How to Get NWS Vertical Aviation Weather

I’ve always been a little slow with the online tool that NWS has made for briefing icing, available here. It’s tricky to visualize layers of icing when using this tool, as it shows 2D planes of airspace, instead of a 3D picture, or vertical slice. It also doesn’t let you plug in a flight plan to see what the weather is along your exact route. The GFA tool lets you to plug in flight plans, which is great when combined with the ceiling and tops forecasts. Though the GFA only shows icing severity as a function of altitude, not the probability multiplied by severity or SLD products available on the icing forecast page. When I’m looking at icing, I want to know what my probability of exposure is, how long my exposure is, whether it’s on the climb, cruise or approach, and the relation to terrain and other weather. These online tools are okay at figuring this puzzle out, but there’s a cooler way!

The solution is squirreled away on the NWS website, and thanks to some updates to Java, is kind of annoying to get running. It’s called the ADDS FPT, or Aviation Digital Data Service Flight Planning Tool. It’s like a desktop version of the online charts, but with a bunch of extra cool features. Here’s some of the neat things I discovered playing around with FPT, and how you download it for a Mac.

FPT opens with a standard 2D map view, that lets you see all the conventional ADDS data, with different overlays at different times and with overlaid flight paths. This already gets you a lot more detail and options than the GFA, and you can customize the display colors and detail to your preference.

Look at all the detail! It lets you load up the map with a bunch of junk! Wind, icing probability, METARS, rivers, airports, VORs, all on one!

The really cool thing though is that it lets you see the weather in 3D, or vertical slices of airspace:

The brown in the above is terrain, the little stuff along the bottom is PIREPs and METARS, and obviously above is the weather (icing probability in this picture, and winds aloft).

Lot of cool stuff possible here. We can set a cruise altitude to evaluate our wind/aircraft based decision with the rest of the weather. We can see the terrain along the route and evaluate how the weather might pin us against the dirt. We can also see way more clearly than a 2D picture some scary scenarios. I tried to find some illustrative examples with today’s weather (hard because it’s only in the northeast and it isn’t that mountainous out here).

Getting stuck under ice with rising terrain. Note how it shows you airport codes on the route, you can start to see some alternates and how they might fit into the weather picture.
Here we can see that the right move is probably to try and get above enroute, otherwise we could get pinned in the middle. Check out the wind barbs moving around the low!
Here the 2D (along with the barbs), really clearly shows flying into a “wall” of rising ice close to the surface, not fun as the way out up or down rapidly disappears. The METARS along the bottom tell a similar story.
You can see both the 2D and 3D profiles at the same time, understanding both the lateral and vertical picture quickly, cool!

I am in love with this tool, it would be awesome if it made it back online and got some updated work from the NWS devs.

To get started with FPT, you first need to download the Java runtime file here.

Download page for ADDS FPT

Next, you’re probably going to have to install the Java runtime environment, get that here.

First you need to let Mac allow the FPT Java file to run by clicking on it, throwing an error, and then going to “Security and Privacy” in System Preferences to allow apps from unidentified developers to run.

Now when you go to run the FPT Java file, it’s likely going to throw a security error at you, because the FPT app needs access to the Internet to get its data, and Java has banned that as a security measure. You have to add the necessary URLs to an exempt list to get the app to work. To do this, open up your System Preferences, and there should be a little Java icon to the lower left, hit that and you’ll get the Java Control Panel.

Then hit the security tab….

And add the following URLs to the exception site list by hitting “Edit Site List”

These let FPT get its data, should all work now when you try again to open FPT. I’ve noticed that FPT doesn’t like to start in anything but Default mode in this setup (don’t get enthusiastic like I did and load the Icing preset). Enjoy your old school desktop application briefings!

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