If you’ve ever flown in Alaska or at least examined a sectional chart from the area, you’ve probably noticed the “WX CAM” notation at many airports. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) hosts a web site called FAA Aviation Weather Cameras, providing easy point-and-click access to the many public and third-party live cameras at airports throughout Alaska and Canada.
These WX CAM cameras are refreshed approximately every 10 minutes, and include a timestamp on each image in Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) so that we know exactly when the image was taken.1 Weather in Alaska changes rapidly and can vary amongst such short distances that simple textual weather reports such as Meteorological Terminal Aviation Routine Weather Reports (METARs) are best supplemented by visual data.
On the website, when we click on a location with a camera we get a window that displays the available cameras to view. Once we select a specific camera, another window will populate showing the most recent image, followed by an image taken during a clear day referencing observable landmarks and their relative distance and true altitude. With this information we can compare the two and get a visual understanding of the current conditions. A sectional view is also displayed so that we know which way the available cameras point and their field of view.
Additional functionality includes quick links to the local METAR and Terminal Area Forecast (TAF), Pilot Reports (PIREPs), as well as a time-lapse view of select cameras to get a visual trend representation of the weather at the site.
The FAA reminds us, however, that the WX CAM tool is purely “a supplementary product…” to “only be used to improve situational awareness.”1 To determine weather for flight planning we must still utilize METARs and the other official weather reports obtained from a Flight Service Station (FSS) via the phone, an online official provider such as CSRA Direct User Access Terminal Service (DUATS) or Lockheed Martin Flight Service, or another approved method.
I wish WX CAM was something available at all airports, but for now this product is limited to Alaska and Canada.