“Clouds of mist lie against the dark brow of timber. The nettling rain seems drawn against me. It drips from my face, wrinkles my hands, seeps down inside my boots, soaks my hair, runs down my neck, penetrates my heavy, sodden clothes. I lurk through the swaddling haze like a hunched gnome, leaning into an atmosphere so thick it seems less than half air. The only way to make the world any wetter is to submerge it completely. The muskeg is a slurry of soil and moss, steaming in the wet breath of dusk. Raindrops soak into the bark of drooping tree limbs, cling on the mesh of branchlets and twigs, and hang from the tips of needles. As soon as one falls, another immediately takes its place. A little deluge shakes down on me every time I brush a tree or shrub, but it no longer matters.
I could grumble about the rain and the discomfort, but after all, rain affirms what this country is. Today I stand face to face with the maker of it all, the source of its beauty and abundance, and I love the rain as desert people love the sun. I remember that the human body is sixty percent water, and so, more than anything else, rain is the source of my own existence. I imagine myself transformed back to the rain from which I came. My hair is a wispy, wind-torn cloud. My eyes are rainwater ponds, glistening with tears. My mind is sometimes a clear pool, sometimes an impenetrable bank of fog. My heart is a thunderstorm, shot through with lightening and noise, pumping the flood of rainwater that surges inside my veins. My breath is the misty wind, whispering and soft one moment, laughing and raucous another. I am a man made of rain.”
-- Richard Nelson, The Island Within (Vintage Books, 1991)
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“Rain is grace; rain is the sky condescending to the earth; without rain, there would be no life.”
-- John Updike (1932-2009)
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Last week’s entry included a brief discussion of spring showers and wet weather, which are often headlined in the (frequently wrong) forecasts at this time of year. The reality is that we usually only end up hiking in rain on a few hikes annually.
Several years ago I wrote out a list of “Rain & Weather Forecast Basics” (or “Charlie’s Rain Rules”), and since then I’ve been re-running it annually, given the misinformation in the media that we’re all exposed to.
As I often mention, many weeks I hear from people who say “It’s going to rain” or “We’re going to have bad (or beautiful) weather” several days or more beforehand, and who make plans based on long-range forecasts, which they trust (mistake!)
It’s clear to anyone who pays close attention that short and long-range forecasts often change (and keep changing) from one day to the next, and the weather we get on a weekend may or may not bear any resemblance at all to what was predicted.
Please read and consider the following carefully, especially if you’re new or relatively new to hiking. Experienced hikers may want to peruse it as a review, and keep it in mind whenever you hear a forecast for a rainy day or weekend ahead:
1. The accuracy of weather forecasts for the mountain areas where we hike tends to be quite low, especially in the higher mountains, which sometimes generate their own weather systems that are inherently unpredictable.
2. It’s not uncommon for the weather we encounter on a trip to be totally different or even the opposite of what was predicted. On some days when rain is in the forecast we find ourselves hiking in dry or even sunny weather, whereas sometimes on days with “zero chance of rain” we get caught in a shower or two.
3. The relevance of a New York City, Hudson Valley, or other “low-elevation” forecast to any of the mountain areas we visit is especially limited.
4. It’s wise to ALWAYS assume the possibility of rain in the mountains, regardless of the forecast.
5. It’s sensible to assume as well that sunshine or dry weather are ALWAYS possible in the mountains, regardless of the forecast.
6. In other words: be prepared for ALL possible weather on all hikes (and ALWAYS bring rainwear and warm clothing along, just in case).
7. It’s best to keep your weather expectations to a minimum and be prepared to enjoy the day whatever the weather (it’s a waste of time and energy to be fretting about a “negative forecast,” or to be overly celebratory about a “positive forecast”).
8. It’s a major error to assume that what’s happening outside your window early the morning of a hike, weather-wise, has anything at all to do with what it will be like in the area where we’ll be hiking (some hikers stay home when it’s raining early in the morning, and miss out on what often turns out to be a fair-weather hike).
9. On probably an average of three out of four days when rain is in the forecast we get no more than 15 minutes or so of rain during the hike, and sometimes none at all.
10. On probably one out of four days when rain is in the forecast we DO get significant rain.
11. On an average of an estimated 1-3 hikes per year (out of a total of 85-90 that we offer annually) we actually find ourselves hiking in “major rain,” meaning heavy rain for more than a few minutes, or nearly continuous light rain. (If there’s a strong likelihood of continuous heavy rain and/or other severe weather, a trip may be cancelled).
12. Many people aren’t aware (and weather forecasters rarely tell us) that heavy rain in the mountains -- on the relatively infrequent occasions when it does come -- tends to fall early or late in the day. Often it’s over by the time we start a hike, or arrives after we’re done (and very often on “rainy days” it stops for several hours from mid-morning till mid-afternoon).
13. While short-term forecasts are frequently wrong, long-range forecasts tend to be so inaccurate that they’re almost meaningless, especially for the mountain areas. To make a decision several days or a week in advance about whether to hike, based solely on a 5-day or 7-day forecast, isn’t a rational thing to do.
14. The tone of certitude (and absence of humility or acknowledgement of the degree of uncertainty) that comes with many forecasts is inappropriate and misleading.
15. It’s no secret that exaggerations, distortions, and sensationalism have crept into weather forecasting over the years, just as they have come to infuse much mainstream commercial news in general. There’s a tendency to refer to a bit of rain or a chance of showers as “nasty,” “horrible,” “awful,” “dismal,” or simply “bad” weather. And even when there’s just a small chance of precipitation, or when it’s likely to come during evening or nighttime hours and thus have no effect on outdoor recreation, the weather headlines will still often be “rainy weekend ahead.” Some media insiders have reported that one motivation for exaggerating the possibility of "bad weather" is that people tune in more often, leading to higher ratings and profits.
16. Lack of appreciation of the importance of rain is rampant in our society and our media. Everyone should be aware that rain is a vital part of the life cycle and absolutely essential to our well-being and even survival (if the rain ceased it would be catastrophic and fatal for most life forms, and would mean an eventual end to cities and much of civilization – and to us! -- since in time all fresh water would disappear and most human beings would be unable to meet their water needs).
17. Being out in the rain won’t and can’t spoil your day unless you let it! In fact, as many hikers know and frequently comment on, during the warmer seasons (when flowers are blooming and vegetation is lush) the natural world can be lovely in the rain, and communing with nature at such times can be a memorable experience, believe it or not -- assuming you have appropriate raingear, the right kind of clothing, and the right attitude. On a warm summer day, rain or showers can be delightfully refreshing. In cooler temperatures rain may initially seem more intimidating to those who haven’t been fully initiated into “the pleasures of wet weather,” but when you’re properly dressed, walking in the rain can be an invigorating, sense-stimulating, enlivening, and at the same time soothing and peacefully relaxing experience. Be open to the possibility of actually learning to enjoy it!
-- Charlie Cook