I need info on reading the sky for developing weather conditions for paragliding purposes?
Such as how to spot a thermal, or developing storm. etc etc
- Michel VerheugheLv 71 decade agoFavorite Answer
I fly a homebuilt ultralight Kitfox aircraft and sometimes, a Swift Light PAS, which is a motor-glider following the design of a US class II (rigid) hang glider. Watching the sky to interpret it is something I have done for decades and it never ceases to amaze me!
You are looking for ascending air; convection from the sun heating the ground and rising in parcels of warm air. The most obvious thing to look for is nice cumulus clouds forming during the morning hours.
One thing I often do it to look for birds. Where I live, near the coast, we have lots of seagulls. Whenever I see them circling, I know that I can "join the dance" and circle with them, with my tiny 12 HP engine off. They don't seem to mind me and I don't mind them, my stall speed is only 35 km/h so we are pretty much in the same league! :-)
What to be careful with is to be too close to the ceiling of a cumulus. As you probaby know, they are rather concave from under and you loose sight of the horizon before you're in it. Once, my son who was then flying a Blanik glider, came in such a situation and only managed to be sucked in the cloud by very heavy side-slip, full air brakes, and even getting the wheel out to add drag.
Of course, you know that thermals will develop where there is a sharp change in temperature on the surface, right? So, anything like rocky surface going over to forest, etc. are good places to look for thermals. Large parking lots are also excellent! But avoid any lake or large body of water, you'll never get lift there!
If the nice morning cumulus continue to grow bigger into cumulonimbus and especially if you see them forming anvil on the top, stop paragliding! Those can suck you up to your death! There is a famous story of a frozen glider pilot found with his chute, in the Alps mountains. He jumped, but was taking upward until he died from lack of oxygen and frost.
Even if you think: Hum, I won't go under that cumulonimbus, be aware that e.g. in mountainous regions, they will be tilted due to the drag and you may be sucked up even from the side of the cloud.
A good idea would be to read the METAR and TAF from a nearby airport. Simply type the ICAO code of that airport with the keyword METAR in Google and you'll get it. If you read CB (cumulonimbus), TS (thunderstorms) or SW (shear wind) just stay at home.
As they say: It is better to be down here, wishing you were up there ... than the opposite!
Blue skies, friend!