Last updated on October 19th, 2023
How to Read A TAF in 8 Steps Without Getting Confused
TAF (Terminal Aerodrome Forecast)
Are you a new pilot? Or are you wanting to know how to get an accurate weather forcast from the aviation industry?
Do you need to know how to read a TAF (Terminal Aerodrome Forecast)?
A TAF is a document that provides information on the expected weather conditions at an airport during a specific time period. It’s important to be able to read them so you can make informed decisions about your flight plans.
We’ll teach you how to read a TAF in this article, so you can feel confident in your ability to do so. Once you know what all of the abbreviations and codes mean, you’ll be able to understand the forecast for yourself and make better decisions about your journey.
Read our guide on how to read a TAF now!
What is a TAF?
A TAF is a document issued by a meteorological agency that provides information on the expected weather conditions at an airport within a 5-mile radius during a specific time period.
It typically covers a 24-hour period, and can even be up to 30 hours in advance.
Similar to a TAF, a METAR, or Meteorological Aerodrome Report, provides the current weather conditions at the station.
The TAF contains information related to wind speed, temperature, visibility, clouds, and precipitation. It also includes other relevant aviation data such as runway visual range (RVR) and ceiling height of clouds.
Reasons You Need to Know How to Read a TAF
Knowing how to read a TAF can give you the necessary information to make informed decisions about your flight.
By reading the TAF, you’ll be able to see what weather conditions are expected at the airport during certain times of the day and plan accordingly.
Here are a few reasons why it’s important to know how to read a TAF if you’re a pilot:
- You’re flying into or out of an airport with challenging weather conditions such as low visibility, turbulence, or high winds.
- You need to know how to plan what your fuel consumption will be.
- You need to file an accurate flight plan.
- You need to determine if the weather will prevent you from complying with FAA rules, such as visual or instrument flight rule restrictions, and exceeding your aircraft’s operating limitations.
Now that we know why it’s important to learn how to read a TAF, let’s take a look at our simple walkthrough of how to read one.
Step-by-Step Instructions For Reading a TAF
In this section, we’ll use a simple step-by-step approach to understand how to read a TAF. We’ll cover topics like where to find them, what symbols or abbreviations mean, and more.
Before we jump in, you need to know that there are 4 different types of TAF reports:
- Routine Forecast (TAF) – a routine forecast TAF is released at standard time intervals, which are 4 times per day at 6 hour intervals. The reporting times are in Zulu time using a 24 hour clock at 00:00, 06:00, 12:00, and 18:00.
- Amended Forecast (TAF AMD) – if changes or corrections are required to the routine forecast (TAF) due to sudden changes in the weather, an amended forecast is issued and coded as TAF AMD. The TAF AMD will be issued at hours outside of the routine forecast and overrides the current routine forecast.
- Corrected (COR) – if the TAF has been corrected for an error or wasn’t output on time as normal, COR will be printed on the TAF to indicate this.
- Delayed (RTD) – if the TAF’s release was delayed from its normal time, it will be marked with RTD to show that it was delayed. This is very common at airports that function part-time. If observer shifts don’t match up with the normal release time, the observer reports the TAF as delayed.
Now that we’ve explained the 4 types of TAF reports, let’s get into how to read one. After reading this, with a little practice and repetition you’ll be able to understand a TAF and make the proper decisions about your flight plans in no time.
1. Where Will You Be Flying?
For example, if you were going to fly at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, the ICAO identifier you would use would be “KSEA.”
Pro Tip: The ICAO airport identifier changes depending on what country you are in. “K” is used for the continental United States.
2. Get Your TAF
Next, you’ll need to get your TAF. You can go to a website like weather.gov. At a site like this, you can type in the ICAO airport identifier, and it will print the report for you (even in decoded format!).
3. Read Your TAF
Now that you’ve gotten your TAF, let’s figure out how to read it! One very important part of this process is understanding all of the symbols within the report, which we’ll cover as we go.
