Mt. Zirkel's forecast for today: mostly windy

GPS coordinates allow detailed backcountry forecasts


— If you thought the weather in Steamboat Springs on Tuesday was bordering on wintry, you should have stood at the summit of Mount Zirkel.

The temperature stayed below freezing, the wind blew steadily at more than 30 mph, and it was pushing 3 or 4 inches of fresh snow around.

It will probably come as no surprise to longtime residents of Steamboat Springs that the weather on Mount Zirkel was harsher than that in town. At 12,180 feet, Zirkel's exposed summit is the highest point in Routt County - almost 2,000 feet higher in elevation than the top of the Steamboat Ski Area.

What some people may not realize is that if you have a handheld GPS device and have been logging in the locations of your favorite backcountry destinations, you can very quickly generate a point specific weather forecast for any location. It can be done easily at the Web page of the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

"Not only can we give you temperatures, but wind speed, wind gusts, sky conditions and the probability of precipitation," said senior forecaster Troy Lindquist.

Lindquist's colleague, warning coordination meteorologist Jim Pringle, said if backcountry enthusiasts know the latitude and longitude for a mountain peak or a secret fishing lake, they can generate a "point forecast" for a "grid box" that measures 2.5 kilometers on a side (about 2.25 square miles total) and contains the destination they are interested in.

Lindquist and Pringle were in Steamboat Springs this week to conduct a training session for weather spotters who supply weather information to the NWS office in Grand Junction. The office uses computer software to generate millions of pieces of weather data daily for a territory that stretches from Moab, Utah, in the west to Grand County in the east and spans 53,000 square miles.

The process is complex, Pringle said. They begin by "graphically drawing" prevailing weather zones on a map of the region. The computer uses software to "grab" different elevation profiles and apply weather producing atmospheric trends to specific locations.

In order to check the forecast for Mount Zirkel, go to and scroll down to the bottom of the page. Just above the radar map are two boxes to enter latitude and longitude. Enter latitude of 37.94 and a longitude of 107.42. You'll get a weather forecast as detailed as if you had typed in your zip code in Steamboat.

Even outdoor enthusiasts who haven't built a personal database of GPS coordinates can find the latitude and longitude of many Colorado mountain summits - is one place to go.

In case you are curious, Mount Zirkel's weather Tuesday wasn't the nastiest in Colorado. Redcloud Peak, deep in the San Juans near Lake City, for example, was expecting a high of 18 degrees, gusts as high as 45 mph and 4 to 8 inches of snow.

- To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205

or e-mail


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