Wilderness Adventure: Picking A Destination Part 3 (Climate & Weather)
“Wherever you go, no matter what the weather, always bring your own sunshine.” – Anthony J. D’Angelo
Climate and weather are sometimes confused as being the same thing. Yet, they are different. Climate is a description of the average atmospheric conditions over the past hundred years or so. The first consistent recording of weather data across the U.S. started in 1849. The first national weather service started in 1870.
Weather is a description of the more immediate atmospheric conditions. Weather predictions are for a short period of time such as this week. While the Winter climate in Missouri is normally cold, the actual weather this week has been warm. We have had a couple of warm weeks in January and February this year. The temperature has reached over 70 degrees Fahrenheit. A great way to think about the difference is “Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get.”
My oldest son and I went on a 4 day 3 night backpacking trip on the Taum Sauk section of the Ozark Trail last year. The average precipitation for July in that area is 3.94 inches. We were lucky enough to experience 2.1 inches of rain, over half of the monthly average, during a two day period. I don’t think I have ever been so wet for so long in my life. As it turns out, the precipitation that month was well above average. The area ended up getting 5.67 inches of rain that month. While the climate would have predicted less rain, the reality of the weather was different.
In actuality, we knew that we were in for a wet weekend, but we thought it would be a good training opportunity. We were due to leave for our Yellowstone back country trip two weeks later. Thanks to the above average wet weather, we learned a few things on that trip. We ended up making a few tweaks in our equipment. The primary change was packing more socks.
The combination of hot weather with above average rain created extremely high humidity. Nothing ever dried out even when it wasn’t raining. This in combination with the terrain and my pack weight tore my feet up. I made adjustments to avoid the same thing in Yellowstone. We didn’t get a single drop of rain for eight days in the back country. Oh well.
If you are heading to the mountains, research the typical weather at higher elevations. The weather becomes less predictable in the mountains. Storms in the mountains can form suddenly and catch you by surprise if you aren’t paying attention.
I use Weather Underground History to research the climate for an area. As the trip date gets closer, I’ll watch the weather forecast, including radar, for about 15 days out. This gives me a pretty good idea of the kind of weather I should prepare for. I also note the general direction that weather travels in the area. Additionally, I take a Delorme inReach Explorer on my trips. Among other features, it delivers weather forecasts for my exact location via satellite. I’ll cover this device in more detail in a future post.
Research won’t prevent the experience of some abnormal weather. Yet, if you plan, you will be able to adjust for abnormal variations.
The expected conditions should drive training, equipment, and food choices. I’ll get into a lot more detail in future posts focused on these areas. For now, here is a summary of how climate and weather impacts training, equipment, and food.
Training should take into consideration the conditions you will be hiking in. If you plan to hike in cold weather then you should do some, if not a majority, of your training in cold weather. Learn how you handle the conditions and how your equipment operates in those conditions. The more extreme that you expect the conditions to be the more training you should do in similar conditions.
The weather conditions have a very drastic impact on the equipment you should take with you. Among other things, the climate will impact the:
- Amount and types of clothes,
- Type of shelter,
- Temperature rating of your sleeping bag,
- Type of shoes,
- Cooking system and fuel.
If you will be backpacking during Winter conditions, you will need to plan a higher calorie diet. Your body will need more calories each day than if you were in Spring, Summer, or Fall conditions. The temperature can also change the kinds of food that you can take. For example, taking Hershey bars isn’t practical in a hot climate. Yet, they would do fine in a cold climate.
What climate or weather related questions do you have?
Leave a comment. Ask your questions. Join the discussion. Share with friends.
Featured Image Source: