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Mountain Weather Forecasts for Hikers

Posted: Aug 05, 2015 by Sam Szarka

Never Summer wilderness sunset

Increasing clouds and chance of heavy rain in the afternoon. These are the foreboding words a backpacker does not want to hear but that are often forecasted for Colorado’s mountains in late summer. The weather phenomenon is known as the North American monsoon, and it affects the Colorado Rocky Mountains from July into early September with afternoon thunderstorms and dangerous lightning. So just how does one plan a trip with such unpredictable weather?

Since no one enjoys spending days in a tent while it pours outside, for hikers, accurate weather forecasts are critical. The popular weather outlets (Accuweather, Weather.com) might seem like good first choices, but one quickly realizes that their forecasts tend to be too generic to be of much use in the high country where altitude makes weather forecasting difficult. Forecasts on Weather.com for example, are accurate down to the zipcode or city/town level. But weather in Colorado can vary significantly over short distances. A forecast for the city of Denver will no longer be valid in the twelve thousand foot high peaks immediately to the west. There has to be a better way.

TrailForecast

Fortunately, there are better alternatives. Joel Gratz, a young meteorologist and internet entrepreneur, began OpenSnow.com to forecast fresh powder for Colorado skiers and powder junkies. After gaining a reputation in the skiing community for accurate powder forecasts with his casual, yet witty Colorado Daily Snow blog, Joel and his team in the summer of 2015 launched TrailForecast.com. The a website is geared toward delivering a Colorado mountain weather forecast to your email inbox twice a week. I use the service myself and find it quite useful for planning my trips. Joel writes the emails himself and includes forecasts for all of the major mountain ranges in the Colorado Rockies. Visit TrailForecast.com to sign up for Joel’s twice weekly forecasts.

LongsPeak_forecast

Another key tool for any backpacker or hiker is the tried and true National Weather Service website www.weather.gov. The NWS website’s powerful point-forecast feature allows users to click on an interactive map and will serve up a forecast for the selected point. For example, clicking on Longs Peak, in Rocky Mountain National Park, will bring up a forecast like this: Longs Peak, Colorado forecast. In fact, you can click on any point on a map of the United States, and the NWS website will return a tailored forecast for that specific 1.6 square mile area, even if it is a remote mountain peak in the middle of Colorado. This is a powerful tool that can be used to retrieve 5 day weather forecasts for remote spots.

To retrieve a point forecast. Visit Weather.gov and click on a point on the map of United States, or enter a city name or zipcode in the box. A forecast will be displayed on the next page. Look for the square map located in the right sidebar. The map shows a highlighted green square indicating the location area that the forecast has been generated for. Scrolling around on the map and clicking on a new point will load a new forecast.

forecast_box1

NWS Point Forecast Map Tool