When it comes to weather, summers in Utah tend to be pretty straightforward, and it’s safe to assume the day ahead will be hot, sunny, and dry. However, if you plan on heading into the mountains to escape the heat, you’ll find the weather is less predictable.
While many of the same tools we recommend for winter weather forecasting can be applied to summer too, it’s important to note that for high-elevation areas, many forecasts act as a foundation for what you can expect— but are not necessarily on the nose. This is because mountain ranges interrupt whatever weather system is moving through, and on such a small scale that its difficult for meteorologists to accurately predict.
Another tool we’ll be adding to our arsenal for peak bagging and other mountain adventures is Open Summit. From the creators of Open Snow, this forecast tool pinpoints particular summits, to relay the chance of precipitation and lightning, as well as temperature and wind speed, with an accuracy that is more reliable than the blanket forecasts you get from your iPhone weather app.
However, when it comes to summer weather, your greatest asset is your own personal knowledge and ability to interpret conditions as it happens, and most importantly, knowing how to respond— and sometimes that means throwing the towel in.
Arguably the biggest weather threat during the warmer months are thunder- and lightning storms. Afternoon thunderstorms are common in the mountains during July and August, so if you regularly play in the Uintas or similar areas, it’s crucial to be well-versed in lightning safety. Here are a few tips—
- Be aware of your surroundings. Keep an eye on the sky, and watch for dark clouds moving in. When you hear thunder, that’s your queue to bail. Find an enclosed shelter, like your vehicle waiting at the trailhead. To be frank, there’s no such thing as a “safe place” outside during lightning; the only safe place to be is indoors. Remain indoors for a minimum of 30 minutes after the last “boom” of thunder.
- But if you’re deep in the backcountry and shelter is unavailable, there are ways to lower your risk… To start, avoid elevated areas above the treeline, like a pass or summit. If you’re on your way to the top, retreat to lower ground! On that note, we recommend timing your summits to morning or midday, to bypass afternoon storms.
- Do not be in, on, or near water, like lakes or reservoirs, as water is a great conductor of electricity.
- Avoid open areas, like fields or meadows. Wait out the storm in lower areas, like valleys, ditches, trenches, gullys, or ravines.
- Avoid the tallest objects in the area, like trees. Instead, stay near but not next to, clusters of smaller trees or bushes of uniform size.
- Spread out from other members in your group, at least 15 feet from others. This helps to ensure not everyone in your group is affected if one person is struck by lightning, making help available for the victim.
- Experts have stopped recommending the “lightning crouch,” but the position is less dangerous than sitting, lying, or standing. By crouching low, you minimize your contact points with the ground, without being as tall as you would while standing.
Before you head out to the trails this season, become familiar with natural hazards and best practices, because even the most beautiful, clear, sunny day can flip in an instant! Whether you’re biking, hiking, or fly fishing, safety is first.
By Alisha Aravena, Senior Editor & Content Manager, jans.com