally said though, that for the most part a "cell" or a thunderstorm a size requiring some form of routing deviation would generally show up regardless of weather client though?

 

The only honest answer here is that I don't know ... there are a number of variables here, and the question of whether or not we can achieve something workable within the given constraints is a subjective matter. "Good enough" or "close enough" aren't the same from one user to the next.

 

It would certainly be helpful for someone to do some experimenting with the FSX/P3D weather system and see exactly what kind of control and consistency is achievable. Then we'd have some empirical data on which to base a go/no-go decision on implementing an official realistic weather system for VATSIM, on both sides of the scope. I'm afraid I don't have the time at the moment, so someone else will need to do that part of the heavy lifting.

Developer: vPilot, VRC, vSTARS, vERAM, VAT-Spy

Senior Controller, Boston Virtual ARTCC

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The likely mismatch between what the controller sees and what the pilots see (and indeed the mismatch from one pilot to the next) is the main reason I haven't bothered to implement any weather radar overlays in my clients. It would be a fair amount of work, for the payoff of a half-baked feature. I know that some would rather have a half-baked feature than no feature at all, but I'm very much not in that camp.

 

If there was a way to get the majority of our pilots all using the same weather engine, and that weather engine provided consistent placement of storm cells from one pilot to the next, then I think we'd have a path toward a viable solution. Maybe it's possible now ... I don't know. I haven't put the (presumably considerable) time into figuring out if the FSX/P3D weather system can be coerced into consistent placement of storm cells. I read somewhere that it doesn't give you that level of control, but that was several years ago, and I don't recall the validity of the source.

 

Sure would be nice ... and we could maybe solve the winds aloft problem along the way.

 

And a solution so that X-Plane users aren't left out in the cold (vague pun intended) would be a bonus.

 

I don't have any direct empirical data for you -- but what I can say is that having spent a fair bit of time flying in a shared cockpit environment in aircraft with airborne weather radar, my experience is that the paints are very, very similar (certainly when both using the same weather engine, i.e. ASN) -- similar enough that I can point out a bit of weather painting on the ND at a given range and 99% of the time my copilot will be able to see it as well.

 

As others have mentioned, I suspect that it would be "close enough" to be a good guide to at least knowing where pilots are likely to start scattering, and any pilots using the ASN-driven weather radars on board most of PMDG's (and now FSLabs) latest offerings should be seeing very similar returns.

 

Of course, it's not going to be absolutely perfect for everybody but it never will be unless, for instance, we ban pilots from using custom weather settings etc (and, frankly, I imagine that the returns that a controller sees in real life could easily differ from those seen/interpreted on airborne weather radar equipment anyway). It ought to be, however, a good guide for those who are using real-world weather, especially in areas of high station density -- it might be a bit more flaky in remote areas where the weather engines are doing more interpolation, but I would think that most places with high traffic densities on VATSIM will have a reasonable concentration of weather reporting stations.

Vice President, Pilot Training

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I don't have any direct empirical data for you -- but what I can say is that having spent a fair bit of time flying in a shared cockpit environment in aircraft with airborne weather radar, my experience is that the paints are very, very similar (certainly when both using the same weather engine, i.e. ASN) -- similar enough that I can point out a bit of weather painting on the ND at a given range and 99% of the time my copilot will be able to see it as well.

 

Are you saying the location of cloud formations was the same even when NOT using the same weather engine? Any chance the shared cockpit system was syncing the weather? We would certainly need to run these tests without any shared cockpit or multiplayer connection between the systems being compared.

 

I think the only way this will work, in my opinion, is if we can control the size and placement of cloud formations within about 10 miles. Let's say we have two pilots cruising along on the same route, and they both see a storm cell ahead, but one of them sees it in a location that would require a deviation left of course, but the other sees it in a location that would require a deviation right of course, then that will greatly erode the immersion level for both pilots, and also for the controller, especially if the controller sees the weather in such a way that one of the pilots ends up flying directly through the radar return when the controller grants the pilot's deviation request.

 

So I think it all boils down to whether or not different weather engines actually use real world weather radar data to determine storm cell placement (rather than just using a METAR and randomly placing the appropriate cloud formations within some preset radius of the METAR reporting station), and whether or not they do so with a level of resolution that results in the placement being within about 10 miles consistently from one pilot to the next. (Implementing near-perfect accuracy in the ATC client won't be a problem ... the achievable accuracy is only unknown to me on the pilot side ... I don't know what level of control you get with FSX/P3D/XP.) We may find that this would only be doable if we build our own weather engine ... and the chance of getting everyone to use a new weather engine (which likely won't be as good or full-featured as the existing engines on offer) is pretty slim.

 

Anyway, I'm obviously not optimistic, but more testing of the popular weather engines is needed and worthwhile.

Developer: vPilot, VRC, vSTARS, vERAM, VAT-Spy

Senior Controller, Boston Virtual ARTCC

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Are you saying the location of cloud formations was the same even when NOT using the same weather engine? Any chance the shared cockpit system was syncing the weather?

 

To clarify, I think all the shared cockpit flights I've done have been with people using the same weather engine (ASN). However, I can confirm that the Aerosoft Connected Flight Deck system explicitly does not sync the weather radar returns (or the weather in the sim), as confirmed by the developers. The Aerosoft radar, for what it's worth, reads weather directly out of the sim and not from the ASN API as most other models do.

