Updated: Jul 6
Need a weather forecast for the next 6 months and beyond?
You are just about to book that beach house but want to be sure you are doused in sunscreen and not rain drops.
You are ready for the perfect hike through fall foliage but don’t want to be slipping and sliding on a muddy trail.
You and some friends have some sick golf courses lined up but really want rain gear to be left in the bag.
You are heading to the mountains to shred but skis are useless if the slopes are bare.
You have a venue booked with an indoor backup plan (you do, right?) but you really want to know the possibilities for your wedding day weather.
What if you could be more confident in the weather for your big plans BEFORE BOOKING and BEFORE SPENDING your hard earned money on that well deserved occasion? Professional planners, agents, resorts--want you to do the exact opposite--ignore it! After all, their bottom line rests on filling as many slots as possible, they don't care if you picked one that doesn't typically have the best weather, even though you paid the same as a nicer slot.
I am going to share with you how you can do this by yourself, without spending a dime. Doing it right will take some time and some patience, but it will improve your odds of desirable weather and allow you to make a decision more confidently.
You probably start like most; it's probably how you ended up here! Curious if it will be another harsh winter in the Big Apple you go over to the interwebs and punch in something like… long range weather forecast NYC. All kinds of shenanigans are in your search results now. You will find cheap weather predictor engines created by people with little to no background in meteorology, funyun-fueled pet projects, the Farmer’s Almanac (don’t get me started), and countless blogs from trusted vendors and magazines that tell you things like, “Try This: (insert bad source from above)” to “it’s not possible;” and none of this advice is particularly helpful.
There are other sites out there that will insult your intelligence with awkwardly chummy statements like, “we know you’re not a meteorologist” and then give you a simplistic forecast for a day a year away. They show a weather icon and a temperature phrase and mislead you to believe they’ve predicted the weather on an exact date in the future. Sadly, some people fall for this. But you know better than that. Weather is not about definitives; it is about probabilities–especially beyond a few days into the future. If you understand this, you can maximize that chance that weather is on your side for any date and location in the future.
UNDERSTAND THE BASICS FOR A GOOD LONG RANGE WEATHER FORECAST
After a few broad pointers, I’ll show you the specific resources and links to get this done. As you get set to make a long range weather forecast, there are a few things you need to consider. Just finding some quick averages will be a waste of your time. If you don’t take all of the variables into account, you will not improve your odds at all and just end up thinking it is not possible. Here are some questions to ask about your long range weather forecast, whether you have done it yourself, or used a service to curate it for you.
Determine the Best Location, Make Sure it is Specific
If you are trying to plan a hiking route in Washington, you need more than a long range weather forecast for the pacific northwest. A lot of the time, you can get data for the exact location to which you’re traveling. You shouldn’t settle for weather information from Seattle, just because it is the nearest big city with the most easily accessible data. If you are going on a bachelor or bachelorette trip to Austin, don’t search for a long range weather forecast for Texas. You don’t want or need the weather for Dallas or Houston. Average conditions can vary, sometimes significantly over very short distances. There are reporting stations and gauges all over the United States–a network that should be used to get the most specific data possible.
Is It Valid For Multiple Years?
There are automated engines available online that spit out what appears to be a precise forecast valid for a year or two. But they don’t go beyond that. This is a really sneaky scheme and should be a red flag to you. Nailing down an exact temperature, rain chance, wind, etc. is not really feasible beyond about five days. These are junk tools that prey on our desire for a binary (yes, no) answer, which just does not exist in weather. We are talking about a long range weather forecast, which is based on historical data and statistics. Since the climate averages and statistics are updated every ten years, a good long range weather outlook allows you to make plans multiple months or years in advance. The method I’m sharing with you, that we use at YourCast, makes yours valid for up to ten years.
Does It Give Daily Temperature and Precipitation Chances?
Wikipedia is an example of a really great site for some quick weather and climate information. Most larger cities have a whole section with really detailed monthly data. You can see the average high and low temperatures, average monthly precipitation, days above 100 degrees and days below 32 degrees. You would look at this and really think it is good enough. However, there are nuances and specifics that are missing. For instance, you might see that a specific month averages six inches of rain. That information does not tell you if most of that occurs in the beginning of the month or the end of the month or has a tendency to occur in few, heavy events or many days of light rain. The answer can significantly affect how you make plans. Another example is that you might see the average high temperature is 75 degrees which sounds perfect. That information would not clarify that it is a time of year where cold fronts are constantly moving through and the 75 degree average comes from half of the days being in the 80s and half of the days being in the 60s–that is a big packing nightmare!
