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Spotting Weather

FAQ and threads for those just starting to hike the Colorado 14ers.
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Spotting Weather

Postby leafmiles » Mon Jul 15, 2013 12:05 am

hey all,

i'm a northeast hiker with plans to hike some of the 14ers out of chicago basin, unfortunately, right in the heart of 'monsoon season'. now i know we're risking the eventuality of a complete washout. but let's say we head into the basin having read forecasts for the usual late day thunderstorm. i'm wondering, what are you experienced 14ers accustomed to seeing on the horizon, let's say, when you get up near ridge-line, a few hours or minutes before something nasty rolls in? and, any of you who are particularly familiar with conditions around the needle mountains, does everything tend to come from the west?

in many years of hiking in the east, on only one or two occasions has a clear day turned nasty on me. and if we hear thunder roll we're usually tucked into thick pine forests and rarely caught by surprise above tree line. we tend to put up with a lot of wet weather.

last year in the sangres we lucked out during monsoon season and had two perfect days to get my first two 14ers. so i don't want to be discouraged too easily, but i'm chalking last year's trip up to beginner's luck.

i'm aware of the weather links. those will be the last things i visit before we presumably travel out the service area.

thanks for the great site and any advice you're willing to share.

- miles

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Re: Spotting Weather

Postby sue personett » Mon Jul 15, 2013 12:33 am

Dear leafmiles,
Start early. I can't stress this enough. Perfectly clear days can get very nasty during monsoon season. The clouds usually build gradually starting at and around 9 AM sometimes earlier and they can explode upward as day continues to heat up. Towering clouds with very dark bottoms are not good. Some storms roll in but others simply develop right over you as you are working your way up a 14er. Last year in the San Juans it seemed like we had a thunderstorm every afternoon by about 1:30 PM or 2 PM. I remember a particularly bad hail storm up in Ruby Basin. :shock: Start early and keep your eyes to the sky. Have fun.
Namaste
Sue

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Re: Spotting Weather

Postby jdorje » Mon Jul 15, 2013 12:36 am

Looking at the horizon does not help. Weather forms above the mountains; it does not get blown in from far away.
-Jason Dorje Short

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Re: Spotting Weather

Postby leafmiles » Mon Jul 15, 2013 12:46 am

Great advice! thanks. will definitely keep both your comments in mind.

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Re: Spotting Weather

Postby Garrett » Mon Jul 15, 2013 7:34 am

When you're watching your weather forecast before the trip keep in mind that 30% chance of rain seems normal for monsoon and indicates you'll have your normal afternoon rain. 40-50% chance of rain usually means the same but you might get rain earlier in the day and you need to try and get off the peak earlier. That is certainly not exact and may be my own superstition but it seems to hold true when I look at the weather before going out.
If you wake up and there are some clouds in the morning don't worry (most times) once the sun comes up they will burn off to clear sky, if they don't disappear pay attention, the storms could build earlier. Best way to deal with the weather here is to plan your days to be down by 12-1 and you'll be fine with a typical Colorado monsoon pattern. Thunder and lightning can be pretty scary and dangerous so if you hear thunder it's time to evaluate where you are and what you should do, I think the broad sweeping advice is to head down at that point.

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Re: Spotting Weather

Postby TCUTED » Mon Jul 15, 2013 7:49 am

Best Tip I can give you: Monitor Trends.

Beware cloudless mornings, on these days:
-Take note of the time the first wispy clouds form above the mountains
-Note when cumulus clouds start to form, are they isolated little puffs? or are they widespread - This can be a good indication of storm coverage later.
-Keep an eye on any cloud clusters that start to merge together and grow taller/thicker than surrounding clouds, these are likely going to be the first ones to become storms
-Watch darker cloud bases for the presence of precipitation or virga, once this starts storms are not too far behind.
-Be aware on steep slopes that obstruct your view; just because it's nice on your side of the mountain doesn't mean it is on the other side.

The presence of mid-level, alto cumulus or lenticular clouds in the morning is indicative of a larger scale weather system, storms will often form earlier, and be more widespread on these days, though most of the same rules from above apply.

All this in mind, Sue is right, START EARLY. The first lightning will generally start somewhere between 10:00am and 3:00pm, so if you are on your way down by 10:30, you are likely pretty safe (a general rule of thumb is off the summits by 11-noon). Also, storms that are around in the morning, typically are not as strong as the ones in the afternoon, so while you might get rain (and graupel/hail if you are high enough), you likely won't get electricity.

Hope these help!