For reference, here’s an example TAF report for you to look at so you can see the real thing. You can see the METAR below it if you’re curious what that looks like:
a. Report Type (1)
This shows the type of report, which for us is obviously a TAF, but it can also indicate whether it was amended, corrected, or delayed as mentioned in our section about the types of TAF reports.
b. ICAO Identifier (2)
The ICAO airport identifier is where the report is coming from.
c. Origin Date and Time (3): 091730Z
Date: The national weather service assumes you know what month it is, so the first 2 digits are the day of the month. In the example, 09 is the 9th day of the month.
Time: The Zulu time the report was published. In the example, 17:30Z is the time the report was published.
d. Valid Time Period (4): 0918/1024
The time period that the report is valid.
Again, the first two digits are the day of the month. The second pair of digits are the Zulu time in hours.
The slash indicates the following digits are the expiration time, where the first two digits are the date, and the last two digits are the Zulu time.
So, this TAF is valid from:
The 9th day of the month at 1800Z through
The 10th day of the month at 2400Z
e. Forecasted Conditions (5): 15005KT 5SM HZ FEW020 WS010/31022KT
This is the main forecast information of the TAF.
The format of this line goes from left to right as follows:
The first three numbers are the direction the wind is coming from.
The last two numbers are the speed, measured in knots (KT)
The wind is coming from 150 (from the Southeast, roughly).
If there is a G in this section, the following digits will indicate the gust speed in knots.
Visibility is the distance in statute miles that you can see clearly. This can also be in half-mile increments. Lastly, if an “M” precedes the distance, it means the distance is less than.
If it’s preceded with a “P,” the distance is greater than.
The visibility is 5 statute miles.
If the report has half-mile increments, it might look like this:
The visibility would be 5 and 1/2 statute miles.
Here you will see the weather forecast. There are many abbreviations for the meanings of the conditions.
In our example, HZ stands for haze, and there is no intensity or proximity qualifier, so there is a moderate haze obscuration.
We’ve got all of the weather abbreviations and their meanings in this section:
Qualifiers of Intensity or Proximity
- – Light
- Moderate (no qualifier)
- + Heavy or well-developed
- VC in the Vicinity
- MI Shallow
- BC Patches
- DR Low Drifting
- BL Blowing
- SH Showers
- TS Thunderstorm
- FZ Freezing
- PR Partial
- DZ Drizzle
- RA Rain
- SN Snow
- SG Snow Grains
- IC Ice Crystals
- PL Ice Pellets
- GR Hail
- GS Small Hail or Snow Pellets (less than 1/4 inch in diameter)
- UP Unknown precipitation (automated stations only)
- BR Mist (Foggy conditions with visibilities greater than 5/8 statute mile)
- FG Fog (visibility 5/8 statute mile or less)
- FU Smoke
- DU Dust
- SA Sand
- HZ Haze
- PY Spray
- VA Volcanic Ash
- PO Well-Developed Dust/Sand Whirls
- SQ Squalls
- FC Funnel Cloud
- +FC Well-Developed Funnel Cloud, Tornado or Waterspout
- SS Sandstorm
- DS Dust storm
*The code “NSW” or No Significant Weather is used to denote a period of no significant weather following a period where significant weather was predicted.
-Sky Conditions: FEW020
The sky conditions come next, which represents cloud cover and visibility aloft.
Note that TAFs only identify cumulonimbus clouds because they can potentially turn into thunderstorms.
The letters indicate the sky coverage of clouds. The numbers note the altitude of the lowest part of the clouds in hundreds of feet (add two zeros to the end of the number to get the altitude.
In our example, there are few clouds at 2,000 feet
Here are the abbreviations for the types of cloud cover, which is determined by dividing the cloud coverage into 8ths:
- VV: Vertical Visibility (8/8 layer) – no clouds, but the view is obstructed due to other obscuration like fog or dust. This will be followed by the visibility distance in 100s of feet, similar to sky conditions.
