Planning for Unpredictable Spring Weather
Spring is here in all its glory, and its moods are as temperamental as ever. It’s time to start enjoying moderate-weather, outdoor activities, and as always, planning for the weather is critical. The weather can be our enemy, or, with a little education and planning, we can live in harmony with our environment. Here are a few factors to consider when planning your spring adventures.
The human body has an amazing knack for acclimating to vastly different climates. But if the temperature in your climate is swinging wildly back and forth, acclimating will be difficult. Check the temperature differential for the area in which you’ll be operating. When the difference between the daytime high and the nighttime low is 30 degrees or more, it becomes difficult for the human body to adapt and acclimate. Some areas will see temperatures in the low 20s and a day or two later, will see temperatures in the mid 70s. This 50-degree temperature swing will be difficult for your body to negotiate.
Dress in layers in order to stay warm when you’re resting. You can remove layers as required during times of high activity. Getting sweaty and overheated and then getting quickly chilled is a recipe for getting sick and increasing your risk of hypothermia.
The wind will sap your body heat, as cool air flowing past your skin causes convective cooling and increases the rate of sweat evaporation, chilling you even faster.
Bring a light weight, wind blocking shell to wear when it gets windy. If this shell does double-duty as a rain blocker, so much the better. Speaking of rain, it’s time to talk about…
Spring brings rain. And sometimes snow and sleet. We know that winter is over, but mother nature doesn’t always stick to our timeline. Don’t get caught unprepared in a late season snowstorm.
Rain brings its own hazards—especially when combined with snow melt. Rain will chill you very rapidly. Slippery roads and trails may be a concern, and you may also have to deal with flooding or mudslides.
Study your operating area ahead of time, and have a shelter plan. Make sure you bring clothing that will protect you from rain and snow when you’re out on the trail.
Fog is the forgotten hazard. It will make field navigation difficult and waterway navigation dangerous. Perhaps more critically, it obstructs aerial visibility, so if you were to get lost or need helicopter rescue, the fog could delay or prevent rescue.
Check the forecast and don’t get caught off guard. Have a plan for navigating in low visibility conditions.
Warmer weather brings thunderstorms. Thunderstorms bring high winds, lighting strikes, and hail. Some thunderstorms develop quickly, but sometimes, you can see them coming. Puffy clouds are indicative of turbulent air movement, and may be an omen of a pending thunderstorm. Thunderstorms frequently develop an “anvil” phase. The anvil is the flat cloud layer that spreads out at the top of a column of cumulous clouds. When you see the anvil developing, it’s likely that a thunderstorm is on its way. A rapidly falling barometer and rapidly rising wind could also indicate that a storm is coming.
Just because you find shelter from the rain, doesn’t mean you aren’t susceptible to a lightning strike. Trees make great lighting rods, so seeking shelter under trees increases your danger. Cars are a good place to shelter from thunderstorms because you’re surrounded by a metal cage and insulated from the ground by rubber tires.
Know the fire condition of the area you’ll be operating in. Even though it is spring, some arid areas are dry enough that stray sparks could ignite brush fires.
Here are some great weather planning resources.
National Weather Service (NWS) - A comprehensive site for weather forecasts, current observations, and historic weather data.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) - Provides in-depth weather and climate information.
Outdoor Activity Weather Maps from AccuWeather - Provides national snapshot maps of general conditions for specific outdoor activities. The AccuWeather site also offers radar pictures and severe weather warnings.
Take some time to familiarize yourself with the weather patterns in the area you’re planning to explore. Don’t take foolish and unnecessary risks by failing to take simple precautions. Know the risks, plan ahead, and thrive in the wild!