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  1. #1
    Hooked on Touring
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    Western Weather Warning!!

    Every year I meet up with cyclists shivering in the mountains of the West in the spring and early summer. Oftentimes, I load them up in my old pick-up and take them down to lower elevations. I have just been trying to convince someone who has already dealt with a snowstorm to wait before heading north – so I’ll use this forum to try to share years of experience in the West with folks who have none. There are two main factors to consider – 1) Extreme variability and 2) Extremes in altitude.

    First, western weather is far more variable than weather in the East or in Europe – both during the day and from week to week. While eastern temps may range 20 degrees F in a day, they can range 40 to 50 degrees in the West. Plus temperatures can drop 20 or more degrees within minutes. Also, eastern weather is fairly predictable after mid spring – with the occasional storm. But in the West, you can have 80 degrees in mid-June and a full blizzard two days later.

    Second, the geography of the West makes for climate bands with radically different weather – especially if you are riding east-west or west-east. Starting on the west coast – you have Pacific Coast climate which is cool and damp, then the Coast Range which is dryer but still pleasant, then the Central/Willamette Valleys which can be very hot in summer, then the Sierra/Cascades which can be very cold and snowy into June, then the Great Basin which can be anything, then the Rockies which can be cold and snowy into early July, then the High Plains which can be brutally hot.

    All of the stuff above is for the area north of I-40. South of I-40 (actually the Mogollon Rim) you have the Sonoran Desert which shouldn’t be t*****d with in mid-summer by those unfamiliar with extreme heat. This is the place to be in the West in April – maybe May – but not afterwards. I wouldn’t tour in the Sonoran in the fall until October or November.

    In general, spring conditions are more dangerous in the West than fall. In spring, there is a winter’s worth of snowpack and the ground is still cold. Spring snows are usually heavier and wetter. In the fall, early snows usually are gone in a few days and the ground is still warm and relatively dry. Still, people die every year – usually hunters and hikers. I’m not aware of any cyclists off-hand, but as I said at the start, I have come across many miserable folks over the years. Why be miserable?? Plan accordingly.

    Best – J

    PS – Most Yellowstone roads, passes in the central Sierras, and Going to the Sun in Glacier don’t even open until late May or early June.
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  2. #2
    cyclotourist
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    This applies even more so in the Great White North.

    We are currently (ie apr 8) having a warm spring but it can change instantly.

    I have seen 50cm of snow on the Banff-Radium highway two days before the Golden Triangle tour (May 24 approx) and fresh snow on the Banff-Jasper road in mid June.

    If you are planning on camping in the Canadian Rockies on your cycle tour wait until at least June
    and even then be prepared for snow.

  3. #3
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    I agree ... here on the Canadian prairies, you just never know what you are going to get in the way of weather.

    The attached photo was taken May 11, 2004 in Winnipeg, outside the building where I worked at the time. And in Alberta, between Calgary and Red Deer, on August 2, 2002 there was a similar blizzard.

    The July long weekend in 2004 wasn't remotely summer-like either. I did a 600K brevet that weekend, and we rode through sleet during the night.


    My advice to anyone planning to cycle across Canada, or anywhere within Alberta, Saskatchewan, or Manitoba, at any point during the year, is to bring a balaclava, full-fingered gloves, and booties. You may be fortunate and not need them ... but if you do run into a blizzard in May or August, you'll be glad you have them!!
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  4. #4
    Hooked on Touring
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    Howdy Skookums!
    Howdy Machka!

    Getting ready for a big trip???

    I haven't had much luck on the Icefields Parkway the last few trips - usually in late July - but I was way better off than the Backroads folks in their shorts and t-tops when it was 5 degrees and drizzling out. At least I had my North Face jacket, gloves, long pants, ear band. Those guys were absolutely miserable - - and paying for it.

  5. #5
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jamawani
    Howdy Skookums!
    Howdy Machka!

    Getting ready for a big trip???

    I haven't had much luck on the Icefields Parkway the last few trips - usually in late July - but I was way better off than the Backroads folks in their shorts and t-tops when it was 5 degrees and drizzling out. At least I had my North Face jacket, gloves, long pants, ear band. Those guys were absolutely miserable - - and paying for it.

    My big trip probably won't be till late August ... until then the best I'm hoping for might be a few short trips onto the Icefield Parkway to practice my hill climbing.

