by Michael Hartell
Navigation Systems Supervisor
MnDOT Office of Aeronautics
Published online Midwest Flyer Magazine – February/March 2021
I started learning how to fly back in 1981–82. One of the things I remember most was trying to understand weather. I had to understand my personal limits and how weather could determine a decision to fly or not.
I recall struggling with the weather information available during flight prep. Back in those days, there were only a few Flight Service Stations (FSS) across the state of Minnesota. Pilots had widespread coverage gaps and had to guesstimate the weather conditions they were going to be flying through.
Forty years ago, we had less than a half dozen Automated Weather Observation Systems, commonly known as AWOS stations. Today, there are 80 AWOS stations owned and operated by MnDOT, and there are an additional 20 federal AWOS/ASOS (Automated Surface Observation System) stations. There is now a fantastic weather network out there for all of us pilots to draw on 24 hours a day, to get accurate weather conditions. This weather network allows pilots to truly build their own weather picture and make great decisions for go-no-go.
The safety that this weather network has added to our state is invaluable.
Enhanced AWOS Features
I would like to shed some light on some enhanced features that many may not know exist, and how to leverage our weather network for even better real-time information.
Most pilots know you can call by land line phone directly to any AWOS/ASOS that is commissioned and receive the current weather conditions that were reported one-minute past. Your other option would be to look at any popular flight planning tool and read the current weather posted as a Meteorological Terminal Air Report (METAR).
The only drawback to METARs is that they are only updated every 20 to 60 minutes, and when there is changing weather and winds moving around the area, this information can feel quite old when you are prepping at the airport wanting to depart.
To add a new tool to the toolbox, I would like to introduce an online weather service made available by MnDOT Aeronautics, with support from our vendor “any AWOS.” This new online tool provides near-real-time weather reports for 80 local airports in Minnesota. The weather reports are available to everyone, for free, through any popular mobile device with a standard web browser. Best of all, it’s simple to use.
You can view the current online weather reports in different ways:
• Launch MnDOT’s online AWOS site directly using this URL: www.mndot.gov/aero/navigationsystems/awos-map-online.html. We suggest you bookmark that site in your browser or add a shortcut to your device’s desktop or home screen.
• Click the “any AWOS” link on MnDOT’s Aviation Weather page.
• Go directly to an airport of interest by entering https://anyawos.com/K(3 letter airport FAA identifier here) into your browser. For example: https://anyawos.com/KDTL will bring up the current AWOS information for Detroit Lakes (DTL). If the airport has a number in the FAA ID, you must still enter the (K) before the identifier to bring up the site. For example, enter https://anyawos.com/K14Y for Long Prairie/Todd County Airport. I’ve found typing the URL directly into the browser works well on my iPad.
The great part about this online service is that the information presented is typically only 1 to 3 minutes old, so long as the internet is working at the airport.
You can also have multiple windows open on your desktop, so you can look at the information of many AWOS locations to help determine a better weather picture or identify weather changes that may impact your planned travels. There are also some limitations to any AWOS that one should be aware of.
• The data presented within the any AWOS tool is for informational purposes only and has not been scrubbed through METAR’s publishing process.
• Only Minnesota state owned AWOS systems are streaming data through any AWOS. This means that all the federally owned and operated sites will not be available through this tool. Sites like MKT, GPZ, OTG, BRD, just to name a few, are not going to come up for you to view.
• On occasion, internet issues may make the timing of the updates longer than planned. That means you should always check the time stamp published on the screen to ensure the timing meets your requirements.
Any AWOS works on most smart phones, tablets and laptops. The tool lets you access current weather data for departure, enroute and arrival, and it is free of charge. It’s a great way to compare current conditions to forecasts, and to see how the weather models are tracking with your desired flight times.
When I look at all the weather tools we have today versus when I started flying, it is absolutely amazing. Weather information available to a pilot today compared to 40 years ago is extensive.
For all of you starting out your flying careers today, enjoy the new AWOS technology. I hope you find new and effective ways to utilize it in your aviation endeavors.