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How to read TAFs

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Although I made this app to visualize TAFs it is important to understand and know how to read the alphanumeric raw TAF.  The app will help visualize TAFs but this article spells is out.

TAFs, Terminal Area Forecast, represent the most current, accurate, and actionable weather forecast we as pilots have.  In the US they are issued 4 times a day, generally cover a 24 hour period (although 30 hour is non unusual) and contain a wealth of information in a short space.   And therein lies the problem.  TAFs have be decoded and understood from the alphanumeric text into something more meaningful.  TAFs are also valid for a 4 mile diameter around the issuing airport.

Reading or understanding a TAF is not that difficult and the are organized in a logical way.

TAF SEGMENTS

First, TAFs are broken down into segments defined by a period of time.  Each TAF segment represents a change in conditions from the previous segment.  Any TAF segment can be from 1 hour long to 24 hours or more.  If there is no change in conditions then a new TAF segment is not defined.  Likewise if the weather changes significantly enough there could be 24 segments.

There are 4 types of TAF segments. FIRST – defining the beginning of the TAF and the overall time span, FM (from), TEMPO – temporary,  PROB – probability and BECMG – Becoming representing a slow change in conditions from the previous segment to the new segment. In the US it is typical to see BECMG, TEMPO and PROB segments much more frequently in air force bases as opposed to civilian airports.

The FM, BECMG and the first segment are “parent” segments defining the conditions for that time,  TEMPO and PROB are secondary segments that are defined within the timespan of a parent segment. It is typical in Canada and Europe to have multiple TEMPO segments.  With TEMPO and PROB there is a primary, parent or base weather conditions then temporarily alternate conditions could exists or there is a probability of alternate conditions.

TAF TIME

Taf Segments are defined by time and that time is represented in zulu time.  There is no time zone information in TAFs

TAF WEATHER

TAF data comprises of cloud layers, visibility, surface winds, weather conditions and sometimes barometric pressure.  Air force bases always have barometric pressure.  For each segment these all may or may not be defined.  Typically visibility, wind, cloud layers are always and weather conditions are only shown if they exist.

TAF WIND

The wind component of a TAF segment conveys the wind speed in knots, the wind direction, and any gusts.  For example:  31013G24KT
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