Remote Forecasting

Remote forecasting for the Patagonia Ice Caps


In my 28 years as a professional Meteorologist with the Met Office, I was lucky enough to have been one of those few individuals to have walked the line from Commercial forecasting, to Media and finally into Defence forecasting and this gave me a wealth of expertise. So, in 2014, when I was approached by Richard Hartley of Spanish Highs Mountain Guides based in the Sierra Nevada and asked if I could help out with some weather support for their climbing expedition to the Patagonia Ice Caps, I was more than delighted to offer my help and give up some free time.

I was already planning to launch my own private weather service with a specific interest in being able to offer weather support to sailors when in remote areas, such as sailing transatlantic. Being a Meteorologist isn’t just about providing information for Saturday’s barbecue or for businesses not to make financial losses, it is very much about being able to give pre-warning of severe weather events and to ensure people’s safety. This has always been my mantra throughout my forecasting career and something I wished to emulate through my new business. After talking to Richard about his expeditions, I realised that mountaineering was another area that could benefit from more weather support.

And so Spanish Highs were due to run one of their Patagonia Expeditions during November-December 2014 and Richard explained how in previous expeditions they had been sent daily “meteogram” weather data by coded message to their Yellow Brick Tracking device.

This was in a code already devised by Richard in order to get across as much weather information as possible via a short text message. So where could I help in improving this? My input and aim as I explained to Richard was to enhance this data by adding my professional knowledge and expertise, and in doing so we hoped that Richard would be able to make safer, more confident decisions for his team based on the weather forecast.
For anyone who has been in the mountains or forecast for the mountains, they will know how unpredictable it can be – a slight shift in wind completely changing the conditions – and with the development of striking cap clouds an instant sign of strong winds. And as the time drew nearer to Richard’s team taking off for Patagonia, the enormity of what I was going to do for them hit me. This wasn’t ever going to be about being 100% accurate in terms of getting it right down to the nearest degC or knot – this was about keeping Richard’s team safe – about finding him a weather window to get through the Paso Marconi and onto the glacier safely – about forewarning him of bad weather so that the team would know when it was time to dig in.

ReceivingForecastAnd so we fine tuned the code we were going to use, the aim to send a 3 day forecast of daily wind, precipitation, temperature and wind chill – with an additional 2 day outlook consisting of any possible deterioration or improvement in the weather. And all of this, to be sent by text message to Richard’s Yellow Brick Tracker. Where my professional expertise came in was not only to send him available “meteogram data” but to add value to this by using upper air soundings for the area and forecast model charts. As well as this, for the two weeks of the trek I monitored Richard’s progress and position and altitude via his Yellow Brick and was able to cater my forecast to his given altitude. I also made use of available radar and satellite for the Argentina/ Chile region to monitor incoming storms. This wasn’t a quick automated forecast service, but a personal bespoke weather service catering for this team and it’s expedition – it’s main aim – to help ensure safety.

So was the expedition a success? Why not watch Ian Tupman’s video of the expedition (one of the expedition team) or visit the Spanish Highs web page and read all about it. And if you are involved in mountaineering or trekking and think you could make use of this weather support – why not contact me and try my weather4mountain service.

© Stephanie Ball, 2015