Being able to accurately predict the weather is a very important skill if you plan to spend time in the outdoors, especially if you plan to head out into the mountains and into avalanche terrain.  It’s useful to know what kind of clothing and gear to bring, or even if we should bother heading out at all. You also want to know how much it might snow, what the wind is doing, the temperature and trend, and whether or not your head will be in the clouds (literally).

There are some easy ways to find out what the weather is doing. If you’re heading to Grouse Mountain or Whistler/Blackcomb you can peruse their websites and look at mountain web cams, live temperatures, and alpine weather forecasts. This is a perfect way to see what the weather is doing and get a professional meteorologists opinion of what weather is coming in the next day or two. What if the area we plan to head to doesn’t have these kind of resources? Below I will highlight a few of the best free weather websites I have found. Play with each of these and figure out which one you prefer.

1. Avalanche Canada’a Mountain Weather Forecast

This mountain weather forecast is written by Environment Canada meteorologist’s for Avalanche Canada’s public avalanche forecasters and other Canadian avalanche professionals. The forecast provides a good written synopsis with weather graphics for the next 4 days. These graphics focus on what we’re interested in: precipitation, ridge top winds, freezing levels, cloud cover. This should be the first your first stop to get a big-picture look at the weather. After you get a handle on what type of weather we’re expecting you can use any of the links below to get a point forecast for your area of interest.

An example of the unique weather images you will see in the Mountain Weather Forecast.
An example of the unique weather images you will see in the Mountain Weather Forecast.

2. Spot Weather (spotwx.com)

Spot weather is a great free weather resource. This webpage allows you to create a meteogram for any geographic location in Canada or the United States. You drop a pin on a map and are given a graphical display of the computer weather model forecast. Spot weather provides access to the short-range and long-range Canadian and American weather models. It also provides some additional tools like the SCRIBE matrices and the short and long-term METEOCODES. You can also create an account and save your favorite locations.

Once you drop your “spot” on your area of interest you select the weather model you would like to view from the tab on the left side of the page. If you’re interested in the weather in the next 24 hours then use the HRDPS – Continental (GEM-LAM). This is the Canadian high resolution short-term weather model. It’s considered to be quite accurate. If you want an idea of the long-range forecast try the GEPS 16-day forecast. This is an ensemble forecast giving you probabilities and the best guess for weather well out into the future. Don’t try and pull details out of this. If you follow the bold middle line in the graph it gives a good idea of the expected weather pattern. For example, according to today’s GEPS forecast we could see a snowy Christmas in Squamish this year!

Spot weather display showing the map on the right and the available weather models on the left.
Spot weather display showing the map on the right and the available weather models on the left.

When you click on the link you will see graphic displays of temperature and relative humidity, precipitation and clouds, and winds and pressure for the next 2 days. Make sure to verify the time and date at the top and the model elevation. If you’re heading up high in the mountains is best to try and find a model point at a decent elevation. You will also see some additional tools below but I would ignore these unless you are a very advanced user. Scroll your mouse over the lines to get a read-out for each hour. You can also click on the legend below each graph to hide or show certain parameters.

3. Forecast.io

This is a relatively new weather website. It doesn’t allow you to create a personalized mountain forecast like spot weather does, but it might replace your local weather network forecast. One unique approach that Forecast.io uses is using ensemble forecasting. They use a variety of different computer weather models to show a range of possibilities, then give you their “best guess”, which is essentially the mean of these values. It’s refreshing to see a weather forecast that gives you a possible range instead of an absolute value.

Some of the tools Forecast.io provides include a precipitation map for the local, regional, and global scale, a detailed weather forecast for the next 7 days, and graphs for each weather parameter showing you the ensemble spread.

Forecast.io homepage showing the precip map and weather forecast for your location.
Forecast.io homepage showing the precip map and weather forecast for your location.

4. WindyTy

WindTy is another relative newcomer to the weather world. It’s taken the mesmerizing wind map produced by Earth and added additional features for local weather forecasting.  You can change the weather parameters and elevation on the map. Then use your mouse to click on your area of interest to get the detailed weather forecast. This site uses data from MeteoBlue, which is a European weather service that provides products worldwide. This website provides a tonne of information! Pick and chose what you want to view and save your favorites. If you’re a sailor, surfer, or kite-surfer this is a great website for you. WindyTy allows you to view wind and wave forecasts for certain areas.

This image shows the weather map on the WindyTy homepage. Select the parameter and elevation you're interested in, then chose your location.
This image shows the weather map on the WindyTy homepage. Select the parameter and elevation you’re interested in, then chose your location.
Here's a look at the meteogram you get from WindyTy.
Here’s a look at the meteogram you get from WindyTy.
Best Weather Forecasting Resources
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