 

I think the only way this will work, in my opinion, is if we can control the size and placement of cloud formations within about 10 miles. Let's say we have two pilots cruising along on the same route, and they both see a storm cell ahead, but one of them sees it in a location that would require a deviation left of course, but the other sees it in a location that would require a deviation right of course, then that will greatly erode the immersion level for both pilots, and also for the controller, especially if the controller sees the weather in such a way that one of the pilots ends up flying directly through the radar return when the controller grants the pilot's deviation request.

 

I see what you're saying, but this would/will/does happen whether or not the controller had the information on their display. Since the development of the ASN radar API, almost every payware add-on model now comes with a weather radar implementation of some description, and there are various freeware options/retrofits etc as well. So pilots (or at least those who know how to use the radar and/or give a toss about flying through CBs) will be (and are now) seeing airborne WXR returns and asking for deviations which could conflict with each other anyway.

 

I know ASN uses real-world SIGMET data for turbulence etc. I don't know how it works in terms of storm cell placement, but that's why I would suggest that the better route to go down might be to use (or at least give the option to use) the ASN API -- granted, not all controllers will necessarily own ASN, but for those that do the advantage would be that rather than trying to overlay real-world radar data that may or may not be well-depicted in the sim, they would be looking at data derived from a weather engine which has a very high probability of correlating well with that of any pilots in the airspace that have WXR functionality (as ASN is a prerequisite for 99% of current FS airborne weather radar implementations).

Vice President, Pilot Training

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To clarify, I think all the shared cockpit flights I've done have been with people using the same weather engine (ASN). However, I can confirm that the Aerosoft Connected Flight Deck system explicitly does not sync the weather radar returns (or the weather in the sim), as confirmed by the developers.

 

That makes sense ... it's not at all surprising that the same weather engine would result in similar placement of weather for multiple pilots.

 

The Aerosoft radar, for what it's worth, reads weather directly out of the sim and not from the ASN API as most other models do.

 

There are weather radar gauges that don't rely on ASN, such as the one from RealityXP. I believe they use the same method (reading from the sim.)

 

I know ASN uses real-world SIGMET data for turbulence etc. I don't know how it works in terms of storm cell placement, but that's why I would suggest that the better route to go down might be to use (or at least give the option to use) the ASN API -- granted, not all controllers will necessarily own ASN, but for those that do the advantage would be that rather than trying to overlay real-world radar data that may or may not be well-depicted in the sim, they would be looking at data derived from a weather engine which has a very high probability of correlating well with that of any pilots in the airspace that have WXR functionality (as ASN is a prerequisite for 99% of current FS airborne weather radar implementations).

 

I see where you're coming from, but there's pretty much no way I'll invest any time developing a feature that ties the system to a specific payware weather engine.

Developer: vPilot, VRC, vSTARS, vERAM, VAT-Spy

Senior Controller, Boston Virtual ARTCC

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I'll make this point. What if a controller is referencing weather based off a skyvector feed? One pilot might still need to deviate left and the other right, it's just now the controller could at least see half of the picture? I don't see necessarily how the controller client having a weather engine is connected to the pilots' weather engines. Pilots will always have incorrect weather in relation to that of what might actually be happening, and a controlling client with a weather feed won't change that.

 

Something else to consider is that even in the real world, weather is sometimes significantly lagged. At this current time, Miami Center has a 15ish minute update time on their weather radar. Knowing Florida, that's the difference between a hurricane and a nice calm day. If they see a cell, they'll try to vector a pilot around it, and if the pilot sees something, they'll report it and the controller take note of the new relative cell location.

 

This isn't a perfect science, not even in the real world.

Josh Glottmann
Deputy Air Traffic Manager
Oakland ARTCC
[email protected]

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I don't see necessarily how the controller client having a weather engine is connected to the pilots' weather engines. Pilots will always have incorrect weather in relation to that of what might actually be happening, and a controlling client with a weather feed won't change that.

 

If the controller is getting weather from the same feed as the pilots, then it would match. As you said, pilots will always have incorrect weather related to reality, but the controllers would have equally-incorrect weather. This would be a significant improvement over the status quo.

 

Something else to consider is that even in the real world, weather is sometimes significantly lagged. At this current time, Miami Center has a 15ish minute update time on their weather radar.

 

Very true, but lagged weather is a very different thing than "randomly placed" weather. With lagged weather, the controllers can still judge the direction of movement and have a good idea of where that weather is currently. Contrast that against the VATSIM scenario where pilots have varying, randomly-placed weather, and then you've demoted the weather overlay on the controller's scope to mere eye candy. The controller would not be able to use his weather radar for vectoring or realistic weather advisories. He would only be able to respond to pilot requests for deviations, and more often than not, those requests would not match what he's seeing on his scopes. Thus, the weather overlay is just eye candy, and the situation is no better than what we have today on VATSIM.

 

This is why I feel that adding weather data to our ATC clients isn't worth doing unless there can be some consistency between what the controller sees and what the pilots see.

Developer: vPilot, VRC, vSTARS, vERAM, VAT-Spy

Senior Controller, Boston Virtual ARTCC

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