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a man standing in the snow next to tents.
Chris Tomer at high camp of Huascaran Peak in 2017, one of the highest in Peru at more than 22,000 feet. Tomer is a meteorologist for Fox31 News and forecasts weather for mountaineers on some of the world's largest peaks. (Provided by Chris Tomer)

Whenever one of Chris Tomer’s teams preparing for a final push up Mount Everest asks him for a forecast, he asks them a question first: What do you see?

Sniffing the air and looking up is how we forecasted weather in the 1800s. But Tomer’s a famous TV meteorologist (you can tell by the hair). In the Fox31 studio in Denver, Tomer uses computers to tell you it’s going to snow, even when it’s May.

This story first appeared in The Outsider, the premium outdoor newsletter by Jason Blevins.

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But when a team of mountaineers are deciding whether to risk their lives and head to the summit of the world’s tallest mountain, Tomer first asks them to poke their heads outside their tents. The simple request shows how complex it can be to give a five-day forecast for mountain ranges across the world, including our own. Tomer needs as much information as he can get. It’s so tricky that Tomer names three others on the planet who can forecast the two factors, wind and snow, on massive mountain ranges that could block mountaineers from a lifetime achievement or even kill them. 

It’s not that Tomer is better than just about anyone, though many big-peak mountaineers say he is. It’s that hardly anyone will try it.

“We follow equations,” Tomer said, “but equations break down when you’re talking about the mountains. The art of it is, over time, you figure out what works best for certain mountains at what time of year, and that becomes your guide.”

And yet, the kind of forecasting Tomer can do has changed mountaineering, say at least two of Colorado’s best climbers, because the weather, more than any other factor, determines whether they make the top. After all, if the weather was good all the time on, say, Everest, it might be as popular as, say, Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. But the weather and the breathtakingly thin air, much more than the route, are what make Everest so difficult. There’s really only a two-week window, May 10-22, when the weather on Everest allows climbers to try for the summit.

This means Tomer may spend more than two hours a day forecasting this time of year, which he calls his busiest. It’s a part-time job in addition to his duties for Fox31 and Channel 2, where he hosts “Great Day Colorado,” a morning lifestyle show, from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.

This month alone, his clients included a couple of ski mountaineers, including one in Norway’s Scandinavian range as well as three climbing teams in Alaska, three on Everest and one team on Dhaulagiri, the seventh-highest mountain in the world (he learned on May 15 that a couple of those climbers made the summit).

Tomer looks more like a golfer than a mountaineer, with his clean-shaven face, gleaming smile and, yes, the hair. But he’s climbed all the 14ers — he finished in 2009 — and slept on the summits of the toughest ones, including Capitol Peak, probably the state’s hardest, after two attempts were foiled by, you guessed it, the weather. Denali, North America’s tallest peak, is on his to-do list.

All that time he’s spent on Colorado peaks may be the reason why he’s just so good at forecasting the weather that sweeps across them.

Chris Tomer in a promo shot for Fox31 at his desk. Tomer also hosts a morning lifestyle show, Good Morning Colorado, for Channel 2. (Handout)

“Chris lives and climbs in the mountains, so he knows how the topography can impact forecasts,” said Alan Arnette, a Fort Collins resident who, among other achievements, summited Everest in 2011 and in 2014, at age 58, became the oldest American to climb the mighty K2. “It takes more than looking at computer-generated models like on Mountain Forecast. It takes a human with intuition plus experience to aggregate and synthesize the data and make an informed decision on what to tell his clients.”

No longer a crapshoot

If you’re a fan of classic mountaineering stories such as “Annapurna,” you know the one constant throughout all of them is the weather. It’s an entity, really, and climbers battle it the way a priest might battle a demon. Climbers have long known the best weather windows on the most famous peaks, but beyond that, it was kind of a crapshoot.

Climbing huge peaks isn’t like going after a 14er in a single day. You generally establish camps, stash gear and wait for a weather window that allows you to make a push over a few days, from camp to camp, to the summit. In the past, climbers had limited information, so they would go when the weather looked good and hoped a storm wouldn’t move in, stopping them from the summit and stranding or even killing them.


Even those who guessed right and made the summit might face a nasty squall on the way down, costing them a few toes from frostbite. Heck, as late as 1996, eight climbers famously died on May 10-11 when they were caught in a blizzard on Everest, and another, Beck Weathers, lost his nose, right hand and all his left fingers to frostbite.

The weather is still an issue, but the gamble isn’t as great, and that’s because, in part, of Tomer. In fact, Sarah Strattan of Aspen credits her prestigious summit of K2 to Tomer. Everest may get the attention — it is the tallest, after all — but K2 is not just the second-highest, it’s much harder, in part because of its more fearsome weather. More than 6,300 have climbed Everest, but just over 700 have summited K2, and 96 have died on it.

Strattan made the top, she said, because she listened to Tomer’s reassurances that July 22, 2022, looked like a good day to climb. No other climbers, using standard forecasts at base camp, thought so, and without Tomer’s help, she wouldn’t have gone. July 22 was, in fact, a good day, and she registered a lifetime achievement because Tomer, after getting up at 3 a.m. here, sent her an accurate forecast.

