Aviation weather reports are designed to give accurate depictions of current weather conditions. Each report provides current information that is updated at different times. Some typical reports are METARs and PIREPs.

Aviation Routine Weather Report (METAR)

A METAR is an observation of current surface weather reported in a standard international format. While the METAR code has been adopted worldwide, each country is allowed to make modifications to the code. Normally, these differences are minor but necessary to accommodate local procedures or particular units of measure. This discussion of METAR covers elements used in the United States.
METARs are issued on a regularly scheduled basis unless significant weather changes have occurred. A special METAR (SPECI) can be issued at any time between routine METAR reports.
METAR KGGG 161753Z AUTO 14021G26KT 3/4SM +TSRA BR BKN008 OVC012CB 18/17 A2970 RMK PRESFR
A typical METAR report contains the following information in sequential order:
1. Type of report – there are two types of METAR reports. The first is the routine METAR report that is transmitted on a regular time interval. The second is the aviation selected SPECI. This is a special report that can be given at any time to update the METAR for rapidly changing weather conditions, aircraft mishaps, or other critical information.
2. Station identifier – a four-letter code as established by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). In the 48 contiguous states, a unique three-letter identifier is preceded by the letter “K.” For example, Gregg County Airport in Longview, Texas, is identified by the letters “KGGG,” K being the country designation and GGG being the airport identifier. In other regions of the world, including Alaska and Hawaii, the first two letters of the four-letter ICAO identifier indicate the region, country, or state. Alaska identifiers always begin with the letters “PA” and Hawaii identifiers always begin with the letters “PH.” Station identifiers can be found by calling the FSS, a NWS office, or by searching various websites such as DUATS and NOAA’s Aviation Weather Aviation Digital Data Services (ADDS).

3. Date and time of report – depicted in a six-digit group (161753Z). The first two digits are the date. The last four digits are the time of the METAR/SPECI, which is always given in coordinated universal time (UTC). A “Z” is appended to the end of the time to denote the time is given in Zulu time (UTC) as opposed to local time.
4. Modifier – denotes that the METAR/SPECI came from an automated source or that the report was corrected. If the notation “AUTO” is listed in the METAR/SPECI, the report came from an automated source. It also lists “AO1” (for no precipitation discriminator) or “AO2” (with precipitation discriminator) in the “Remarks” section to indicate the type of precipitation sensors employed at the automated station.
When the modifier “COR” is used, it identifies a corrected report sent out to replace an earlier report that contained an error (for example: METAR KGGG 161753Z COR).
5. Wind – reported with five digits (14021KT) unless the speed is greater than 99 knots, in which case the wind is reported with six digits. The first three digits indicate the direction the true wind is blowing from in tens of degrees. If the wind is variable, it is reported as “VRB.” The last two digits indicate the speed of the wind in knots unless the wind is greater than 99 knots, in which case it is indicated by three digits. If the winds are gusting, the letter “G” follows the wind speed (G26KT). After the letter “G,” the peak gust recorded is provided. If the wind direction varies more than 60° and the wind speed is greater than six knots, a separate group of numbers, separated by a “V,” will indicate the extremes of the wind directions.
6. Visibility – the prevailing visibility (¾ SM) is reported in statute miles as denoted by the letters “SM.” It is reported in both miles and fractions of miles. At times, runway visual range (RVR) is reported following the prevailing visibility. RVR is the distance a pilot can see down the runway in a moving aircraft. When RVR is reported, it is shown with an R, then the runway number followed by a slant, then the visual range in feet. For example, when the RVR is reported as R17L/1400FT, it translates to a visual range of 1,400 feet on runway 17 left.
7. Weather – can be broken down into two different categories: qualifiers and weather phenomenon (+TSRA BR). First, the qualifiers of intensity, proximity, and the descriptor of the weather are given. The intensity may be light (–), moderate ( ), or heavy (+). Proximity only depicts weather phenomena that are in the airport vicinity. The notation “VC” indicates a specific weather phenomenon is in the vicinity of five to ten miles from the airport. Descriptors are used to describe certain types of precipitation and obscurations. Weather phenomena may be reported as being precipitation, obscurations, and other phenomena, such as squalls or funnel clouds. Descriptions of weather phenomena as they begin or end and hailstone size are also listed in the “Remarks” sections of the report. [Figure 1]
Aviation Weather Reports
Figure 1. Descriptors and weather phenomena used in a typical METAR
8. Sky condition – always reported in the sequence of amount, height, and type or indefinite ceiling/height (vertical visibility) (BKN008 OVC012CB, VV003). The heights of the cloud bases are reported with a three-digit number in hundreds of feet AGL. Clouds above 12,000 feet are not detected or reported by an automated station. The types of clouds, specifically towering cumulus (TCU) or cumulonimbus (CB) clouds, are reported with their height. Contractions are used to describe the amount of cloud coverage and obscuring phenomena. The amount of sky coverage is reported in eighths of the sky from horizon to horizon. [Figure 2]
Aviation Weather Reports
Figure 2. Reportable contractions for sky condition
9. Temperature and dew point – the air temperature and dew point are always given in degrees Celsius (C) or (18/17). Temperatures below 0 °C are preceded by the letter “M” to indicate minus.
10. Altimeter setting – reported as inches of mercury (“Hg) in a four-digit number group (A2970). It is always preceded by the letter “A.” Rising or falling pressure may also be denoted in the “Remarks” sections as “PRESRR” or “PRESFR,” respectively.
11. Zulu time – a term used in aviation for UTC, which places the entire world on one time standard.
12. Remarks – the remarks section always begins with the letters “RMK.” Comments may or may not appear in this section of the METAR. The information contained in this section may include wind data, variable visibility, beginning and ending times of particular phenomenon, pressure information, and various other information deemed necessary. An example of a remark regarding weather phenomenon that does not fit in any other category would be: OCNL LTGICCG. This translates as occasional lightning in the clouds and from cloud to ground. Automated stations also use the remarks section to indicate the equipment needs maintenance.
METAR KGGG 161753Z AUTO 14021G26KT 3/4SM +TSRA BR BKN008 OVC012CB 18/17 A2970 RMK PRESFR
Routine METAR for Gregg County Airport for the 16th day of the month at 1753Z automated source. Winds are 140 at 21 knots gusting to 26. Visibility is ¾ statute mile. Thunderstorms with heavy rain and mist. Ceiling is broken at 800 feet, overcast at 1,200 feet with cumulonimbus clouds. Temperature 18 °C and dew point 17 °C. Barometric pressure is 29.70 “Hg and falling rapidly.