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Re: Spotting Weather

Postby skiwall » Mon Jul 15, 2013 8:01 am

Garrett wrote: If you wake up and there are some clouds in the morning don't worry (most times) once the sun comes up they will burn off to clear sky, if they don't disappear pay attention, the storms could build earlier.


Be super careful in these conditions, especially if we're not in a typical monsoon pattern. If you have high clouds or thin clouds in the morning, that's another story. If you can't tell how deep they are (because they're right over you and you can only see grey cloud bottom), you should be more concerned. These are situations where you can get storms much earlier (like 10 am).
"A good woman knows her place is in the backcountry." - PW '08

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Re: Spotting Weather

Postby Dan_Suitor » Mon Jul 15, 2013 8:05 am

I was on the top of Mt. of the Holy Cross this last Saturday and some guy with a barometer kept saying he thought everything was fine because his barometer was going up, not down. I’m no Meteorologist and this might have held true for that particular moment in time, but a few hours later the skies opened up. We were safely back in the truck by 2, but I know there were still a lot of people on the mountain when the rain rolled in.

I agree with the others. Start early. Calculate your start time by you expected summit time based on your average pace. On a typical 14er during monsoon season, I’d say you would want to summit by 9-10am, and return by around 1 pm. If you stick to this, you should be safe.

Be careful. Last year somebody from Canada died climbing in the Chicago Basin area. My understanding is that they were trying to gain one additional peak that particular day, and got caught in a nasty storm around 2pm.

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Re: Spotting Weather

Postby ChrisinAZ » Mon Jul 15, 2013 8:25 am

This is something I only saw in Chicago Basin, so it might be relevant...one day we were there, with a 5 AM start from camp, there were mostly thinly-overcast but nonthreatening skies above, 40% chance of rain after noon. The clouds slowly got thicker to the point we could no longer see through them, but only slightly darker and nothing that looked too concerning; we couldn't see any cumulus clouds, and these sorts were thin and blanket-like. Turns out we got hit with a fast-moving t-storm with graupel at 10:30 in the morning atop Eolus. So yes--start early!
"If trees could scream, would we be so cavalier about cutting them down? We might, if they screamed all the time, for no good reason."
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Re: Spotting Weather

Postby Scott P » Mon Jul 15, 2013 8:26 am

I was on the top of Mt. of the Holy Cross this last Saturday and some guy with a barometer kept saying he thought everything was fine because his barometer was going up, not down. I’m no Meteorologist and this might have held true for that particular moment in time, but a few hours later the skies opened up.


A barometer usually has nothing to do with summer thunderstorms in Colorado. A barometer is used for detecting frontal passages, not t-storms caused solely by afternoon heating of the moisture in the air.

Unless the t-storms are caused by a front (and most summer t-storms in Colorado aren't), a barometer will not do any good. If you do use an instrument to predict a summer thunderstorm, look at the humidity and dew points rather than a change in barometric pressure.

Barometers = used for detecting frontal passages.

Humidity and dewpoint = can be used for detecting the amount of moisture available in the air for summer thunderstorms.

Barometers are great for predicting something like a winter storm or any other storm caused by a front.
I'm slow and fat. Unfortunately, those are my good qualities.

Re: Spotting Weather

Postby twhalm » Mon Jul 15, 2013 10:34 am

In my experience when you see the cumulus clouds with dark bottoms forming you can expect rain in the next few hours.

Also, in Colorado if a region is supposed to have a 30% chance of rain, it WILL rain somewhere. It just may or may not be on top of you.

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Re: Spotting Weather

Postby Dan_Suitor » Mon Jul 15, 2013 11:27 am

Scott P wrote:
I was on the top of Mt. of the Holy Cross this last Saturday and some guy with a barometer kept saying he thought everything was fine because his barometer was going up, not down. I’m no Meteorologist and this might have held true for that particular moment in time, but a few hours later the skies opened up.


A barometer usually has nothing to do with summer thunderstorms in Colorado. A barometer is used for detecting frontal passages, not t-storms caused solely by afternoon heating of the moisture in the air.

Unless the t-storms are caused by a front (and most summer t-storms in Colorado aren't), a barometer will not do any good. If you do use an instrument to predict a summer thunderstorm, look at the humidity and dew points rather than a change in barometric pressure.

Barometers = used for detecting frontal passages.

Humidity and dewpoint = can be used for detecting the amount of moisture available in the air for summer thunderstorms.

Barometers are great for predicting something like a winter storm or any other storm caused by a front.


Thanks for the clarification. Like I said, I'm no Meteorologist, and this explains why that guy’s belief about the barometer was incorrect.

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