Reading and Understanding METARS

➡️ Get a PDF handout of this article here.

METARS are covered on the private pilot knowledge test (written exam) as well as the practical test. One of the required skills in the Private Pilot ACS that a private pilot candidate must demonstrate the ability to do is “Correlate weather information to make a competent go/no-go decision.” The ability to read a METAR is an important part of making preflight decisions. 

What’s In a METAR?

A typical METAR report contains information in specific sequential order. 

Private Pilot ACS

Usually, the sequence is: Place (Airport ICAO Code) – Date and Time – Wind – Visibility – Phenomena – Clouds – Temperature – Pressure.

Example:

KLAX 300353Z 08003KT 10SM FEW020 SCT037 SCT050 10/06 A3004

A METAR explains the weather conditions at an airport. It cannot and doesn’t predict future weather. 

Student pilots who are new to understanding weather should note the difference between a report (details a past period of weather) and a forecast (a prediction of future weather). In other words, weather reported in a METAR report has already occurred. 

Types of METAR Reports

There are two types of METAR reports: routine and SPECI (aviation selected special weather report). 

➡️ A routine special report is usually issued 5 minutes before the top of an hour. 

➡️ A special report can be issued anytime to update rapidly changing weather conditions. 

What is a Ceiling?

Pilots should know the definition of ceiling under 14 CFR § 1.1

Ceiling means the height above the earth’s surface of the lowest layer of clouds or obscuring phenomena that is reported as “broken”, “overcast”, or “obscuration”, and not classified as “thin” or “partial”.

Aviationweather.gov is a great place to read METARs and practice decoding them. 

Aviationweather.gov

Let’s look at some of the basic information in a METAR that is relevant to making a go / no-go decision.

Can you decode a METAR report?

Further Reading on METARs: PHAK Chapter 13

PHAK

PRIVATE PILOT KNOWLEDGE TEST QUESTIONS 

1. The information in a METAR is: 

a. Follows no specific format

b. Sequential following a prescribed format. 

c. Depends on the amount of data presented. 

Answer: __________ 

2. For aviation purposes, ceiling is defined as the height above the Earth’s surface of the 

a. Lowest broken or overcast layer or vertical visibility into an obscuration. 

b. Lowest layer of clouds reported as scattered, broken, or thin. 

c. Lowest reported obscuration and the highest layer of clouds reported as overcast. 

Answer: __________ 

3. If you read in a METAR the symbols “SKC” and “OVC”, refer to: 

a. Sky Clear and Overcast. 

b. Sky clear and broken clouds. 

c. Few clouds and scattered clouds. 

Answer: __________ 

4. Refer to figure 12. Which of the reporting stations have VFR weather? 

a. KINK, KBOI, and KJFK 

b. KINK, KBOI, and KLAX

c. All. 

Answer: __________ 

5. Refer to figure 12. What are the current conditions depicted for Chicago Midway Airport (KMDW)? 

a. Sky 700 feet overcast, visibility 1-1/2SM, moderate rain. 

b. Sky 700 feet overcast, visibility 11, occasionally 2SM, with light rain. 

c. Sky 7,000 feet overcast, visibility 1-1/2SM, heavy rain. 

Answer: __________ 

Answers 

1. b. 

2. a. 

3. a. 

4. b. 

5. a.

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