Basics of METAR codes (interactive)

An introductory guide to understanding the basics of METAR codes for new aviation and meteorology students.
Basics of METAR codes (interactive)

If you’re new to the world of aviation or meteorology, you’ve probably come across the term METAR and wondered, “What in the world does that stand for?” We’re diving into the basics of METAR codes, and I promise to keep it as light and breezy as the winds aloft (sorry).

What is a METAR?

METAR stands for Meteorological Aerodrome Report. It’s essentially a compact snapshot of the weather conditions at an airport or weather station, updated every hour. Pilots, air traffic controllers, and meteorologists use METAR reports to make informed decisions about flight plans, takeoffs, and landings.

Decoding the Code Interactively

At first glance, METAR codes look like a jumble of letters and numbers. But fear not! We have an interactive example. Try hovering over each element to decode.

METAR KPSF 291354Z AUTO 23007KT 200V260 10SM OVC043 M04/M10 A2997 RMK AO2 SLP165 T10391100


Hover over an element to decode!

A typical METAR report starts with the station identifier, a four-letter code that represents the airport or weather station issuing the report. This is followed by the date and time of observation, reported in UTC (Coordinated Universal Time). The format is DDHHMMZ, where DD is the day, HH is the hour, MM is the minute, and Z denotes Zulu time, another name for UTC.

Next, you’ll encounter the wind information, described with five or more digits. The first two or three digits indicate the wind direction in degrees from true north, while the next two digits specify wind speed in knots. If gusts are present, they’re noted by a ‘G’ followed by the gust speed.

Visibility is reported next, in meters or statute miles, showing how far you can see at the airport. This is followed by present weather phenomena, like rain or fog, indicated by standardized abbreviations.

Cloud coverage and types come after, detailing how much of the sky is covered and at what altitude. Cloud coverage is noted by abbreviations such as FEW (few), SCT (scattered), BKN (broken), and OVC (overcast), followed by the altitude in hundreds of feet.

Temperature and dew point are given in degrees Celsius, showing the current air temperature and the temperature at which dew begins to form. This is crucial for understanding the likelihood of icing conditions or fog.

Lastly, the report may include information about pressure, noted as ‘Q’ followed by a four-digit number representing the atmospheric pressure in hectopascals (hPa).

In conclusion, METAR reports provide a detailed view of the current weather conditions, crucial for aviation safety and planning. With practice, decoding them becomes second nature, allowing pilots and meteorologists to make informed decisions based on real-time data.

Want to get into the details? Check out our comphrehensive METAR key.