Bushwalking and Weather

Using weather forecasts to plan a bushwalk

“The best preparation for tomorrow is doing your best today.” H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Weather conditions can totally change a bushwalking experience. For some, a rainy trip can be a magical way of seeing the trees jump to life under different lighting conditions, for others, it’s enjoying the eery silence as all wildlife take shelter and the birds stop singing.

Taking into account likely weather conditions is a key part of the planning and preparation process. It affects our decisions as to what to wear, what type of equipment to carry, how much water to carry and so on. Together, it’s part of how to make a bushwalking experience a safe and comfortable journey for everyone involved.

From planning a short day walk to a multi-day wilderness trip, it is a good idea to check the latest weather forecasts and weather warnings before departing to stay safe. Remember, weather conditions change, so keeping alert and being able to quickly adapt to changing conditions is key. Part of the planning and preparation process is making sure that you have enough gear with you not merely just to survive out there in the bush, but thrive!

The Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology posts radar and satellite images, weather maps, tide predictions, sea temperature, tsunami warnings and cyclone maps for the whole country. It’s a great way to understand how weather patterns form and influence our lives. One metric that is particularly handy for bushwalkers is the Wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT). It’s a ‘feels like’ temperature based on actual temperature plus humidity, wind chill and shade. The probable WBGT provides a more accurate indication of the temperature as perceived by humans and can be used to plan which walk to do and what gear to carry.

Recognising extreme weather patterns How to recognise extreme weather patterns

Extreme weather patterns do occur in Australia and can happen at any time of the year. These are the conditions that you should seriously consider postponing or changing bushwalk plans, as there are high risks involved for bushwalkers and search and rescue operations:

  • Thunderstorms: danger of being struck by lightning or caught in heavy rainfall or flooding.
  • High winds: danger of exposure, tree falls or being trapped.
  • Elevated bushfire conditions: danger of exposure or being trapped.
  • Floods: danger of being washed away or being trapped.

Use the website checklist to check for any extreme weather patterns in your area before heading out on your bushwalk.

Bushwalkers can get caught out in extreme weather conditions, so be prepared by checking out our post on coping with extreme weather conditions.

Handling non-extremes Enjoying non-extreme weather patterns

It’s obvious to avoid going into areas with extreme weather conditions – fires, floods and storms.

But weather is highly variable and often we have minor flooding events and medium wind strengths. So the key question here then is how do I make the call to go or stay? How minor is minor? What are the safe boundaries to look for?

Well, there isn’t any hard and fast rules here. There isn’t a rule out there that says: “if it’s over 34 degrees, or has rained more than 100ml in the last 24 hours then don’t go bushwalking”, which is of course, incredibly frustrating for beginners learning about whether or not it’s safe to go bushwalking!

Our advice is to find a mentor who you trust and is an experienced bushwalker in the terrain that you want to visit. Chat to them about the weather conditions and forecasts and get their advice. Monitor weather forecasts over time, understand how it impacts the local environment such as how weather patterns affect things like creek levels and land temperature.

It is also always worth checking park closure information. Parks may be closed during extreme weather and can also be closed (partially or fully) due to other reasons such as prescribed burns, pest control, infrastructure damage or bush regeneration.

The most important thing is this: if in doubt, play it safe. It’s simply not worth the risk you put yourself and any rescue operators that may have to get involved.

Checklist List of websites to check before going bushwalking

Never ignore weather and fire warnings. If in doubt, common sense prevails – Better safe than sorry!

For weather warnings: check with the Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology. You can also access it from your mobile device on http://m.bom.gov.au/.

For bushfire warnings: check with the NSW Rural Fire Service publish details of bushfires and hazard reduction burns online. You can also download the NSW Rural Fire Service Fires near Me app on iTunes or Android for information on the go in New South Wales and the ACT.

For park alerts/closures: check with NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) before you set out.

If your track involves river crossing, or river activities such as kayaking, check out river conditions on Bureau of Meteorology.