Does It Provide High Impact Weather Chances?
One of our YourCast clients was considering multiple locations in the Mountain West for a golf trip. Common knowledge told them that Arizona would be hot and the long range weather forecast for Colorado would be dry around the dates being considered. However, they were not aware that they were considering Arizona at the beginning of monsoon season when heavy rain events can wash out whole weeks and that Colorado was at severe risk for wildfires.
Does It Provide Packing Recommendations?
Have you been on a vacation and not realized the air was super dry and you forgot chapstick? Have you ever gone hiking and not realized there was a specific pollen active and you forgot allergy meds? Sure, these are minor inconveniences and can be fixed with a quick trip to the store, but it would be nice knowing ahead of time, wouldn’t it?
Does It Provide You With A Comparison Between Multiple Dates & Locations?
When you are trying to decide on the best date and location for a snowscape ski trip or a sun soaked beach vacation, it is really helpful to have all the options side by side in one table or graph to illustrate the different chances for desirable weather. If your resource or service does not provide this option to you (and I can tell you the do-it-yourself method does not), get your favorite spreadsheet application ready. Once you retrieve the weather data for temperatures, precipitation, humidity, winds, severe weather, etc. you can copy those into the spreadsheet to see all the numbers together to identify the best date(s) and location.
Does The Data Have Context?
Numbers without context are, well, just numbers. Calculating the temperature averages is a great first step but 87 degrees and humid feels a lot different than 87 degrees and dry. Knowing the rain chances for a date is handy but a 40 percent chance might not be a big deal if it is most likely for a short time in the late afternoon. You see that a month averages lots of snow but what if that all comes in one big storm? Make sure your service puts all of these items into perspective. If homegaming the outlook, be sure to look at weather modifiers like humidity, wind, hourly rainfall, daily snowfall, etc.
Does It Provide Continuous Updates?
Look, weather has historical trends that repeat. But sometimes, weird climate patterns like El Nino and La Nina throw a wrench into what is considered normal. So, even after you have booked and paid for plans, it is important to check on those long term patterns to see if things are still tracking well. Even if you identify some changes, there is still plenty of time to make packing or planning adjustments.
Does The Data Come From a Certified/Degreed Meteorologist?
You would not hire a meteorologist to build a bridge, no more than you would want an engineer to provide weather guidance! Of course, if you do it on your own, while you may not be a meteorologist, you can verify that your information has come from credentialed sources of weather information. In the United States, large trustworthy sources include NOAA, Universities, local broadcast meteorologists and sometimes The Weather Channel and AccuWeather. There are certainly smaller outfits you may find, just please be sure to read the “about” section of their webpage!
Sound like a Lot? It is! YourCast can do it all for you, with both free and paid options.
Not only that, we become your personal weather service to answer any questions up until the big day.
CLICK HERE to get in touch!
HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN LONG RANGE WEATHER FORECAST
For temperature and precipitation data, including a number of key thresholds for all three go to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. Select the “normal monthly” from the type/data set drop down menu, followed by the city and date range of your choosing and await a report to your inbox. The report will provide the average daily high and low by month, the standard deviation from those temperatures, the average number of days below freezing, above 50, 90 and 100, the average total precipitation by month and the number of days certain amounts of rain occur per month. Once you have the report, you will need to sort out what is important to you to guide your decision.
For identifying the risk of impact weather events you will want to visit the “climatology” sections in the drop down menus of both the Storm Prediction Center and the National Hurricane Center. These will give you some general information but will not be able to pin down probabilities based on historical statistics in the same way that YourCast can.
For continuous updates once you have booked, you will want to visit the Climate Prediction Center. They offer outlooks from 6-10 days out to three months. Their top side tab has clickable text to section about major global climate patterns like El Nino and La Nina. Their outlooks look daunting, but each has an accompanying slideshow explaining what the outlooks mean.
For packing recommendations, clean side-by-side comparisons, and easy to understand context to the outlook–those are just not things that come from public databases online. A premium, paid service like YourCast can provide those items. Not to mention, hiring out this task will save you the headache and several hours (plan for six to eight for your first time) that go into properly making a useful long term weather outlook.
I don’t want any of that to sound like a sales pitch. Believe me, I would love to have the opportunity to provide you with this data and then be your personal meteorologist with weather updates right up until the big day. But if you want to go it alone, that’s fine too!
My main hope is that you do consider a long range weather forecast and make the most informed decision possible before booking plans and spending money. Acknowledging something so simple, but so overlooked, can give you the best chance of experiencing the weather you want for your occasion.