Pilot Weather Reports (PIREPs)

PIREPs provide valuable information regarding the conditions as they actually exist in the air, which cannot be gathered from any other source. Pilots can confirm the height of bases and tops of clouds, locations of wind shear and turbulence, and the location of inflight icing. If the ceiling is below 5,000 feet, or visibility is at or below five miles, ATC facilities are required to solicit PIREPs from pilots in the area. When unexpected weather conditions are encountered, pilots are encouraged to make a report to a FSS or ATC. When a pilot weather report is filed, the ATC facility or FSS adds it to the distribution system to brief other pilots and provide inflight advisories.
PIREPs are easy to file and a standard reporting form outlines the manner in which they should be filed. Figure 3 shows the elements of a PIREP form. Item numbers 1 through 5 are required information when making a report, as well as at least one weather phenomenon encountered. A PIREP is normally transmitted as an individual report but may be appended to a surface report. Pilot reports are easily decoded, and most contractions used in the reports are self-explanatory.
Aviation Weather Reports
Figure 3. PIREP encoding and decoding
UA/OV GGG 090025/TM 1450/FL 060/TP C182/SK 080 OVC/WX FV04SM RA/TA 05/WV 270030KT/TB LGT/RM HVY RAIN
Type: ………………………….. Routine pilot report
Location: …………………….. 25 NM out on the 090° radial, Gregg County VOR
Time: ………………………….. 450 Zulu
Altitude or Flight Level: …. 6,000 feet
Aircraft Type: ………………. Cessna 182
Sky Cover: ……………………8,000 overcast
Visibility/Weather: ………….4 miles in rain
Temperature: ………………. 5 °Celsius
Wind: …………………………. 270° at 30 knots
Turbulence: …………………..Light
Icing: ………………………….. None reported
Remarks: ……………………. Rain is heavy