Pilot reports are a blessing in the winter months, but a lot of pilots are reluctant to give PIREPs because they don’t know how.
Never fear! It’s not that hard. You too can learn how to give accurate turbulence pilot reports.
Remember, it only takes a second to give PIREPs and the calls don’t have to be perfect. ATC will prompt you if you forget anything (like the temp during an icing report).
But, if you want your PIREP calls to be perfect, read on to find out:
What is the difference between chop and regular turbulence? What is the difference between intermittent, continuous or occasional turbulence? Great questions.
Let’s go into the three things you need to report turbulence:
- Intensity level
How to report the intensity of turbulence:
I know what the book says about “straining against the seat belt.” I have never ever found this description useful, at all. So, I’m not going to use it.
Instead, I use the coffee rule: if you spill an open container of coffee, it’s moderate turbulence.
If you can still drink your coffee, it’s light turbulence.
For severe turbulence, I like to use the “scared out of my mind” test. Severe turbulence happens so rarely and when it does it scares even seasoned aviators.
If you have one of those massive jolts where you think the wings might have detached, you probably hit severe turbulence. It happens very rarely.
I caution you against reporting severe turbulence willy-nilly, though. Your report just took a forecasted severe turbulence into “known” severe turbulence. More than a few flights will get canceled or re-routed.
For anyone but Part 91 operators, reporting “severe” turbulence is cause for additional paperwork when you land. I wouldn’t let the paperwork threat deter you from reporting severe turbulence, though!
It’s extremely important other pilots know about possible severe turbulence.
If you want to get around triggering a report say something to the effect of: “borderline severe.” That wording is a cop-out but still warns ATC there is some very dangerous turbulence ahead and aircraft need immediate re-routing.
How to report the type of turbulence.
I wish I had a better answer on the difference between chop and turbulence. Even after asking just about every pilot I’ve met, I haven’t gotten a good answer.
For the record: chop is still turbulence. It’s term we use to describe a type of turbulence.
Think of chop vs turbulence in this way: if you were riding in a car, and you went over evenly spaced bumps, it’s chop. If you drive down a road with a bunch of unevenly spaced potholes, that’s turbulence.
For example, have you ever driven down the road and you roll over a really bad pothole, so bad you think you have destroyed your shocks? That’s turbulence, probably severe turbulence.
Have you ever driven down a gravel road rippled out so bad from water run-off your teeth rattle? That’s chop.
Chop retains a consistency and intensity and doesn’t upset the aircraft.
Turbulence, though, will do all sorts of weird things with the aircraft picking it up and slamming it down at uneven intervals and intensity.
How to report the frequency of turbulence.
The AIM is pretty clear about reporting the frequency. I recommend you memorize these classifications:
- Occasionally: less than one-thirds the time (<1/3)
- Intermittent: one-third to two-thirds the time (1/3-2/3)
- Continuous: more than two-thirds the time (>2/3)
Keep an ear out for chatter on the radio about “the ride.” Airline pilots constantly discuss ride reports with ATC. Those reports will key you in on what’s happening ahead of you. They will tell you whether you should amend your altitude or flight route.
For example, if you hear and aircraft request an altitude change for turbulence 50 NM ahead of you, maybe you should climb or descend now to avoid it as well.
Also, never fly at the tops of the clouds.
Icing and turbulence alway hang out at the top of the clouds. Trust me on this one. It is better to fly solidly in the clouds a few thousand feet below than right at the tops. It seems counterintuitive, but after 5 minutes bumping around at the top of a cloud deck picking up ice, you will understand what I’m talking bout.
Here’s another tip: if you do have to change altitude, make it a 2,000-foot change. One-thousand feet (sometimes ATC will let you break the IFR altitude rules above FL180) won’t do much for you.
2,000 feet also applies to getting out of icing. Go big with the altitude change or go home!
Well, I hope that helped clarify how you should report turbulence. If you want to know how to report icing, head over to my article on how to report icing.
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