Boats vs hiking

2007-09-27 04:38:59.000 – Ryan Knapp,  Staff Meteorologist

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When I headed out onto the water of the Gulf of Mexico this past week off the summit, I was paying a keen eye to the weather models and reports. As I drifted on the waters two hours off shore, I came to the realization that I was depending on a forecast produced by someone else, much like most hikers depend on our forecast when they head up to the higher terrain of the summits.

So how did I read their forecasts? I started with a weather synopsis, or what the big picture was, and then focused on the hours that would affect me during my nine hour trip. I started by reading that high pressure would be the dominate feature providing nice weather. So far everything sounded keen to me. Next up, clouds. Clouds were expected to be mostly clear. Being a pasty night observer, that meant sunscreen and protective clothing. Next up, was temperature. Temperatures were going to be in the upper 80s to lower 90s with high relatively humidity, translating to an uncomfortable heat index. That meant fresh water, lots and lots of water. Last up, were winds. Winds were to be east around 5 mph becoming variable and light. That meant water would turn almost to glass, or in other words, low doses of Dramamine. All in all, it was shaping to be a great day to go fishing in the gulf.

When hikers are heading up to the summit of Mt Washington, or anywhere on the higher summits, I hope that they go through the same process. Scan the 36 hour forecast starting with the big picture and scaling down to the time frame they are interested in. The big picture is useful to know what will be bringing in or out the weather. This helps determine what kind of precipitation may be coming as well. Next up, are clouds and fog. If there is going to be clouds or fog, this will help in packing and deciding what to bring and wear. Next up is temperature. This plays a crucial role in deciding what will be worn or packed for changing conditions. Lastly, are the winds. With a location famous for its winds, this should be one of the most important elements. This determines how tough it will be to stand and in the winter, how much visibility may be reduced from blowing snow or the more dangerous factor of wind chills.

We provide all these elements but essentially it all comes down to the end user to decide what to do on their own. Each person has a comfort level and each person should be aware of their body’s request. If the voice in the back of your head is saying that it is probably safer to turn back, don’t ignore it. You can pack the latest GPS, cell phone, weather instruments, etc. and read every scrap of weather forecasts available but what it essentially comes down to is how you process the information. If anything, hopefully this story shows that even meteorologist like to read what other meteorologist are saying when they are on vacation before taking on an activity so far from the safety of base camp/shore.

 

Ryan Knapp,  Staff Meteorologist

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