Reading the weather

As an enthusiast of outdoor sports, and cycling in particular, it’s important to have an idea of what the weather might be like while you’re out and about, in order to plan ahead in terms of clothing to wear and bring. Get stuck in a cold rainstorm under dressed, and two hours from home, and you’ll have a miserable time of it. Mistake the fog for a thick one that won’t burn off, dress warmly, and you may be pouring sweat as you climb up some road under a blazing spring sun.

It takes time to get a feel for what the weather will do in any given place. Time, and “experience”, which often means memorable experiences like the two above (both real) that you’ll consider next time you go out. In this day and age, there are some technological solutions, such as this site that I built to animate radar images for the Veneto region of Italy, along with weather forecasts, but when it comes down to it, you have to look out the window and rely on your experience and knowledge.

For instance, in Eugene, Oregon, where I’m from, it has a well-deserved reputation for rain, but once it’s finally summer time, in late July and August, it’s quite common to have days that are pure sunshine, from dawn till dusk, with a pleasant lack of humidity, and very rarely too hot. On the other hand, Padova’s winters are much drier, but cold and crisp. But in the summer, you’d best go for your ride in the morning, because what starts out as a brilliantly clear day can quickly go downhill in the afternoon, and turn into a torrential thunderstorm that will soak you in 10 seconds flat.

Having lived in both for a number of years, I pretty much have Eugene and Padova figured out. Innsbruck, on the other hand, is quite a puzzle. It doesn’t help that it’s in the middle of the mountains, which complicates things quite a bit: you can’t see bad weather coming, and the mountains often seem to play strange tricks. The past week was very gray, and it always looked like it was on the verge of a heavy rain, but in reality it didn’t rain much at all, it just spent the whole week looking like it did. On Monday I went out for a mountain bike ride, and reached the top of the hill looking at a black wall of very pregnant looking clouds, accompanied by thunder. A good reason to return home quick to avoid a thorough soaking of cold mountain rain, if there ever were one. Upon returning to our nice, dry house, I waited for the expected cloudburst. And waited, and waited, and soon evening came, and no rain. I think it may have rained a bit at night, but I felt pretty silly cutting my ride short for a “huge thunderstorm” that never materialized. And yet, all my experience indicating that “black clouds nearby + thunder = lots of rain and real soon”, but it seem as if that experience isn’t valid here in the middle of the Tirolean alps. Today there were menacing clouds and some thunder, but I stayed out anyway, and was rewarded with a nice ride and no rain.

Still though, what worked today might not work tomorrow, and what with the extreme conditions that sometimes arrive very quickly in the mountains, it makes one very wary of the “learning process” here.

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