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Colorado 14er peak questions, condition requests and other info. 14er Trip Reports, Condition Reports
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Weather question

Postby Vermont Mike » Thu May 21, 2009 12:30 pm

Since I'm new to Colorado I just had a quick question on summer weather. If the forecast is for scattered/isolated thunderstorms does that generally mean in the afternoon, or is it anyone's guess?? I know I could check an hour by hour forecast but it would be nice to know a few days in advance. I guess what I'm asking is, is it worth risking a 14er hike when the forecast is for scatter/isolated t-storms (since I'd have to drive 2+ hours to trailhead) . . . . obviously I'd need a very early start. Apologies if this has already been discussed :D

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Re: Weather question

Postby tmathews » Thu May 21, 2009 12:37 pm

Vermont Mike wrote:Since I'm new to Colorado I just had a quick question on summer weather. If the forecast is for scattered/isolated thunderstorms does that generally mean in the afternoon, or is it anyone's guess?? I know I could check an hour by hour forecast but it would be nice to know a few days in advance. I guess what I'm asking is, is it worth risking a 14er hike when the forecast is for scatter/isolated t-storms (since I'd have to drive 2+ hours to trailhead) . . . . obviously I'd need a very early start. Apologies if this has already been discussed :D


Generally, yes. Clouds need convection built-up from the heating of the ground for them to get enough vertical development to form a thunderstorm, but it also depends on how much moisture is in the air. You can also try looking at the dewpoint forecast. The higher the dewpoint, the more moisture there is in the air and if the dewpoint is high in the summer, there's also a good chance for storms. I generally try to be off of any area above treeline before 11:00 - 12:00, if possible.
Last edited by tmathews on Thu May 21, 2009 2:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Weather question

Postby headeulogy » Thu May 21, 2009 12:39 pm

if you look at the Denver post weather for the next 7 days it just shows a ? with thunder and lighting. Its so funny this time of year.

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Re: Weather question

Postby Randy » Thu May 21, 2009 12:40 pm

I'll chime in here if I may. The general rule of thumb at least for me, is to summit by noon and be on your way down shortly after. The summer storms will roll in soon after that and keep in mind this is a "general" rule of thumb, as I ve been caught at 11.00am by quick moving storms that dont adhere to the 12.00 oclock rule. On real exposed routes ie.knife edge and such I would be up even earlier, some routes like Longs you should be on the trail by 3.00am. While some people as I have seen hike later, your really setting yourself up for a issue with storms that quite frankly can be avoided in most cases by getting on the trail earlier.

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Re: Weather question

Postby SchralpTheGnar » Thu May 21, 2009 12:42 pm

Colorado must be such a let down from Vermont, what with all the billboards and everything.

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Re: Weather question

Postby gdthomas » Thu May 21, 2009 12:48 pm

SchralpTheGnar wrote:Colorado must be such a let down from Vermont, what with all the billboards and everything.


No doubt. Vermont Mike should tell his friends back east not to move here since Colorado is overrun with development and is not nearly as nice as New England.

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Re: Weather question

Postby mattpayne11 » Thu May 21, 2009 1:01 pm

I'm planning to do some 13'ers this weekend and the weather is really throwing me off on what to do. The forcast for where I'm going (lake city area) is 50% rain w/ a high of 60. I don't really know what to make of this low we have in the area. Anyone able to chime on on the weather conditions in the high country this weekend? Is it climbing weather? Is it not going to be a very good weekend for camping? Any thoughts? Bueller?

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Re: Weather question

Postby Vermont Mike » Thu May 21, 2009 1:08 pm

SchralpTheGnar wrote:Colorado must be such a let down from Vermont, what with all the billboards and everything.


Ah, but there's no mud season here, and better beer! Besides, without the billboards how would I know I'm supposed to waste money gambling at Cripple Creek???

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Re: Weather question

Postby Couloirman » Thu May 21, 2009 1:10 pm

yeah, Im torn on climbing as well. Wanted to climb something tonight through the night and ski down at first light but there's possible thunder through the night and I am the biggest thunderstorm wuss known to man. Dont wanna miss calm wind on a 14er though, so Im heading out tonight anyway to see what happens.
Couloir than you are

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Re: Weather question

Postby pioletski » Thu May 21, 2009 1:22 pm

Mike: Let me see if I can add to the confusion here. I have spent some time in Vermont - as I recall, the rule of thumb there is that, if the cows lie down then it's going to rain. Perfectly accurate, since the cows always lie down and it always rains. :D

What you're hearing on this thread so far is about the usual summer weather pattern in Colorado - sunny morning, intense thunderstorm in early afternoon, then usually clear by evening. You generally don't want to be above timberline in the early/mid afternoon.

So far this year, that pattern hasn't established itself, so for the next couple of weeks it's just going to be hard to predict. Lately I hve had several great outings when it looked completely socked in early in the morning.

If you want to do really big projects, long hikes, etc., the prime season is the Indian summer, usually mid-September through October, when it is more likely to remain dry and sunny all day. Then again - it can snow in any month of the year...

Hope this helps.
The greater danger, for most of us, is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low, and we reach it.
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Re: Weather question

Postby jniehof » Thu May 21, 2009 1:40 pm

Vermont Mike wrote:Ah, but there's no mud season here, and better beer!

Lies! Lies! No Long Trail for you! (You've got it on the mud, though...there's still some Mendon in my shoes.)

Related question from a current New Englander who can't remember weather patterns from living in the Southwest:
If it's drizzly at 4am how does that affect the usual principle of "off the ridge by noon and you should be okay"? I imagine clouds and rain would inhibit the solar heating and convection that builds the afternoon thunderstorms, but OTOH you can't really see any nasty weather blowing in...is it still considered generally safe to ascend into nonviolent rain if planning on an early exit? (Setting aside wet rock and hypothermia considerations.)

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Re: Weather question

Postby Aubrey » Thu May 21, 2009 1:41 pm

I follow weather forecasts for days before climbs, but I don’t rely on them, as they’re often wrong. Usually, unless they’re calling for a major storm system, we still go up when the forecast just calls for “isolated” rain/thunderstorms (should note, sometimes that rain translates to snow on 14ers). In my experience, the odds tend to be in our favor, especially when we make really early starts. On the other hand, there have been times when they call for clear and dry weather and then we get snowed on.

Two things about Colorado weather: (1) It can change quickly -- for the better or worse, and (2) It can be very localized / isolated.

Regarding (1), I can’t tell you how many times I’ve experienced torrential rain, thunderstorms, etc. overnight only to find the sky clear and blue by 6 a.m. Just weeks ago we were completely socked in at the Sherman trailhead in the middle of the night, yet just hours later it blew/burned off.

Regarding (2), it might be sunny and clear on the mountain you’re on, but cloudy and stormy across the valley. This also happens on the Front Range. One of the blizzards a couple years back dumped 4-5 feet in Boulder, more than 8 feet in RMNP, but only a dusting in Lyons.

As for the “be off the summit by noon” rule, it should really be “be below treeline well before noon.” And, as mentioned, that’s just a general rule. I’ve turned back at 8:30 a.m. before because of clouds building and getting dark on the bottom. Years back we also had a strange monsoon season where thunderstorms were coming in regularly by 10 or 11 a.m. (see my TRs on Redcloud, Sunshine, Uncompahgre and Wetterhorn).

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