A More Interesting Flight to Jackson Hole

Time for our 4th annual family flight to Jackson Hole! All the previous trips have been in good weather, so I suppose we were due for some challenges. This one was a great endorsement of an instrument rating, onboard weather radar, and thinking ahead. Our plan was to leave really early in the morning to avoid the afternoon turbulence that’s common in eastern Idaho and around the Tetons. It’s usually warm and sunny in Seattle this time of year, but it’s also common on those nice days to have morning fog, which can last until noon or even later. Because of that, I was hoping for a cloudy departure day, since clouds are usually fine for flying, but fog is not. Well, I suppose I got what I asked for. jac1 That’s not weather I’d want to spend much time in, but fortunately the bad weather extended only a few miles south of the airport. We took off in heavy rain, but 5 minutes later the weather had improved dramatically. jac2 We were in and out of cloud layers until we broke out on top at about 8000′ (on our way to our filed altitude of 9000′). There was a fire TFR up to 10k’ over the cascades, so we had to go up to 11k’ for about 20 minutes. As we settled into the clear weather around Yakima, I checked the radar again and noticed there were thunderstorms approaching the Boise area. I decided we’d wait until we got closer to decide what to do, but it was a struggle not to focus on the radar, looking for changes. As we got closer, it became apparent we’d need a plan. jac3 The weather was moving basically north (right to left in the picture above). Our original destination was Nampa (KMAN), but it looked like it was on the edge of the weather, so we thought about other options. We considered stopping slightly early at Ontario (KONO), but we knew we’d need to get through the weather for our second leg and figured it could be worse later. We considered sticking with Nampa, but even if we could get in, we could be stuck waiting on the ground for a while. We told approach that we wanted to change our destination to Boise (KBOI), thinking it was past most of the weather and was a bigger airport, so it would be easier to depart on an instrument flight plan later if needed. We asked for a deviation to get between the worst parts of the weather and to approach the airport from the east side. Once we got through the worst of it (heavy rain on both sides but could see ahead), we decided we wanted to get even further from the weather, so we canceled IFR and asked for flight following to Mountain Home, about 20 minutes further. Approach advised us of weather in that area, but we could see with our eyes (and the radar) that it was just about past Mountain Home at that point, so we decided to proceed. About 5 minutes out, we again decided to keep going, putting in another 20 minutes to get to Gooding (KGNG), an airport I knew to be a good stop. We actually landed there (and not Nampa, Ontario, Boise, or Mountain Home), about 3 hours after leaving Paine Field. Though there was a lot of weather around, we made sure we always had several “outs” (airports with good weather) and plenty of fuel. After a potty break, a quick lunch, and some fuel, we departed for Jackson in good weather. Unfortunately, another look at the radar showed more storms along our path. jac4b With plenty of space to the north of the storm, we were able to fly around it. I kept a distance of about 20 miles, and when I started to get a little too close, we could definitely feel the bumps. Going around meant we ended up about 10 miles north of Driggs, giving us a great view of the Idaho side of the Tetons. jac5 The good news was that winds away from the storm were fairly light, giving us the calmest flight yet through Teton Pass and into Jackson Hole. Everyone was happy, including Cooper, who was excited to see the family. jac7 Though the flight was more involved than normal, it was a good experience. Here are a few more pictures. wp_20140818_028