The NWAC mountain weather station network is the largest of its kind, and this fall we were able to expand our network even further. Adding a new weather station to the mix requires months (and sometimes years) of planning with a number of stakeholders, and requires significant time and financial investment. It is thanks to the support from our community that we were not only able to purchase the equipment but also increase the staff hours needed over the off-season. These resources allowed us to take on building a weather station unique from all others in our network.
Maintaining and expanding our network of weather stations is key to our forecasting. “NWAC’s automated weather stations are the observations that keep on giving. When access to the mountains is difficult for us and our partners, the weather stations are there to at least give us some idea of what is unfolding,” said Avalanche Forecaster Andy Harrington. More stations mean better insights into what is happening in the mountains 24 hours a day.
Our newest weather station sits in the West Central zone, a zone that previously had no NWAC weather stations. The site is called the White Chuck station and is located near White Chuck Mountain.
Adding a station to this zone is one of our avalanche forecasters, Irene Henninger’s highlights from this season. She said, “The new station provides me with very useful data, enabling me to have more confidence in the forecasts I write for the West Central zone. The zone is so data sparse that any tiny additional bit of information provides me with a much better understanding of what’s going on in the backcountry in that area.”
The White Chuck station is unlike any of our other stations in that it is portable. Mounted atop a large tripod, this station stands out from the rest which are set in footings of concrete. This style of weather station has been used in other locations but is a new experiment for NWAC. Experiment is the keyword with this station. Although there were months of research and planning before parts were ordered and the station was hauled up the mountain, we are still testing and monitoring it throughout the season.
The portable nature of the station allows us to move it ten feet or ten miles if we notice anything about its location that causes issues, such as not receiving enough sunlight to generate power through solar panels. We can even set up the tripod at home or the office for testing purposes if needed.
Additionally, the tripod style minimizes environmental impact and allows us to work with the land manager to approve the station more quickly than those that require digging a hole and pouring concrete.
Our team spent the summer preparing to build the new station, and the weather went from one extreme to another through the fall. We went from smoky skies and nearby fires through late in the season, mid-October, to windstorms, downed trees, and 2-3′ of snow at the site over the course of a few weeks. After a summer full of planning, testing equipment, and scouting out the location our forecast team was able to build the station in early November. Our early season snowfall meant they carried up every component for the station on sleds or in packs.
The station has been holding strong throughout the season and is near the top of the list of highest snowfall totals this season! Keep an eye out for next season, you might see this station moved to a new zone or find a permanent home near White Chuck Mountain.
While the weather station data is crucial for our forecasting team, the data is also for you! You can check out how the snow is stacking up at this new station here.