Monday, April 28, 2008

Mountain weather

Weather conditions are very changeable in the mountains. This isn't unusual, most of the places I've lived have the saying "if you don't like the current weather, wait 10 minutes". Of course I've lived most of my life in valleys near mountains and lakes or the ocean. In the Puget Sound region, the weather is unpredictable and changeable but the temperature rarely changes that rapidly in the lowlands. Locals therefore are often hard to convince that mountain weather is that much different.

One real danger of mountain weather conditions is the change in temperature that may accompany changes in weather. In the drier mountain areas, a 60 degree F variation during a 24 hour period isn't unusual if the weather is clear. I've met several people from both cold and warmer climates that have been caught unaware and unprepared for such temperature changes. Even more dangerous is a 30 degree drop in temperature combined with wind and precipitation, a set of conditions I've seen several times occur within 2 hours time. Of course I've seen weather go the other way also, from wet and cold to warm and sunny and I've shed layers and wished I didn't dress so warmly. And then it might change back to the cold and wet again.

I remember one hike in Yellowstone NP that started off raining, then the sun came out and died me out. Then the rain started, then sun, then rain, then sun. Three cycles of wet and dry in one 5 hour hike. At least the temperature didn't fall greatly that day. Another hike the temperature was moderate until I got up on the ridge line in the wind. There the perceived temperature was a lot lower. I met a couple on the ridge who were not prepared for the temperature and who were lost. I was glad I was able to direct back to the trail and off the ridge line. As I came down, I noticed the temperature was rapidly dropping even lower. This way in June and it snowed several inches in YNP that night and the next day. Most of the Park was closed, you could only drive to Mammoth and if you were in the Park but someplace else, you could not leave.

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