New Zealand’s weather can change dramatically in a few minutes. Obtaining forecasts for the week, learning to read the signs and interpret weather patterns may minimise your chances of being caught out.
Weather has a major impact on trips in the outdoors. An easy and relaxed trip in warm weather can be physically and mentally demanding if the weather turns cold and wet. Strong winds, soft snow, or high rivers may make a route impassable.
Outdoor Safety Code Videos - Part 3: Be aware of the weather
Learn to observe the weather
High-cloud signs The wind that you experience is affected by the landforms around you. It may be quite different from the general wind flow associated with the pressure system. You can get some idea of the strength and direction of the general wind flow by observing cloud movement.
Movement of the highest cloud is often difficult to see. Wispy, cirrus clouds, which look like mares’ tails or streamers, indicate strong, high-level winds and are often the first sign of bad weather.
Northerly winds at high levels are usually a sign of bad weather. If a southerly front with associated bad weather has passed through, southerlies with cumulus clouds (fluffy, isolated shapes in a blue sky) indicate a settled period in which trips may be done safely.
Low-cloud sign The gradual thickening and lowering of the cloud base is an ominous sign. The sun or moon becomes dim or watery as it gradually becomes obscured by the thickening cloud.
‘Hogsbacks’ (smooth, lens-shaped clouds) which form over mountain tops or immediately lee of the tops, are associated with strong winds at that level. As bad weather approaches, they usually become bigger.
This would suggest that you probably need to revise your plans for the next day.
Learn more! Consult the MSC Bushcraft Manual and download the above poster "NZ Cloud Types" by following this link.
How to read weather maps
The Met Service has a "How to read Weather Maps" page Written by Bob McDavitt, Weather Ambassador, Meteorological Service of New Zealand Ltd. Metservice
The government website Teara.govt.nz also has easy to digest information to help you understand New Zealand weather maps. Te Ara weather info
www.avalanche.net.nz is fantastic for getting the most up to date information on avalanche risk levels at popular mountains around the country.
If you are heading into avalanche terrain, check here first and remember, avalanches happen in summer too!
Avalanche Reports Whether tramping, hunting, climbing, skiing or snowboarding, make a visit the MSC's avalanche.net.nz website to get up to date info on avalanche conditions in your area.
Mountain Radio Groups carrying a mountain radio can hear a mountain weather forecast at `scheduled’ times.
Long-range forecasts These forecasts indicate the weather that can be expected over the following few days. Treat any times given for expected changes with caution. Obtain the most up-to-date forecast for the area you plan to go into.