If there's one thing I'm obsessed with when it comes to planning trips, it's the weather. At a minimum of two weeks out I'll be looking at long range forecasts trying to predict what's going to happen over the upcoming days, but looking that far out nothing is certain, no matter which way it's going. Let me tell you it's an unnecessary rollercoaster of emotions because you can't change the weather, and the weather always changes.
But that shouldn't stop you checking things out well ahead of time because planning trips is fun and the weather does have a substantial impact on what we do, especially in the mountains and tops / high country environments. If it's looking like the area you are heading to is going to cop a beating then you'll want to start looking at a plan B, C and D...and potentially back to plan A again.
The weather will dictate what gear you're taking, will you really need insulated over-trousers or can you get away with shorts and a merino base layer? Will you sleep in a hut, tent, or can you carry only a fly? Where is the wind coming from and how strong? And regardless of the season it can still get very cold overnight in the mountains, so hang onto those gloves and beanies.
Remember, this is New Zealand. How often have we had forecasts of weather bombs that never eventuated, or supposed fine weekends that ended up being constantly peppered with downpours and hail?
My ethos is plan for the worst based on the information at hand, then go outside, look up and get into it.
Over the years I've dialled my resource of weather sites down to a handy five links. They all offer something unique and by using a few different sources you can quickly establish a trend of what to expect. But being New Zealand, expect a bit of everything!
The general Metservice forecast is the go to top line weather site for me. If you want to get a quick idea as to what's looking to happen ten days out then go here. It's low on detail but if it's showing ten straight sunny days then that's a pretty good sign that there's a huge anti cyclone sitting right above where you want to be, happy days. If it's showing lots of the blue and grey stuff then keep digging. From there hit the mountain weather forecast and this should paint a reasonably good picture of what to expect, albiet on a broader level.
So Metservice hasn't given you the detailed mountain forecast you want? Head to the METVUW site for some easy to read long forecast maps that use visuals to show how weather patterns are moving and what they think will happen with precipitation and winds. It pays to have a basic understanding of how to read a weather map, which can also be a curse as it will bring out the amateur professional weather forecaster in all of us. Definitely my main go to site though and well worth playing around with different regions to get a bigger picture of what's going on.
YR Weather offers a more localised, drilled down, forecasting based off local stations. If the area you're looking to visit is known for its micro climate then this is a cool place to look. A lot of people swear by this one and I've found it very handy when trying to plan details into a day.
This is more of a fun one (as fun as meteorology gets) that has really nice graphic and topo maps that can show various weather conditions over the day in a drilled down zone just by using the slider to change the time of day. I use WindyTy primarily to try and see wind switches over the day or week. There is probably some additional functionality of benefit but usually by the time I've made it to this site I've got a fair idea of what I think might be going on and it's more to try and see how that wind might hit a certain ridge over a few days when eyeing up potential tops campsites.
Thinking about heading into the high country, headwaters or having to hit a high mountain pass via the tops to access your destination? Then Mountain-Forecast.com is a great resource for telling you what might be going on up high. Don't make the mistake of looking at the weather forecast for, say, the Ruahine foothills that might forecast 20kt winds because when you hit the bushline and stick your nose over the ridge you'll get blown back off the hill. Very recently people have died because they didn't account for the wind chill and the conditions can be wildly different once you have gained a few hundred metres elevation - and even if you're not planning on spending any substantial amount of time at that height you do need to be suitably prepared if you get stuck for whatever reason.
So that's that quick version. There will be plenty of other places to find the same sort of mountain weather forecast out there, but hopefully this helps you give a head start if you haven't done a lot of backcountry missions, or even car camping planning before.
Good luck with the weather and have a safe time in the hills!
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