    I rode through parts of the Parkway and area a couple times last May and last September. We had a bit of snow the first time in May, and lots of cold rain. The second time though was a gorgeously warm and sunny day. And in September, most of the days were quite nice (temps into the mid-20s C, sunny), but one was freezing cold with pouring rain. So, you just never know!!

    My trip in August will (hopefully) take me out to the eastern side of the continent. I've never been out that way before, so I'm looking forward to it. If it all works out, we'll actually be driving out there (because of time constraints), but stopping periodically along the way to see the sights and ride ... and once we get into the Boston area, there will be a lot of riding. Personally, I'd like to park the car somewhere, and spend a week or so touring the area by bicycle.

  6. #6
    Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by Machka
    My advice to anyone planning to cycle across Canada, or anywhere within Alberta, Saskatchewan, or Manitoba, at any point during the year, is to bring a balaclava, full-fingered gloves, and booties. You may be fortunate and not need them ... but if you do run into a blizzard in May or August, you'll be glad you have them!!
    I agree, though I didn't bike it back then. I worked between Calgary, Medicine Hat and Edmonton for most of 94'..a suprise for a Texas boy. Everyone thought it was hot in the 80's, which was a joke to me. But the joke was ON ME during the summer and when it started snowing in mid August.

  7. #7
    cyclotourist
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    Hi jamawani

    No big trip on the books right now

    I just returned from Chile -hiking not biking - it was fall there,
    and the guides kept warning us about how cold it could be.
    It varied from 0-15C in the mountains- right balmy by Rockies standards.
    I was always wearing fewer clothes than the guides.

    Nice ride up over Rainy Creek Summit west of Bragg Creek today. The last part of the highway is closed until May so no cars to worry abou,t just lots of roadies. Temperature around 12C, and sunny. Beautiful!

  8. #8
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by skookum
    I just returned from Chile -hiking not biking - it was fall there,
    and the guides kept warning us about how cold it could be.
    It varied from 0-15C in the mountains- right balmy by Rockies standards.
    I was always wearing fewer clothes than the guides.
    Same thing happened to me when I went to England one November. It was lovely there - the daily temps usually reached somewhere in the low teens C (+12, +15, etc), and it rained every day but usually only for an hour or two, and then it was sunny. I rode with one of the CTC groups there and they kept apologizing to me for the bad weather.

    The thing was, back home in Winnipeg it was about -20C and we had already had about a foot of snow!! I was in heaven in England!!


    Quote Originally Posted by skookum
    Nice ride up over Rainy Creek Summit west of Bragg Creek today. The last part of the highway is closed until May so no cars to worry abou,t just lots of roadies. Temperature around 12C, and sunny. Beautiful!
    That is a gorgeous area!! The two photos below are somewhere around there ... taken on a road that goes by Elbow Falls (I believe) which ends in a dead end.
    .
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  9. #9
    Punk Rock Lives Roughstuff's Avatar
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    When i go on my 3 month 'summer' tours I usually start in late May and finish in late August. My experience with the northwest is that its' 'rainy' or snowy (in the Mts) season does not reliably end until late June. Till then be ready for those storms. Of course its all that rain and snow that makes the mountains so beautiful. Mckenzie Pass in the cascades is often snowbound well into June, though I have always had luck crossing over it.

    In Europe's alpine region, i usually start in the French alps in late May and zig zag my way eastward, ending in Austria in August. Again: the french alps/June can be damn cold and snowy on those alpine passes; and alot of fog as well.


    roughstuff

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  10. #10
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jamawani
    Getting ready for a big trip???
    How about you? Have you got something planned for this summer?

  11. #11
    Hooked on Touring
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    Yep -
    I'm going to get on the old bike for three months - as usual.
    Lotsa dirt.

    I've got a backcountry permit for a hike down into a remote part of the Grand Canyon - Deer Creek.
    http://www.kaibab.org/tr031/gc16.htm

    I want to do the Castle Wilderness north of Waterton Lakes N.P.
    I think I'm going to skip Banff/Jasper and concentrate on Elk Lakes just over the pass from Kananaskis and then do trails into Height of the Rockies - then forest roads to Kettle Valley and out to - maybe - Bella Coola. Of course the northern ferry service is still totally up in the air - so we'll see.
    I don't even have the beginning of the trip down yet - and I'm planning on leaving in 5 weeks - but California has been really dumped on this winter/spring and the Sierras have mondo snow - - maybe do Death Valley instead.