- SKC or CLR: Clear (0/8 layer)
- FEW: Few (1/8 – 2/8 layer)
- SCT: Scattered (3/8-4/8 layer)
- BKN: Broken (5/8 – 7/8 layer)
- OVC: Overcast (8/8 layer)
-Optional Information (Wind Shear): WS010/31022KT
If there is windshear, this will follow the sky conditions.
WS indicates windshear.
The height where the windshear is happening is in the 3 digits following WS, which is 100s of feet.
After the slash, the wind direction and speed are shown.
In our example, the windshear is happening at 1,000 ft, coming from roughly Northwest at a speed of 22 knots.
f. Change Terminology (6)
Section 6 shows the changes that will be happening during the timeframe of the TAF. Here are the additional abbreviations used to indicate the change criteria:
-FM: FM091930 30015G25KT 3SM SHRA OVC015
This abbreviation stands for From and shows that there will be a transition happening and when the transition will be happening. This is usually due to a storm moving through the area.
The conditions will remain as shown until the next FM line, if there is one.
In our example, the change in conditions will be happening on the 9th day of the month at 19:30Z. Then, you just read the rest of the conditions as described above.
-TEMPO: TEMPO 0920/0922 1/2SM +TSRA OVC008CB
Tempo stands for temporary, and this is for conditions that will last a short time – usually 1 hour – and happen during a total of less than half of the duration of the TAF.
The time period abbreviation is the same as our valid time example.
Here, TEMPO 0920/0922 means the conditions will be happening on the 9th day of the month between 20:00Z and 22:00Z.
-PROB: PROB30 1004/1007 1SM -RA BR
PROB stands for probability forecast.
This shows the percent chance +/- 10% that a weather event will happen during the given time.
From our example, PROB30 means there is between a 20% and 40% chance that the conditions following the probability would occur.
The numbers following the probability is the timeframe when the conditions would happen.
1004/1007 would be on the 10th day of the month between 4:00Z and 7:00Z.
-BECMG: BECMG 1013/1015 P6SM NSW SKC
BECMG stands for becoming. This denotes a change in conditions, and uses the previous line’s conditions as the starting point.
The date and time of the transition are read the same as others.
In our example, the weather will transition from the previous line to the BECMG conditions on the 10th day of the month between 13:00Z and 15:00Z.
g. Bonus (7 & 8)
In our example, a note is used to indicate how to read the TAF time, and a METAR is posted below the report.
Key Considerations For Successfully Reading TAFs
Here are a few other items to consider outside of just knowing how to read a TAF. These will give you more ideas on information you can research further to improve your understanding of forecasted weather conditions.
Taking it to the Next Level: What Do You Do With This Information?
Now that you know how to read a TAF, what do you do with this information? Ultimately, it all depends on how comfortable you feel with flying in certain weather conditions and whether they meet FAA regulations. If you’re still unsure, consult a professional to determine if the weather conditions are safe for your flight.
Relying on a TAF is important when planning any flight and can help you make informed decisions about fuel consumption, filing accurate flight plans, and determining if certain FAA rules apply to your route.
With practice and repetition, you’ll be able to read a TAF like an expert in no time!
Alternatives to Using TAFs
Before making any decisions based on your TAF reading, make sure to cross-check it against other available forecasts such as surface weather maps or aviation area forecasts. These can provide additional information about the current weather conditions at the airport you’re flying to or near to help you make better decisions.
Wrapping Up, and Our Experience With Reading TAFs
Understanding how to read a TAF is an important skill for any pilot.
Being familiar with the abbreviations and symbols used in a TAF can help you better plan your flight, make informed decisions about fuel consumption, file accurate flight plans, and determine if certain FAA rules apply to your route.
While a TAF should be cross-checked with other available forecasts such as surface weather maps or aviation area forecasts, it is still essential in ensuring that pilots are making safe flying decisions.
With practice and repetition, you will become more comfortable deciphering TAFs and become an expert at reading them in no time.
Good luck! Now go forth and fly safely!