Denali Report for June 2nd, 2017: Weather Forecasting

Denali in March of 2017.  Photo by Phillip Manning - KTNA

Denali in March of 2017. Photo by Phillip Manning – KTNA

This week on the Denali Report, KTNA’s Phillip Manning discusses the incredibly low summit rate, and speaks with a forecaster from the National Weather Service about trying to predict the weather on Denali.

As of Thursday afternoon, 1,061 climbers are registered to attempt Denali. Of those, 596 are currently on the mountain, and 225 have returned. Only twenty people have reached the summit of Denali thus far in 2017, making the summit rate eight percent.

That could soon change, however. With the recent clear weather, the National Park Service estimates that about a hundred people made an attempt for the summit on Wednesday.

The holiday weekend was also a busy one for rangers and volunteers. Multiple cases of frostbite were reported, one serious enough to warrant a medevac. In addition, one climber was flown off the mountain after falling into a crevasse.

Weather is a major factor in the difficulty of climbing Denali. Each climbing season since the ‘80s, the National Weather Service puts out special forecasts centered on the mountain. I spoke with forecaster Ed Plumb earlier this week about the forecast and how it differs from those available from private companies.

In the case of some forecasts, Plumb says a single model is used to try to predict the weather. At the National Weather Service, Ed Plumb says he and his colleagues use multiple models and see which ones are making better predictions based on available data. Those blended outlooks are then combined with input from experienced meteorologists, some of whom have been working on the mountain forecast for three decades.

While the data sets for the forecasts are limited, just two sets of observations per day from two camps on Denali, Ed Plumb says input from the National Park Service and other people experienced on the ground in the Alaska Range can greatly contribute to the ability of the National Weather Service to put out a more accurate forecast. His recent visit to Talkeetna allowed Plumb to visit base camp himself and speak the people who are using the forecast.

Ed Plumb says input from the National Park Service and the mountaineering community will impact how the National Weather Service creates and delivers the Denali forecast in order to make it more useful and more accurate.




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