Wi-Fi is generally available at most base camps on huge mountains, including K2, and some climbers now believe they can use a free forecasting service, Strattan said. But she pays Tomer as much as $500 a trip for his forecasts, and she believes it’s worth it. Strattan ranks the forecasts as the most important tool on an expedition besides, you know, food. Strattan and others can now select a solid window over a few days and climb with the assurance that the forecast looks good. That’s no guarantee, but it’s not guessing either.

These forecasts, and advances in lightweight yet protective and warm gear, have made mountaineering easier and safer, Strattan said.

“You still have to climb the mountain,” she said. “But it’s almost hard to believe how they used to climb. I can’t even imagine not having the gear or the forecasts. It’s much less of a gamble now.”

Love triangle

Tomer has a pretty typical meteorologist’s story. He loved the weather and wanted to know why it acted the way it did. He got a meteorology degree at Valparaiso University in Indiana and decided he wanted to be on TV. He learned how to do his hair. Bingo.

Tomer also has a pretty typical love story with Colorado mountains. He grew up near Columbus, Ohio, but got an introduction to the mountains when his parents took him skiing for weeks at a time. He eventually climbed his first 14er, Mount Sneffels, in 2002, with his college roommate, Jon Kedrowski. Kedrowski and Tomer played basketball for Valparaiso, and he told Tomer that climbing mountains was a good way to get in shape for hoops. Tomer liked the views and the endurance test, but he also loved watching the weather react to the peaks.

“They went hand in hand,” Tomer said. “You heard all the time that you had to be off the peak by noon, but oh wow, you’d see that they would develop every day.”

He became fascinated by it and eventually finished the 14ers with Kedrowski, who later became Tomer’s first mountain forecasting client in 2011. That year, Kedrowski, with Tomer’s help, became the first ever to sleep on all the 14er summits. Kedrowski wrote a book about that summer with Tomer called “Sleeping on the Summits.” Kedrowski lives in Vail and leads trips on treks to Everest Base Camp, Aconcagua (the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere at more than 22,000 feet) and other adventures and was on Everest this May. He has climbed Everest a couple times. Kedrowski has a doctorate in climate science but calls Tomer’s forecasts “a big help.”

“When I am out there, getting good weather data allows me to make good decisions,” Kedrowski said via a text from Everest. “At times I sent feedback to Chris as well, but he’s always good at making adjustments to his forecasts.”

Tomer with is wife, Leanne, on the Continental Divide during a hike. (Provided by Chris Tomer)

Tomer developed a sense, as climbers will, of how the mountains changed the weather or created their own storms. Here’s a complicated, scientific explanation for that: The big mountains screw with it. Tomer knows how the massive topography screws with it, and he can adjust what the models are telling him to create his own forecast specific for a big peak. Tomer does this for our own peaks as well, and word has gotten around: Tomer’s never advertised his mountaineering services, but he does it year-round now.

So why does Tomer need the observations of his teams on the mountain? Well, there are no other points of reference in areas so remote and wild, and he needs his climbers’ eyes to help him adjust his own knowledge of the mountain he’s forecasting and what the models are saying. Models are enough for, say, Greeley, but not Everest.

Tomer generally sends two updates a day, a forecast that greets the climbers when they wake up shivering in their tents and later that afternoon. He also can give them a five-day forecast with a high amount of confidence. Anything longer than a week, however, is shaky.

Despite Strattan’s story, Tomer believes his forecasts are better tools for when not to go because that’s what saves lives. But he once gave a team stranded by fierce weather on Peak 11,300 in Alaska a tiny window for them to escape, probably his most harrowing moment, he said.

Teams rarely ignore his advice — Tomer calls this “going rogue” — and so he feels a certain pride if they make a big summit. He calls them “his” teams, in the same way loyal fans might refer to their favorite football team.

The big peaks are way cool, but Tomer enjoys working for Colorado teams just as much, as our peaks can offer just as much of a challenge to forecast. He helped Chris Fisher break the speed record for climbing all the 14ers in the winter this year and he’s done forecasting for local legend and friend Andrew Hamilton, who owns the summer speed record. Tomer’s most important work could be for those attempting Nolan’s 14, which calls for climbing 14 specific 14ers in Colorado’s Sawatch Range in 60 hours or less. Nolan’s 14 is dangerous because climbers spend a lot of time above treeline, where wind, icy rain and lightning are a huge factor, and they usually do it in July, when snow has cleared the peaks but our monsoon season has started.

In this Dec. 18, 2018 photo, the sun sets behind Capitol Peak in Snowmass near Aspen, Colo. (Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times via AP)

It was his experiences with Kedrowski on Colorado peaks that may have inspired Tomer to build his niche mountain forecasting. Tomer went with Kedrowski to sleep on the summits of the toughest 14ers to be a buddy in case something went wrong.

The trip that sticks out to Tomer the most was on Capitol Peak, considered by many to be the hardest 14er. They raced up the 13,688-foot K2, just before the Knife Edge the feature that gives the Capitol ascent its terrifying reputation, and waited out some sketchy weather before making the final push and sleeping on its 14,130 foot summit. Tomer remembers sitting on Capitol and watching the clouds below full of lightning flash all around him.

“It was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen,” Tomer said.

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Dan England

Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @DanEngland