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Forecasting the Spring and Summer Hiking Season — With Meteorologist Chris Tomer
A rundown on what conditions and hazards you'll need to prepare for as we move into the popular summiting season:
This guest post is written by Meteorologist Chris Tomer, taking a look at anticipated hiking conditions through the spring months, leading into summer.
This includes a walkthrough of the basic hazards you should expect, as well as extra gear you’ll want to bring.
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Spring Transition in the Mountains
Colorado’s snowpack starts melting in April and reaches maximum melt around the clock in May and June. Expect pauses in the melting as weekly storm systems move through Colorado with colder air and new snow.
Spring couloir season peaks in late April, May, and early June. Overnight freezes become less likely by mid-May.
Approaches that are covered in snow are often frozen and firm in the morning and then turn into post-holing nightmares in the afternoon.
April experienced some of the windiest weather on record. The jet stream followed La Nina architecture and sat over Colorado. The latest forecasts suggest La Nina continues all spring and summer. Normally, winds above tree line start to drop quickly in May and reach seasonal minimums in June, July, and August. I expect windier than normal conditions to continue this May and June. I also expect snowier than normal conditions in May across the Central and Northern Mountains.
May: Windier and snowier than normal Central and Northern Mountains.
June: Windier than normal Central and Northern Mountains.
Afternoon thunderstorms normally start by Memorial Day. Plan on afternoon thunderstorms in June, July, and August. Violent afternoon thunderstorms peak in July and August with the seasonal monsoon.
June often has periods of strong high pressure. This can preclude afternoon thunderstorm chances for short periods. The old adage of summiting by noon works well under most circumstances.
The last few summers have featured thick wildfire smoke. I think the odds of a replay are high this summer and especially high this fall.
You’ll need an extra layer in May and June if this forecast verifies. If the pattern stays active most of May, then we’ll likely add cooler than normal mountain temps additional snow into the mix. Some peaks might require traction and gaiters into June.
This promises to be the busiest summer on record in Colorado’s mountains. More technical routes in June may hold snow. Know your limitations.
Study routes and weather before arriving at the Trailhead. Don’t count on cell phones. Service and batteries die when you need them most.
About Chris Tomer
Meteorologist Chris Tomer forecasts weather for KDVR FOX-31 and KWGN Channel 2 in Denver. You can watch Tomer Monday-Friday on Channel 2’s Daybreak morning show from 4:30am-9am.
Tomer earned a B.S. in Meteorology from Valparaiso University graduating with Honors – where he also played basketball. Tomer minored in mathematics and broadcasting.
Tomer is a fully certified meteorologist having earned the CBM and NWA Seals of Approval. Tomer also serves on the NWA panel of Television Seal evaluators. Chris has specialized knowledge of Mountain Meteorology.
If you’d like to learn more about Chris, you can check out my full podcast interview with him over on Trail Talk.
Coming up this Weekend
As winter gives way to spring, a whole host of different and exciting opportunities become available for exploring the outdoors!
This Saturday at 10 a.m. MST, I’m hosting a discussion thread on goals and challenges of the next season. I’d love to see you all there to have a chat! Remember to check your inboxes — I’ll also be posting the link on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!