Chris and I just got back from another great backpacking trip in the Catskills. September is a great time to hike and backpack. The weather is cooler and colors are changing, not to mention the kids are back in school, so the trails are less crowded. One of the things we keep an eye on is the weather forecast.
Why? According to the National Weather Service on their website they state, “What hazards are most common in the fall? Drought, floods, fog, hurricanes, solar flares, wildfires, wind and winter storms”. Remember, we are now in meteorological fall. That’s a lot of possible weather!
But really, I’d like to know if I’m going to gaze at the stars or hunker down in the tent! It helps us adequately plan for our trip, both gear and mentally.
We use many resources but two worth mentioning that gives us reliable predictions for mountain areas and summit conditions are the National Weather Service (NWS) and mountain-forecast.com.
The NWS is a great resource but provides little in the way of summit-specific information. You can search your mountain or click on the areas topo map to try to get a better look at the forecast, but it will generate the forecast for the area, not the summit.
Mountain-forecast.com, on the other hand, is built to search specific summits. The services use an algorithm to create the predictions. On their website, they state “Our weather algorithms are thoroughly tested and proven to work well for thousands of mountain ski resorts”. Having said that, the hiker should note they also warn “While this information may be indispensable in planning your ascent, please treat it critically and verify against other sources.” That’s why we use the NWS and mountain-forecast.com.
National Weather Service
The NWS is a wealth of information. Even though you may not get the high summit conditions, you’ll get much more. High summit conditions are important, but most of us spend very little time on the summits compared to our approach hikes. At least here in the Northeast. Of course, this excludes mountain ranges where you can spend an extensive time above treeline (i.e., Presidential Range, NH)
Besides daily weather forecasts, the NSW is the go-to place for storm prediction and river forecast (which includes snow pack). They also issue event-driven alerts for all types of hazardous weather. Finally, they monitor fire weather and will issue red-flag warnings which alert us to conditions favorable to wildland fires.
With each place searched, you will get your forecast summary both graphics and written.
In the right column, it will show you your forecast site or “point forecast”.
You will also find a link below the Point Forecast that leads to a forecast discussion which is very useful.
Mountain-forecast.com is designed to be focused on a specific area and weather – a mountain at two points of elevation. The one we are usually most interested in is the summit. When camping or spending any significant time at high elevation you should be aware of the potential weather. Remember a sunny warm day in the valley and a cold day on the summits is not uncommon.
Using mountain-forecast.com is fairly straight forward, use the drop-down menu feature to find your peak or peaks and you will be brought to a home page for the summit which will have navigation to other information about the mountain beside weather.
The summit forecast gives great information broken down by day and AM / PM / Night. Beside a 6-day summary, for each period you will get the wind, snow, rain, high/low temperatures with the wind chill, and freezing level.
There are linked maps that show pressure, temperature, cloud cover, the wind, and precipitation. The maps use a slide bar to predict a 10 day period with various times on each day.
At the bottom of your summit’s main page, you’ll find a handy topo map showing rivers & roads. Below this there are links to the 10 closest mountain in their database.
There is also links to current conditions for local weather stations which the site says is live (updated hourly).
Using the NWS and mountain-forecast.com in our opinion will offer you will a wealth of information that will help you plan your outing.
How did they fare?
We wanted to see how they did while out on this trip. We gathered some data and compared it to our forecast. On each day we collected data at specific times.
We made note of temperature, estimated cloud cover, winds (gusty, windy, breezy, light, still). and marked the time of any rain we experienced when it started and ended. Not real scientific, but good enough. When we got back we looked at the data and made a comparison. What we found is below.
|Our Temp||High 72|
|NWS Prediction||AM High 73 |
PM Low 47
|AM High 68|
PM Low 46
|AM High 68
PM Low 52
|Mountain-forecast.com Prediction||AM High 63|
PM Low 59
|AM High 54|
PM Low 48
|AM High 57
PM Low 50
|Our Cloud Cover||AM Clear / PM Clouds||Sunny/Clear||Sunny/Clear|
|NWS Prediction||AM Cloudy / |
PM Partly cloudy
|AM Sunny / PM Clear||AM Sunny / PM Clear|
|Mountain-forecast.com Prediction||AM Clear / PM Clouds||AM Clear / PM Clear||AM Clear / PM Clear|
|Our Wind Conditions||Gusty winds||Calm||Calm - Light|
|NWS Prediction||Winds 8 - 13 mph||Winds 7 - 10||?|
|Mountain-forecast.com Prediction||Winds 20 - 25 mph||Winds 0 - 5||Winds 5 - 10|
|NWS Prediction||Chance of showers |
after 2 pm
and before 8 pm
|Mountain-forecast.com Prediction||Rain showers at night||None||None|
Given the many factors that play into predictions and actual ground readings, we found both sources to be reliable. It should be noted that on Wednesday it did rain in the Catskills, just not at our location.