GearTools & Tech
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

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.

Suunto Core Watch

Core Watch

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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Filed To: Adventure Electronics
Lead Photo: courtesy, Suunto
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