After all the hot weather we’ve been having lately, todays cool change was especially welcome. The threat of a forest fire sparked by lightning is ever present and a tangible possibility. While the weather is quiet at the moment, it could all change within a matter of hours. While I normally rely on “Meteorologists” for general forecasts and condition reports, when there’s a storm a brewin’, I like to track what’s coming my way myself. Like the old saying goes, “If you don’t like the weather in the mountains, just wait 15 minutes.”
Forecasting the weather has always been a difficult and notoriously inaccurate pastime but has come a long way recently, thanks to computers and the internet. During the time I was Hill and Trail Manager at Red Mountain, I started to interpret the weather myself out of a need for accurate and up to date information. Storm shifts at Red (or any other ski hill for that matter) required a different approach than stable conditions or spring slush. Depending on conditions, I needed to re-deploy the rag tag fleet at my disposal constantly to maximize coverage by the grooming program. Having been a snow farmer on and off for the last 30 years, I have collected a variety of tools and information sources that allow me to watch what’s coming down the pipe in virtually real time.
One thing about being on top of a mountain is it’s generally where you will see more intense weather events. Except, it seems, for this year. On July first Nelson experienced a violent storm that blew through in a matter of minutes, dropped ridiculous amounts of rain and damaged a large number of mature trees. For some reason the storm was focused entirely in the valley floor. The winds didn’t make it higher than the confluence of Grohman and Baldface Creeks. Above that, there was no leaves or debris on the road to the Lodge at all. This week, I’ve been watching the Duhamel / Sitkum Ridge fire blow around in circles with strong flows in the valleys but calm conditions on the ridge tops.
So, here’s my take on the WX… Now that we’ve had a bit of rain the possibility of increased daily convective development is likely. It’s been pretty warm and, up to now, the ground has dried out gradually from the surface down. Now there’s a bunch of new moisture on the ground which, once it warms up again, will be quickly reintroduced into the atmosphere. Warm air rises through colder layers at higher altitude and, if it’s laden with moisture, tends to billow out and form clouds. Wind carries this moisture plume away from the hot ground that spawned it, the void is filled with more warm moist air and soon enough it can grow into a thunderhead.
U of W Doppler Radar You can watch this phenomenon occurring on Doppler radar as the plumes of cloud grow from a source point like smoke trailing from a fire. My Doppler site of choice is run by the University of Washington (State) . Updated every 3-4 minutes, adjustable time window, zoom-able Google based map, frame-rate and opacity controls and the best part… Well, there’s two best parts. First, it doesn’t stop at the 49th parallel and second, it’s free. You can watch the approach on your screen then stick your head out the window and know there will be a storm cell passing overhead.
Real Time Lightning Map Lightning is the pointy end of the thunderstorm stick and what I really like to keep my eye on. There’s a volunteer network of weather enthusiasts, Blitzortung.org, that operate homemade lightning detectors which link to each other and triangulate lightning strikes pretty much anywhere on Earth. Using online tools to plot strikes in essentially real time on a zoom-able Google map. You can view the detector stations that register the strike with visible connections to the hit and, if you zoom in close enough, it will display a “thunder ring” that expands out from the strike as the sound travels out from the epicenter. It can also be set to “click” every time lightning strikes in your viewing window.
I love mountain weather. There’s no feeling like being in the heart of a storm or seeing the raw power of nature in action. So long as it’s not trying to hurt you directly… Enjoy the spectacle but know when to get your head back inside and close the window…
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