Predicting Weather For Outdoor Location Photography

I just returned from a location shoot in the Cascade Mountains, east of Seattle today. The weather had us guessing at several points during the day, but for the most part it went according to plan. Plan? That’s right, as someone who is often hired to shoot outdoors, I’ve been forced to become quite the weatherman, doing my best to anticipate and plan for Mother Nature’s ways. She always plays hard to get, but it occurred that it would be good to share how–over the past 13 years–I’ve managed to keep an eye on the weather with some reasonable success.

The nice thing about my “science” is that it’s available to anyone. My primary three resources are online and I tend gather info from all of them and compare/contrast the info to have as clear a picture as possible. In order of preference:

1. This is a free site that gives weather forecast by city/state or by zip code. It also provides, lower on the page, handy info like sunrise, sunset times, wind, moon status and local area weather blogs worth reading, as well as a detailed history of weather patterns.

2. This is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or in short, government weather from the US Department of Commerce. Some deep diving in this site for specific weather OR this site in conjunction with various universities in the area about which you are curious can be really helpful (especially for mountain weather telemetry.)

3. The local news channel weather for whatever city/region. For example, here in Seattle, I often reference A simple Google search for a city or region will reveal local weather/news sites, etc.

BONUS. If I have time or it’s important to further support my weather forecast the best group to know/speak with are definitely helicopter or airline pilots. Commercial heli pilots in particular are usually dialed into the weather quite keenly through a paid weather source, years of experience, and common sense. If you’re shoot involves helicopters or planes, or you’ve got access these resource in addition to the others, use ‘em!

Now, keep in mind that I amalgamate all of the info I can from the sources above in determining MY personal outlook for the weather at any given location. While these are typically suited for USA spots, other similar options are available for most geographic regions you’re looking for in any given country where collecting weather information is common. It just takes a bit more digging.

And last but not least, there’s never a substitute for planning ahead for all types of weather when you’re on location. Check, double check, and have contingency plans. Mother Natures loves to keep us guessing, and every time you think you “know” the weather, she has a habit of showing us that we really don’t know squat ;)

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