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How to Read a Surface Analysis Chart

Reading a surface analysis chart is crucial for pilots as it provides vital information about current and forecasted weather conditions, which is essential for flight planning and decision-making. Here's a detailed explanation on how pilots can read a surface analysis chart:



The Basics

  • A surface analysis chart depicts weather conditions at the Earth's surface, including information on temperature, atmospheric pressure, wind direction, wind speed, and the presence of fronts and high and low weather systems.

Interpreting Isobars and Pressure Systems

  • Isobars are lines that connect points of equal atmospheric pressure. High pressure areas are labeled with "H" and low pressure areas with "L".

  • As a pilot, you should pay attention to the spacing between isobars as it indicates the pressure gradient. Closer isobars would suggest stronger winds and more turbulent conditions (found in northeastern Montana in the chart above), while wider spacing indicates calmer winds (found in Georgia above).

  • High-pressure systems generally bring fair weather and light winds due to descending air and dissipating weather, while low-pressure systems are associated with more variable weather and potentially hazardous conditions such as turbulence, convective activity, and reduced visibility caused by ascending air.

Fronts and Weather Features

  • Fronts are boundaries between air masses with of different temperature and humidity. They depict areas of various weather conditions.

  • Cold fronts are depicted by blue lines with triangles pointing towards the direction of movement (warmer air mass). They cause a change in weather. Weather caused by cold fronts can include precipitation, thunderstorms, turbulence, and strong winds.

  • Warm fronts are depicted by red lines with semicircles pointing towards the direction of movement (colder air). They move slower than cold fronts, bringing a more gradual change. Weather caused by warm fronts can include prolonged periods of cloudiness, precipitation, and potential icing conditions.

  • Pilots should also be weary of other weather features such as: stationary fronts, occluded fronts, and troughs, as these can require a change in flight planning.

Considerations for Flight Planning

  • It is essential to reference other weather observations and forecasts, such as METARs, TAFs, wind aloft, and other major weather tools. The surface analysis chart is a good tool for choosing a route of flight, understanding what weather to expect along a given route, and for estimating wind directions and velocities in the initial steps of route selection.

Monitoring charts

  • Weather conditions can change, so it is important for pilots to continuously monitor surface analysis charts, along with forecasted prognostic charts.

  • It's extremely important to monitor current weather conditions during the flight to determine if the weather is as forecasted, or if a deviation may be necessary.



Pilots can improve their ability to make informed decisions which can increase overall safety and efficiency of flights. Practice and familiarity with surface analysis charts are essential for pilots regardless of their level of skill or experience. One way to increase and maintain these skills is to take a look at the surface analysis chart daily and observe the weather in your area. Watching weather change and connecting visual observations to the chart is great practice for real world scenarios.


If you have any questions please reach out to us at (603) 380-9951 to connect with one of our instructors for further explanation.

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