Mother Nature can have a big impact on your outdoor experiences and make the difference between an adventure that’s right as rain and a hot mess (or worse, downright dangerous). Luckily, many tools are available nowadays for up-to-the-hour, mostly accurate, and accessible forecasts to keep us safer and more prepared in the backcountry. Below learn tips on how to check the weather before a hike and ensure you are reading a weather forecast accurately and effectively.
At Uplift, Mountain Forecast is one of the many weather tools we use to prepare for our adventures. In this blog post, we explore some of the relevant indicators to help you decipher what they mean and why they’re important—and why you should look at more than just the temperature.
For a look at other helpful weather forecasting tools, check out our blog post, Safe hiking: Four ways to check the weather before a trek.
Weather forecast metrics to check before a hike
Pick the mountain closest to your adventure and consider these indicators. This will help you learn how to check the weather before a hike.
For most mountains, the tool will give you options to select an elevation for your forecast, either at the peak or at lower elevations. For Crowsnest Mountain, for example, we can select from the base (2,000 metres) and the peak (2,785 metres). Why is this important?
You can imagine that a forecast at the peak of the mountain will be different from the valley bottom. If you are summitting, you should be prepared for those harsher and more exposed conditions. Although, you may experience an inversion, where the temperature is cooler in the valley bottom and warmer up top. We’ve had a few ski days like this, and it’s always a treat!
Wind speed and direction
Observe the wind and which direction it’s coming from. Why is this important?
The wind speed can help you decide whether to start a particular adventure or not. This is especially important to any location along the eastern slopes of Alberta, where inclement weather can roll in very quickly.
For example, if you see wind speeds of 100 km/hr up on a ridge, you may want to reconsider your trip. Nobody wants to be on a ridge with winds of that strength. Or, if you see wind speeds around 40 km/hr, you might decide to pick an adventure in a forested area as opposed to one that was recently burned.
Wind direction can also help you determine if a storm is coming in and where it’s coming from. This trend is area-specific and when you start paying attention to the weather, you may begin to see patterns in your region.
At Uplift Adventures, the South Canadian Rockies are our backyard playground and we’re very familiar with this area. If we are getting a storm from the east, we know that it often comes with a great deal of precipitation.
Evaluate the type and amount of precipitation predicted. Why is this important?
Precipitation will help you determine how to check the weather before a hike and the overhead hazards to prepare for. Are you getting heavy rains or just a drizzle? Thunderstorms? What time are you expecting a thunderstorm? Will your visibility of the trail or route-finding be reduced due to this weather event? Can you time your adventure so that you can be in a safe spot when that weather comes in?
This is where viewing multiple weather forecasts can really dial in your skills and knowledge before your adventure and help you decide what to pack (although, we always recommend that you prepare for all possible weather types, regardless of what the forecast says).
This is the metric most people focus on. While the highs and lows are important, be sure to also review the wind chill to get the best understanding of what conditions will feel like. Why is this important?
Temperature will help you pack accordingly based on your adventure. For example, if you know it’s going to be a 30 degree Celsius day and you are hiking along a ridge, you will want to pack extra water to accommodate for this higher temperature and exposed trek. Or, if the weather forecast says it will be -20 degrees Celsius and your toes get cold easily, you will want to consider bringing heated socks or toe warmers and wear your insulated boots.
The freeze level determines the elevation at which the temperature is 0 degrees. In the wintertime, it will often say zero metres but in the shoulder seasons, it is common to read the freeze level at different elevations. Why is this important?
Consider this scenario: the freeze level says 1,700 metres and you are planning a hike up Turtle Mountain in Crowsnest Pass. You see that there is some precipitation in the forecast. Crowsnest Pass, the townsite, is around 1,300 metres in elevation and the top of Turtle Mountain is 2,210 metres.
This means that when you start your hike at 1,300 metres, you will likely be experiencing rain but when you reach 1,700 metres in elevation, that rain will turn into a wet snow. You might decide to take a rain check on Turtle Mountain, or pack differently based on what you learned.
Sunrise and sunset
Another piece of information that is often overlooked is the time of sunset and sunrise. Why is this important?
This is especially relevant in the winter months and for long adventures. In the winter, we have less daylight and when we encounter snow, our travel times increase. Plan your adventure to take full advantage of the daylight, and prepare for being in the dark if you think your adventure will go past sunset.
Weather is a fickle beast, but not impossible to understand how to check the weather before a hike. If you learn to interpret reliable weather tools like Mountain Forecast, apply your findings to your outdoor adventure, and prepare for the unexpected, you can make your hike a safer and more successful one, come rain or shine. Happy adventuring!