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Reading the clouds: observing the weather

In California, late fall generally means the door to Pacific storms begins to open wide, bringing snow to the highlands. Regardless of where you live, the weather affects your daily life, but it is especially important for people who spend time outdoors. Naturally, skiers and other winter sports enthusiasts will be listening to the latest weather reports before heading to the highlands. But once they’re sliding on the glass blanket or walking in potentially bad weather, they may not have a radio or television or reliable cell phone service available to check on the storm that forecasters said was coming.

However, the approaching storms give indications of their imminent arrival at least several hours in advance. The following aids can help decipher those clues:

“A Field Guide to Atmosphere” by Vincent J. Shaefer and John A. Day (Houghton Mifflin).

As the title suggests, this book is more than just a weather forecast. Like all the books in the Peterson Field Guide series, its primary purpose is to identify, in this case, clouds, rainbows, glories, halos, and other atmospheric phenomena. For this he has numerous drawings, in addition to 336 black and white photographs and 32 in color.

Because the atmosphere is not only something to identify, but is also an ever-changing system to observe, the book devotes much space to discussing the processes that operate in the ocean of air. It’s as much for the skier wondering how a tall, icy cirrus cloud can give a halo to the sun, as well as the field snow camper who wants to know if they’ll have to leave their tent the next morning. .

“Weathering the Wilderness” by William E. Reifsnyder (Sierra Club Books).

The subtitle for this book is “Sierra Club Practical Meteorology Guide.” It is written with the outdoor recreationist in mind. The first part of the book is a basic course on the why and why of winds and storms. Of particular interest to the future forecaster is a table showing how different weather conditions: pressure (for which you will need an altimeter / barometer to measure) wind, clouds, precipitation, temperature, humidity and visibility, change as frontal systems approach. and they pass. By the way, the chapter on “Weather Hazards”, especially its discussion on wind chill, hypothermia and avalanches, should be of particular interest to the skier.

The second part deals with the general weather patterns of various regions of the United States and Canada, including the Sierra Nevada, and the generally mild and wet winters produce good skiing conditions.

Pocket Weather Trends (Weather Trends Inc.)

This device is the most useful of the three forecasting aids. It seems like a simple slide rule. A slide holder has 6 boxed areas on its face with photos and descriptions of different types of clouds. Each box has eight compass directions. Each slide, one for each of several regions, has a black mark in the middle that is aligned next to the wind direction within the box that corresponds to the type of cloud observed at the top. Then in two horizontal windows, one from November to April and the other from May to October, the slide will show you the forecast for the next 12 to 36 hours.

All of these books are available on Amazon.

In addition to books or charts, there are portable weather instruments that a hobbyist can take with them. Accurate measurements of weather conditions can take the guesswork out of forecasting. Companies such as Kestrel, Ambient Weather, Speedtech, Weather Mate, and Davis Instruments make portable devices that can measure temperature (current, maximum, and minimum), pressure, elevation, wind speed, relative humidity, dew point, and other measurements. In addition, they are all waterproof or water resistant. These are available directly from the manufacturer, recreation stores, or online.


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