    And I'm not sure where I'll end up either.

    How's that for indefinite plans?

  12. #12
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    If I can share my experience: In 1963 I was in the Air Force and in school at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver.

    We got up in the morning to a clear blue sky, perfect fall weather, warm and dry, fell into formation and marched to school at 8:00 am. By noon there was 4" of snow on the ground. Three days later it looked like the first morning. A day after that we were snowed in again. The sun came out and melted a lot of snow into water which ran over all of the cleared roads and that night it froze putting 1" of sheer ice on every paved surface in the city.

    In 1990 I attended Fat Tire Week in Crested Butt, Colorado. On a sunny hot July 4th I climbed one of the local passes up to about 12,000 feet. I threw the bike over my shoulder and scaled a cliff up to where I believed there to be a road but which turned out to be a terrace. From there I put the bike on my shoulder and hopped from rock to rock across several still loose rock slides transversing to where the road REALLY was. It began raining on me. Then it began hailing. Soon it was snowing on me on July 4th! Then the sun was out again and it was nice and warm.

    Eventually I reached the road where I returned to the B & B where after the hot tub I watched Greg LeMond in the process of winning the Tour de France.

    Do NOT tour in high country without being ready for any weather conditions. Quite seriously it could be your life.
    Last edited by cyclintom; 04-11-06 at 12:56 PM.

  13. #13
    Tour de World SteveFox's Avatar
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    Good tips goin around here. Living in alberta, I can agree that you have to be well prepared, as teh weather can change in an instant. For example, yesterday at work, it was sunny one minute not a cloud in the sky, and only about 10 minutes later we had hail, then snow, only to be gone in about 15 minutes. Weather can be very nasty around here, but it could be something like now, very warm and nice and sunny, shorts and t shirt weather.

    steve
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  14. #14
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    We're we just talking about something like this?

    (This is a "copy/paste" ... so please excuse the caps)

    "ISSUED BY ENVIRONMENT CANADA AT 3.22 pm PDT Thursday 13 April 2006.

    SPECIAL WEATHER STATEMENT ISSUED FOR..HEAVY SNOWFALL FOR THE INTERIOR MOUNTAIN PASSES.

    A MOIST PACIFIC FRONTAL SYSTEM WILL BRING HEAVY SNOWFALLS TO THE INTERIOR MOUNTAIN PASSES TONIGHT AND FRIDAY. THE SNOW LEVEL WILL LOWER THIS EVENING TO NEAR 1000 METRES EXCEPT NEAR 1200 FOR KOOTENAY PASS.

    TOTAL SNOWFALL ACCUMULATIONS OF 25 TO 40 CM ARE FORECAST FOR COQUIHALLA SUMMIT, ALLISON PASS, ROGERS PASS AND KOOTENAY PASS. MUCH LESSER AMOUNTS OF 4 TO 8 CM ARE EXPECTED FOR THE CONNECTOR, COQUIHALLA HIGHWAY BETWEEN MERRIT AND KAMLOOPS AND PINE PASS IN THE NORTH. UNSEASONABLY COOL AND UNSTABLE CONDITIONS WILL PERSIST ON THE WEEKEND."


    That's nearly a foot of snow coming down through the passes there.


    Incidentally, if any of you were planning a cross-Canada tour in the near future, bookmark or in some way save these two websites:

    http://www.theweathernetwork.com
    http://www.theweathernetwork.com/wea...erts/index.htm

    and

    http://weather.ec.gc.ca/canada_e.html
    http://weather.ec.gc.ca/warnings/warnings_e.html

    Because there are weather warnings issued somewhere in Canada pretty much every day all year round, it is not a bad idea to keep on top of them. The warnings could be for anything from torrential rain storms, to 80-100 km/h winds, to heavy snowfall warnings, to tornados, to severe thunderstorms with golf-ball sized hail, or whatever.

    I know it can be hard to get this information when you're cycling, but if you can find a computer to use every few days (tourist information booths have them, libraries have them, and many towns have internet cafes) you can keep on top of things. Also weather information is often posted at Provincial and National Park gates.

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