Q:

How can I best predict sudden weather changes in the mountains?

What would work better for “predicting” sudden weather changes in the mountains: a cheap weather radio, or an all-in-one watch like the Suunto Core? I'm not sure if the weather radio will work in the mountains. On the other hand, the watch is pretty expensive. Steve Redmond, Washington

Oct 31, 2007
Outside
Outside Magazine
Suunto Core Watch

Core Watch

A:

Well, let me ask you this: Let’s say you’re confronted with a “sudden weather change." What exactly are you going to do? Run for the car? Pull out an umbrella? I mean, weather happens. Better to be prepared for it than expect to dodge it.

That said, I’m more than a little bit of a weather junkie, so there certainly are some things you can do. I do like the weather radio bit, for instance. Midland makes a pretty good one called the 74-250C ($35; midlandradio.com), which receives all the NOAA weather channels. I won’t guarantee reception everywhere, but you should do OK in most places.

I also think it reasonable to have a pocket altimeter. Any garden-variety altimeter watch offers that feature, because, after all, an altimeter is simply a barometer with different calibration. Brunton’s Nomad V2 Pro ($139; brunton.com) is accurate and compact, although not wristwatch-size. It also has a compass feature, so is a useful gadget. Suunto’s Core I find rather pricey at $250 (suunto.com), but it’s a nice instrument and very accurate. But an altimeter/barometer doesn’t “forecast" the weather any more than a watch forecasts the future. They simply detect changes in barometric pressure, which in turn may indicate changes in the weather.

But there are lots of other resources. You have a Washington state address so maybe you do a lot of trips around here. The regional National Weather Service web site (wrh.noaa.gov/sew/) offers detailed forecasters’ short- and long-term discussions, giving you a heads-up on weather that’s a week out. This is a tough area in which to forecast, but I’ve found their forecasts for 48 hours and less to be extremely accurate. Those from 48 to 96 hours are reasonably accurate; anything from 96 hours out is a decent guess but subject to change. The forecasters would agree with this assessment, I’m sure. So right away you can leave the house with a good snapshot of what’s going to happen. The weather radio may give you more updates.

Then, I always recommend learning to read the weather yourself. Really, “sudden" weather changes aren’t that sudden. There typically are lots of atmospheric tips that something is in the works. Get a copy of KING-TV weather guy Jeff Renner’s excellent book, Mountain Weather: Backcountry Forecasting and Weather Safety For Hikers, Campers, Climbers, Skiers, and Snowboarders. It’s $15 (buy it at amazon.com), and with a few reads you’ll be divining the sky like a seasoned pro.

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