Understanding the Weather Forecast

weather ying and yang
Weather Ying and Yang

NOTE: What a perfect weekend to post this!  The weather dudes said there’d be a 60% change of rain today and right there’s big puffy clouds and sun. Read on my paddling friends!

Wisconsin River Outings takes a lot of phone calls on Wednesday and Thursday during the summer months.  While most of them are about booking trips for the coming weekend (assuming we have any boats left to rent) a good number of them are customers who are concerned about the weather forecast and if they should cancel their trip due to a forecast they see online or heard from their local TV weatherperson.

We are aware of how difficult it is to block off time and organize friends and family to pull off a paddle trip during our, way-too-brief, summers.  Our objective is to get you on the water, on the day you booked it, so you don’t need to figure out how to reschedule.

Below are some pointers in how to approach weather forecasts when preparing for any outdoor activity. We hope you find them helpful.

Location

Generally speaking, a forecast in the Chicago area can’t be applied to the Wisconsin River Valley that’s 170 miles away. If you’re going to check up on the forecast for the days of your trip your best bet is to check a local forecast for Boscobel, WI.

Chance of Rain

Living on the “sunny side” of life suggests that when you see there’s a 30% chance of rain during your trip…there’s a 70% chance it WON’T rain during you trip.  Think about it, how often is your local weather person wrong…or, as fate would have it, the rain simply misses you on any given day in your local area?  We are in a parallel universe here in the Mighty Wisconsin and the same thing happens here.

More Important – Amount of Rain

So, your local weatherdude (or -dudette) covers their rear by warning you of rain this coming weekend when you need to get your lawn mowed.  Most of them, unless they fear an OBVIOUS, HUGE AMOUNT of rain won’t venture to guess HOW MUCH rain you’ll get…most likely for fear you’ll hold them to it.

You want a source that provides more information: the forecast says there’s a 50% change of rain on Saturday and also says to expect “new rainfall amounts of less than a tenth of an inch.”  That ain’t nothin’!  1/10 of an inch is basically a drizzle for an hour and it’s done.  Would you bother cancelling your trip if you were going to have an hour of nuisance?

Honestly, How Often is a Forecast Correct?

Operating on the assumption that 60% of statistics are made up right on the spot, your local weatherperson STINKS at predicting the weather and specifically the chance of rain. They suffer from the phenomenon commonly known as a wet bias, where “weather forecasters will err toward predicting more rain [and chance of rain] than there really is.”

And then there’s the Wind…

Wind is a part of weather.  Wind is a part of life. The prevailing winds in the Midwest are from the west or southwest – guess what direction the Wisconsin River flow?  Yep, southwest.

Just like the rain, wind is mostly an issue of preparing yourself above the shoulders and getting your mind “right.” And yes, you’ll get a lot of work below the shoulders also but remember:

  • It’s better than a good day at work!
  • Anything worth experiencing is worth earning.
  • PLAN – paddle early and late in the day when the wind is making going difficult, this is when the wind is blowing the least.
  • SURRENDER!  You are on Mother Nature’s field, you can’t stop her from throwing what she wants at you, just like you can’t change the times of the rising and setting sun.

What to do?

We rely on NOAA – weather.gov!  Why? Because they not only give the chance of rain but they also provide a detailed forecast with the amount of rain expected…almost no one else does this!

Some words to live by in closing:

There is no bad weather, only bad gear – having quality gear to keep you dry and warm is more than half the battle. Three of my top 5 paddle memories have been in “inclement” weather and it was made enjoyable because I was comfortable.

Weather is 90% between the ears! If you think you’re gonna have a horrible time because the forecast suggests you’re not going to have your idea of “perfect weather”…you’re gonna have a horrible time, period.

Take your local forecast with a grain of salt.

If you see rain coming…set up your tent.

Rain at 7, sun by 11.  Talking the morning here.  I was introduced to this saying about 8 years ago by an old farmer and it’s frightening how accurate it is.  If it’s raining at 5 AM and stops at 6 AM, first of all enjoy the sound of rain hitting your rainfly – there may be nothing more peaceful and relaxing on the planet – but don’t sprint out of your tent and start breaking it down the minute it stops.  It might rain again and if you just take your time more often then not in a few hours the sun will be out rather than you getting to the landing at 7:15 AM with a drenched tent and your pickup isn’t until 1 PM.

While I’m not pro technology on the river…have a good radar app on your phone – but be prepared to not have a cell/data to use it.

OK, that’s all I got. That’s almost 20 years of outdoor experience on this niche topic.  I hope I see you enjoying our river soon – regardless of the forecast.