Weather Basics for Backpackers

This is one weather forecast you can rely on: A few days when you are deep in the backcountry, the weather tends to change suddenly.

Snow can fall in medium heights in August. A sudden downpour will strike on your ridgeline as you’re still able to see sun beaming on a remote peak. Fog and clouds may cling to a shore despite the fact that sunlight is shining full force only a half-mile inland.

Unpredictable weather is an inherent danger in wilderness journey.

Think Ahead

It is impossible to know for sure exactly what the weather is going to do, even on day hikes. Accordingly, a little common sense and a careful attitude are just two of the most essential items that you may bring with you to the backcountry.

  • Carry reputable rain gear and various layers of clothes you may wear in line with the requirements of this moment.
  • Explore a region’s historic weather patterns before you travel. If you’re planning to increase in Colorado’s Never Summer Wilderness, by way of instance, it is a fantastic bet you will need over a tank top to your excursion. Speak to rangers; telephone ranger stations in progress; ask locals as soon as you’re from the field; place a notice in REI’s Community department requesting input from other hikers; consult books.
  • Stay informed during your journey. A small AM radio could pick up several channels after dark, even deep in the backcountry. You could have the ability to listen to a channel that is located inside the area you’re exploring. Local forecasts are generally announced close to the top of every hour.

Keep Your Eye on the Sky

Look closely at improvements in the skies. The shapes and motions of clouds usually foreshadow changes in the weather like the coming of warm fronts and cold fronts.

Warm Fronts

Warm fronts are described as hot air masses which slowly push and replace warmer bodies of atmosphere. Warm fronts, which go at about half the rate of cold fronts, seldom create violent weather, but the precipitation they create may linger for extended periods. Warm fronts advance from thin, high-tech cirrus clouds to dense, compact stratus clouds:

Cirrus clouds: These thin, streaky or wispy clouds occasionally resemble white brush strokes onto a blue canvas top in the skies. They may precede front by as many as 48 hours.

Cirrocumulus clouds arrive next, frequently appearing as little puffs or rippled rows, followed closely by cirrostratus clouds, which are inclined to wallpaper large regions of blue skies with thin, glowing sheets of clouds. Coupled with ice crystals, cirrostratus clouds often cause a halo to form round sunlight. Both cloud kinds float in the skies.\

Cirrostratus clouds

Altostratus (compact, smoky appearing, mid-level) and nimbostratus (grey, thick, low-level) clouds come next and generally take the precipitation, anything from a drizzle to a continuous snow or rain. Low-hanging, monochromatic stratus clouds take moisture and frequently resemble sea fog.

Cold Fronts

Cold fronts demand cold air masses which wedge beneath warmer air pockets. Cold fronts can grow rapidly and proceed quickly, causing temperatures to fall, end directions to change and barometric pressure to collapse.

Cumulus clouds are white, puffy, fair-weather clouds. Should these puffs continue to build upward, though, rain may come late in the day.

Cumulonimbus clouds grow vertically and extend dramatically in their first white, puffy foundations to soar high into the upper atmosphere. On other occasions their shirts will sew into a menacing, anvil-like form. These vintage “thunderhead” clouds foretell potentially severe weather. Cumulonimbus clouds additionally form independent of cold fronts, blossoming at the day hours of very hot days and generating late-afternoon thunderstorms.

Hint: When late-day storms turned into a routine throughout your journey, rise early every day and cover as much ground as possible throughout the day’s more secure hours.

Altimeters: If you take you, or wear an altimeter watch, an approaching cold front may cause your altitude reading to grow even when you’re not moving. If you become aware of this type of rise, this implies air pressure has diminished (indicating thinner atmosphere at a higher altitude ). This is a sign that poor weather may be on its way.


The National Weather Service estimates that 100,000 thunderstorms happen in the USA annually. Lightning is found in most thunderstorms, because lightning causes thunder. How? A bolt of lightning causes the atmosphere around it to contract and expand together with immense force, making a whistling noise.

Within the last 30 years through 2008, the U.S. has averaged 62 reported deaths and 300 injuries each year from radar, throughout the National Weather Service. A lightning attack sends an electric current radiating throughout the floor over a large region. This “floor current” is normally the deadly force in storm-related deaths.

Never take an electric storm . If lightning threatens while You’re in the backcountry, take immediate actions:

  • Move away from a tall, solitary tree or some other lone, tall thing. Isolated high-tech items are likely hit points for lightning. Lightning will attack prominent topographic attributes. In threatening weather, steer away from large points and vulnerable regions. Head for reduced floor.
  • Separate yourself from metal or graphite items, such as external-frame packs, ice axes, hiking sticks and crampons.
  • Keep from shallow caves or overhangs. Lightning’s present easily jumps across openings and may shock somebody standing from the mouth of a cave.
  • Insulate yourself in the floor; sit an internal-frame package or sleeping pad. Or crouch on the floor with your feet . If a floor current reaches you, then it probably will travel just through your own feet. Don’t lie down (because it enlarges your contact with the floor ).
  • Have associates in your party distribute by 25 feet, further if possible.
  • A hit victim can be restored by CPR.
  • Where’s the ideal place to be? Within a set of trees of approximately uniform elevation in a low-lying region or, as another choice, at a low place of an open meadow.

How near is that lightning? Utilize your time and watch the period between the flash of lightning and the noise of thunder. Thunder travels around a mile every five minutes (or about 1,000 feet per minute ). If it takes 10 minutes for the sound to reach you after a flash, then the storm is just two miles away. If this period is shorter next period, the storm is drawing nearer.

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