While there is some limited radar on board for pilots, we hear that there is no radar over the ocean which is why flight locations are estimated. As the distance between the United States and Australia is lengthy, how do pilots avoid thunderstorms over the Pacific en route to Australia at night, and what did they do about them If a large front develops in their way?

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Look out the window and see if you see lightning? Even in a small plane, it's possible to see thunderstorms ~100 miles away, say storms in west central Nevada from over the Sacramento area. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Dec 1, 2019 at 4:14
  • $\begingroup$ Keep in mind that route is dotted with islands, and many have runways and weather stations. $\endgroup$ Dec 2, 2019 at 2:57
  • $\begingroup$ The on-board radar is not some limited backup tool, it's the primary tool whenever you have it, even if there is coverage from ground radars. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Dec 2, 2019 at 7:06

1 Answer 1


You get by on your airborne weather radar which is good out to about 80 miles. You may also get help from other pilots ahead of you on your route providing PIREPS to ATC on HF, or talking to you directly if you are close enough to use VHF between each other. But as far as picking your way around cells, besides being able to see them if you are in the clear, your own weather radar is all there is.

The main limitation of airborne WR is shadowing due to signal attenuation in rain, where the really nasty stuff is hidden (looks black as if the sky was empty) behind less nasty stuff. Even with the modern radar there is a bit of skill and experience required to interpret the returns and not get fooled by shadows.

  • 9
    $\begingroup$ There's also data from weather satellites before the flight, and flex-routes via ACARS from the company. $\endgroup$
    – user14897
    Dec 1, 2019 at 6:31
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Just to emphasise, the point is that the plane has its own weather radar set. It's not reliant on somebody else's radar to know where the rain is. $\endgroup$ Dec 1, 2019 at 18:23
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ Internet based weather radar is not real time and there is enough of a delay in presentation to be a problem. Pilots flying IFR in the US using an internet based weather overlay on their flat panel displays as if it was airborne weather radar have gotten into serious trouble because cells had moved significantly from where it was depicted. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Dec 1, 2019 at 19:02
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf satellite weather is only good for getting an overall picture of a system. As far as non-airborne sources go, you need ground based doppler radar to see exactly where cells are within a weather system, which is what you are really concerned with. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Dec 1, 2019 at 19:04
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf but you need to be detecting water not so much lightening, and you need to do it with precision, within a mile or two. The only other weather issue that gets you into trouble, except when close the ground, is icing and WxR doesn't help you there in the first place. IFR flying is a risky business when conducted w/o WxR if there is any convective activity on a flight. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Dec 2, 2019 at 0:02

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .