Welcome back to my Getting Started series. So far we have talked about some exercises and some prevention and recovery thoughts that can help keep you safe when you begin a hiking or exercising program. Weather can also play a huge part in the enjoyment of a hike but more so in your safety on a hike. It is very important to have an idea of what to look for in the skies so you can stay as safe as possible.
Joining me today is Meteorologist Christine Rapp. Christine is an AMS certified Meteorologist and currently can be found on the Fox morning news in Denver. Christine has a degree in Atmospheric Science from the university of Missouri. Christine is also an avid hiker in skier.
Fatman: Christine thank you so much for joining me today. One of the best parts of hiking for me is getting out in the fresh air and nature. But there are chances of the weather changing in instant. What are the main risks that we should look out for on a hike with the weather?
Christine Rapp, AMS: One of the biggest concerns is the changing weather conditions depending on what elevation you plan to hike to. The weather will change drastically between the trailhead and the summit of a 13 or 14er! Always be prepared for a significant drop in temperature and very strong wind gusts.
During the summer, the biggest concern is thunderstorms. These storms typically start to develop as early as 11am in the mountains and foothills, so it is important to plan your hike accordingly. Here in Colorado, our biggest weather threats include strong wind, lightning, flooding and hail.
FM: Hiking in Colorado you are usually surrounded by tall trees or rocks. What should you do if you do get caught in a storm? Where should you and should you not seek shelter?
CR: The best advice is to plan ahead and NOT get caught in a storm! Colorado is notorious for cloud-to-ground lighting strikes, and whether you are above timberline or in the middle of the forest, both places can be dangerous during a thunderstorm. Try your best to go early in the morning, or on a day when your local Meteorologists do not anticipate thunderstorms.
If you are stranded, do your best to find a boulder or some type of cover. Squat low to the ground, up on the balls of your feet. Use your hands to protect your head and be patient for the storm to clear!
FM: I have heard a few different versions of the “noon rule”. Make sure you summit by noon, make sure you are below tree line by noon, make sure you are off the mountain by noon. Are any of these correct and why is important on higher elevation hikes?
CR: It is best to get off the mountain and done with your hike by noon. Thunderstorms in Colorado, especially during the summer, follow a similar pattern. Clouds build in the high country in the morning, developing thunderstorms as early as 11 a.m.
FM: Besides building clouds, is there anything else to look out for? I have seen video’s of peoples hair standing up…is that a warning sign.
CR: The tall cumulonimbus clouds are usually a good indicator to get your hike moving. But if you start to notice the hair on your arm stick up, or your hiking buddy’s hair stand, it is too late! You are already in the lightning’s “path” and could be struck at any moment. Immediately find the nearest shelter, and if you can’t find any, drop to the balls of your feet and squat as low as you can to the ground.
FM: As you climb in elevation is there actually less oxygen?
CR: Yes! This is something to consider if you are planning a strenuous hike that takes you above 10,000 feet. The air is “thinner” as you go up in elevation, which can lead to altitude sickness, or a lack of oxygen to your body. Make sure to proceed at a comfortable pace and stay hydrated.
FM: Any other thoughts you would like to share with the readers that might be beneficial to them?
CR: We are spoiled here in Colorado with amazing hikes and endless sights across the entire state. Whether it is a short hike in the foothills, or a trek up a 14er, it is important to know and prepare for the weather conditions. Always check the forecast, or feel free to reach out to your favorite Meteorologist on social media for specific details. Bring plenty of water while hiking in the summer months, and layers for the winter! Enjoy everything Colorado has to offer… just be safe!
Christine thank you so much, this is some great information to try to keep people as safe as possible. Plus, now I have an excuse for why I am huffing and puffing trying to climb up a hill. Not sure what my excuse is for panting while I walk up a staircase but I can get to that later.
Hopefully these tips will be helpful when you are deciding on how long of a hike you want to go on or even if you still want to head out to the mountains on certain days. I have posted this and all of my getting started guides on my “Thoughts” page. I have some great info on there from people a heck of a lot smarter than me so if you are thinking about starting a program I strongly suggest you read these blogs for some good starting points. If you have some questions that you are looking to get answered and would rather have me do the work for you, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow me on the following social media platforms and join the conversations there. Happy Hiking!