It doesn’t take much sky-watching to realize that ‘obscuration’ occurs in every conceivable variety. From one tiny, short-lived wisp of cloud to several days of low, heavy overcast; from ‘only’ two hundred mile visibility to fair-weather haze or smoke so dense you cannot see the sun or your own shadow; from summer sleet under a booming cumulus to angry squalls of rain, snow, or hail so thick that the far end of the runway disappears on final approach. These are all conditions we can expect to encounter during a well-rounded soaring career, and while some may offer surprisingly good soaring, others can be more hazardous than they look. Learning to interpret what we see (or can’t see) in the atmosphere is vital, and this is one facet of soaring knowledge where we can gain valuable understanding while on the ground. So look UP and study the sky, even through windows, whenever possible.
Each pilot in command must decide whether to fly in poor weather or deteriorating visibility, fly away from it if possible, or simply land. It would be an unnecessary waste of opportunity to flee from every dark cloud. However, challenging fate beneath a cumulonimbus, or above a landscape that is not sufficiently visible, might result in a tragic waste of ship and pilot. Inexperienced pilots should avoid anything in the sky that even hints at trouble, and then from the secure vantage of the tie-down area observe what might have happened. When already aloft, don’t make yourself a sorry victim of ‘get-there-itis’. Always think carefully before flying into poor or deteriorating visibility.