Know the Surface Winds
Strong surface winds can throw pilots an unexpected curve ball if they’ve planned a flight to a favorite destination and find the conditions at the arrival airport exceed the capabilities of their airplane, themselves or both.
An experienced flight instructor I was talking with recently related a story in which he damaged the wing of an Aeronca Champ on landing while ferrying the airplane from a customer’s summer home in New England to his winter home in Florida. The instructor knew the surface winds at one of his intermediate fuel stops would be quite strong, but he figured he had the requisite skill to handle the conditions. He was wrong — and ended up footing the bill for the repair while also suffering a bruise to his ego.
In this instance, the pilot knew the forecast wind conditions and decided to press on anyway. In a lot of cases, though, pilots are taken by surprise by stronger than expected winds at the destination or, just as likely, at their home airport at the end of the return flight.
If the airport has multiple runways, crosswind considerations might not be a big concern. If the destination airport has only a single runway and the wind is blowing a gale across it, you’ll have no choice but to divert. You should know the maximum crosswind component you can accept before ever leaving the ground in the first place.
There are lots of online resources for determining current and forecast surface wind conditions. One of my favorites is the WindCast tool from Intellicast.com. This website lets you select your region and then page through current and forecast conditions spaced in three-hour windows for the next 48-hour forecast period.
Color-coding makes it easy to spot wind trends and compare what you thought the wind should be doing versus what the WindCast model shows. In my experience, Intellicast’s surface wind forecasts are as good as they get. Try it for yourself and see if you agree.