WHITEFISH – While winter is still a few months away, preparations are already being made for colder weather with the installation of a new, state-of-the-art weather station at the summit of Big Mountain.
Recently, Whitefish Mountain Resort, the Northern Rockies Avalanche Safety Workshop and the BNSF Railway Foundation teamed up to finance and install a new weather station. The data will be used to provide better avalanche forecasts and weather information that will be uploaded to the Internet every hour.
“Our skiers and riders will enjoy having this additional information because it will let people see what’s going on atop Big Mountain,” said Riley Polumbus, spokesperson for Whitefish Mountain Resort.
Ted Steiner, a volunteer member of the Flathead Nordic Backcountry Patrol, an avalanche forecaster and consultant for BNSF and a member of the Northern Rockies Avalanche Safety Workshop steering committee, spearheaded the installation of the new weather station. Late last year, Steiner suggested that some of the funds from the annual safety workshop be used to construct an automated weather station on Big Mountain. The steering committee decided to donate $5,000 to the project. Steiner then approached Whitefish Mountain Resort and the BNSF Railway Foundation, both of which provided matching donations of $5,000.
This summer, Steiner and others volunteered their own time to help build the station, which replaced an older one atop the mountain that required more maintenance. The new station can determine snow depth, temperature, relative humidity and wind speed and direction. It also has a small, heated bucket that melts snow to determine how much precipitation is in the snow, which is especially helpful when determining avalanche conditions.
While there has been a basic weather station at the top of Big Mountain for many years, Steiner said it did not provide the same amount of detailed information. Until now, the closest mountain-based automated weather stations were at Stahl Peak in the upper Whitefish Range and on Flattop Mountain in Glacier National Park.
“There has been a gap in information because there was no advanced weather station here before,” Steiner said. “This new station will give us some very robust information.”
The new station will be maintained by the U.S. Forest Service’s Flathead Avalanche Center, which provides avalanche forecasts throughout the winter. Avalanche Center Director Erich Peitzsch said even though the new weather station is one of the best on the market, the equipment must endure incredibly harsh conditions and because of that it needs to be frequently maintained.
Leif Nelson, a volunteer with the Flathead Nordic Backcountry Patrol, said the new weather station would provide invaluable information to rescuers when they are searching for lost skiers and riders.
“When we’re doing search and rescue out here it’s good to have information to know what we’ll be facing in the backcountry,” Nelson said.
The donation from BNSF is one of many its foundation distributes every year in communities along its 32,000-mile rail system. Railroad spokesperson Matt Jones said supporting the new weather station was an easy decision for the company.
“The BNSF Railway Foundation’s mission is to support community projects along our entire system,” Jones said. “There are so many aspects of this weather station project that made it a great fit for the foundation’s support.”
The Northern Rockies Avalanche Safety Workshop is scheduled for Oct. 25 at the Grouse Mountain Lodge in Whitefish and usually attracts up to 300 avalanche experts and recreationalists. Speakers include avalanche specialists from around the country who will talk about how to be safe in the mountains. Pre-registration is $20 or $25 at the door. For additional information visit www.avalanchesafetyworkshop.com.