Flight 4: Sandusky, OH – Niagara Falls, NY
Our planned route of flight would take us along the southeast shore of Lake Erie since I wanted to avoid an extended overwater leg. Mother Nature had other plans (more on this later). When I checked the weather at 10am our planned route was clear, with low-level fog in some places which was expected to burn off soon. Sandusky and Niagara Falls were both in VFR conditions with scattered clouds, and both were forecast to stay that way.
While I was checking the weather, Nancy finished loading up the plane and settling our bill with the FBO. By the time we were ready to depart, it was about 11am. I called Flight Service on the radio from the plane to open our IFR flight plan, and get one last check of the weather. It was fortunate that I did this, since the weather had changed a lot in the last hour. A cluster of thunderstorms had just popped up over Erie, PA (directly on our planned route). I asked the briefer if the direct route from Sandusky for Niagara Falls would keep us away from the storms, and he responded that it would. We got our IFR clearance to Niagara Falls as filed and departed. As soon as I was talking to ATC, I asked for and received a clearance to proceed direct to Niagara Falls to avoid the weather.
We flew above a broken overcast layer and saw glimpses of Lake Erie through breaks in the clouds below. We also spotted the thunderstorms building over Erie, PA and were glad that we changed our route to avoid them. Cleveland Center and Erie Approach were great, and both of them provided small heading changes to keep us far away from the thunderstorms. (The blue line on the map above is our actual ground track from the GPS. You can see the places when we make 5 or 10 degree heading changes as directed by ATC.) As we neared Niagara Falls we were handed over to Buffalo Approach who started issuing descent instructions. The controller wanted to give us vectors for a visual approach, but Phil requested the ILS (instrument landing system) approach since we were flying just below the cloud bases, and the visibility was about 4 miles. I thought about accepting the visual approach since we actually did see the airport, but I decided we would be better off flying the instrument approach since the clouds were low and we were going into an unfamiliar airport. As we were maneuvering for the approach, I discovered a great view of the Falls off the left wing. I was concerned about distracting Phil while he was flying the busy approach and chose not to share what I had found. The Falls were just too grand to miss … he spotted the roaring mist within minutes.
Phil made another smooth landing in a strong crosswind, and we parked at Tech Aviation. We unloaded the plane, and waited inside for our Enterprise rental car to arrive. Within 10 minutes, a powerful rainshower began. It was really pouring. A Cessna landed shortly after we did and the two-person crew chose to wait out the showers in their aircraft because of the downpour intensity. Inside the building at Tech Aviation, the linemen were looking around for umbrellas to help escort the stranded visitors out of their plane without getting soaked.
The rainshower was very unexpected and counter to the forecast weather at Niagara Falls. That was surprising, since forecasters tend to be pretty good in predicting weather 12-24 hours in advance. Mother Nature didn’t read the weather forecast. I was glad we had unloaded the plane and settled inside before the pouring rain started.
The folks at Tech Aviation recommended that we stay on the Canadian side of the Falls. The views are better from that side, and we had a great room at the Sheraton with a view of the falls. We did a little touring around today, despite the rain. Tomorrow we have a full day to play and take in the sites.
Explore Niagara Falls (US & Canada)
There are lots of touristy things to do in Niagara Falls (big surprise). We had a great view of the falls from our room, but looking in the other direction reminded us of Las Vegas! There were all kinds of blinking lights, rides, and other attractions designed to separate visitors from their money. We stayed away from all of those and did a lot of walking around the Falls themselves. There were two tourist things we did do: the Maid of the Mist and the Journey Behind the Falls. A boat ride on the Maid of the Mist is a must when visiting the Falls, and it’s been an attraction there since 1846. Cheesy blue raincoats are issued to all ticket holders in an effort to keep you dry. They actually do a good job even though you feel like you’re wearing a plastic drycleaning bag. You will get wet since the boat gets quite close to the bottom of the Falls. We also got a yellow version of the same raincoat for the Journey Behind the Falls where we went through tunnels that were cut behind the falls for a unique view. On both trips there were one or two folks who thought they didn’t really need to wear the raincoats. They got very very very wet.
The next part is about our final leg to Boston.