Weather forecasts in the field

Forecasting weather on a bushwalk

Back in the city, we’re used to getting weather forecasts and information via television, radio and smartphones, but out in the bush, out of reception, we may also need to rely on other means to keep an eye on the weather in the field so as not to get caught out.

The key thing to recognise is that no weather forecast is 100% reliable. Weather patterns can change quickly, and dramatically, especially in high alpine areas. That’s why it pays to continually check weather conditions, and always come prepared with a rain jacket and warm clothes, even on day walks.

mobile phone Using a mobile phone to get a weather forecast on a bushwalk

In areas with reception, mobile phones are great to pick up weather forecasts and check for park closures, weather warning etc.

There are quite a few weather apps to choose from, but those that tap into data from Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology tend to be more localised and accurate than those that use foreign weather services.

Examples of some popular apps include:

Radio Using a radio to get a weather forecast on a bushwalk

A small pocket radio is a great way to stay in touch with what’s going on in the world, particularly on multi-day walks in areas with infrequent or no mobile phone reception.

AM and longwave frequencies are the most likely stations to broadcast in these areas. Once you find the local radio station, you can tune in for weather warnings and road alerts specific to that area, such as flash flooding locations to avoid, road closures and evacuation.

On a multi-day activity use a mobile phone and/or a portable AM/FM radio to monitor news bulletins for information on fire activity, fire danger ratings, total fire bans and park closures.

In-field observations Weather forecasting using field observations on a bushwalk

It’s also possible to use field observations to predict weather patterns, although it’s something that takes tremendous skill, knowledge and experience to do well. Some of the factors that go into weather assessments include cloud reading, temperature, humidity as well as animal and bird behaviours. For instance, fast cloud movements across the sky indicate high wind speeds, so you may decide to avoid exposed ridge walking.

One of the most important things to be able to spot are the warning signs of a storm approaching. This gives you time to reassess the situation and make a decision about whether to press on or walk out early. Storms can mean heavy rainfall, exposure to lightning, as well as flooding, conditions that can be hazardous for bushwalkers if they are caught unawares.

While long high curls (cirrus) clouds indicate good weather, here are some things that indicate a storm is approaching:

  • Appearance and rapid vertical growth of cumulonimbus clouds
  • Puffy cotton pile clouds (cumulus clouds), often flat based and rounded tower tops, indicate heavy rain.
  • When cumulus clouds develop into giant cumulonimbus clouds with dark bases, there is an increased risk of lightning and thunderstorm.
  • When you notice animals seeking shelter and birds flying to tree branches for cover, it is a sign of storms approaching.
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