Springing into spring

2011-03-16 23:29:55.000 – Ryan Knapp,  Staff Meteorologist

Still winter up here.

The changes in the season are slowly creeping up on us. While astronomical spring and the vernal equinox won’t happen for a few more days (Sunday, March 20th at 7:21 pm EDT), there are other subtle signs that keep popping up that spring and inevitably summer are just around the corner. The first is daylight savings. This past Sunday, daylight savings sprung most clocks in New England up an hour making for a “longer day” (although that’s debatable in the grand scheme of things). It also brings the inevitable frustration we’ve wrote about before of “valley time” vs “summit time” since the summit does not recognize day light savings due to our record keeping. But time isn’t the only thing going through change.

The scenery is slowly changing as well. While the summits are still draped in white, the valleys below are changing. Snow packs are diminishing and more and more patches of dirt and dirty snow are rearing their heads. In no time, my least favorite season, mud season, will be rearing its ugly head around the state. But from the mud comes life that springs forth from it. Plants are slowly springing back to life after months of slumber. Flowers and buds are beginning to poke through the snow at my house like a friendly wave of hello from a long lost friend. Warming huts are coming off the frozen lakes and melt out contests are popping up around the state. Snow mobile roars as they dash across the various trails around my house are being replaced by the chirps and songs of birds as they dash across the sky.

The change in the scenery comes with the change in the weather. Average temperatures are slowly creeping up from winter lows to their summer highs. The warmer temperatures mean snow storms are slowly being replaced with spring rain storms. And as rain rolls in, more and more snow will inevitably melt out with more and more mud taking its place. But, thankfully this transition usually takes some time in the higher elevations allowing people to still enjoy the spring snow packs in the coming months. But the change in the weather is something everyone should be mindful of if heading out to play on these spring snow packs.

While weather is something that people should be mindful of in any season, the shoulder seasons of spring and fall always seem to increase poor decision making in the back country. In the dead of winter, hikers start off in the cold and realize that it’s only going to get colder the higher they go so they usually prepare for it. In the summer, not as many people realize that it will get colder and more severe (usually) the higher they go but the weather is (usually) more forgiving. But spring and fall brings a mix of “nice” and “bad” weather all within a span of 4000 feet or within a span of hours. The nice weather in the valleys draws people to the bases of the mountain and tricks some of them to under pack and head out grossly unprepared which gets them into trouble as they start to head into the bad weather higher up. An example of this would be today.

While the base wasn’t ideal it wasn’t bad either. It was in the 40’s with light snow and rain under cloudy skies while the summit was in contrast in dense freezing fog with snow, blowing snow, moderate winds and temperatures hovering in the 20s. While only a difference of 20 degrees or so, it is enough of a difference to be noticed if you packed inappropriately. What I mean by “packed inappropriately” is this: A cotton sweatshirt (or cotton in general) is a poor choice. Sneakers are a poor choice. Jeans are a poor choice. No beanie or gloves what so ever is a poor choice. Only one 20 ounce bottle of water is a poor choice. Starting off from the base at noon is a poor choice (for most). Climbing without an ice axe is a poor choice. Climbing alone can be a poor choice. Hiking without a map is a poor choice. Hiking without a headlamp or flashlight, regardless of your departure time, is a poor choice. Hiking without telling people where you are going is a bad choice. Continuing up into deteriorating weather expecting us or others to “save the day” is a bad choice. Depending solely on your cell phone as a safety net is a poor choice. Not checking any weather report at all is a poor choice. And I’m sure I can go on and on. But these are the big ones we most commonly hear about and see up here.

So please, use the internet for help in preparing for your hike or if on a trail and you see someone grossly unprepared, speak up and let them know. The last thing any of us want is for another name to be added to the list. And while accidents do happen, with a bit more common sense and looking out for others in the mountain community, most issues we deal with can be avoided allowing spring to be a safe and enjoyable season for everyone seeking it out.


Ryan Knapp,  Staff Meteorologist

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