What Sort of Weather to Hope For at a Retreat Location
In an earlier part of this article series – Weather Considerations When Choosing a Retreat – we explained how weather is probably the most important issue to consider and optimize when selecting a favorable location for your retreat. Hopefully you’re now persuaded of that fact.
So, given that choosing a ‘good weather’ location is vitally important, perhaps now we need to consider what exactly ‘good’ weather is.
This might seem simplistic. We know good weather when we experience it, right? A nice sunny day, little or no wind, no rain, low humidity, and clear blue sky.
Well, this is undoubtedly a nice day for us to enjoy, but if this was the type of weather your retreat could anticipate, year-round, you’d most likely have major problems. Sunny weather and low humidity means that soils dry out, and no rain means no water comes naturally to replenish the water being used by crops and evaporated by the sun.
Here’s a list of weather related factors to consider.
We suggest you create spreadsheets, with the various factors ranged in rows across, and different destinations in columns down, so you can tabulate the pluses and minuses of first general regions and then secondly specific locations within those regions.
No Extreme Weather
You want a place that never gets tornadoes or hurricanes. Not just rarely – never.
Even if a tornado or hurricane doesn’t destroy your main retreat building, it might rip through your crops and other structures, destroying your year’s harvest. And the same weather event would rip through your neighbors’ properties too, so you’d have no people to readily turn to for assistance.
We suggest you look at a flood plain map for your area and see the limits of any nearby 100 year flood zones, and make sure that your location is either or both a considerable distance away and/or some feet further up in elevation.
Just like the extreme weather mentioned above, flooding isn’t just bad for you. It is bad for your crops and livestock too. You can’t afford the risk of flooding.
Rain and Water Issues
Don’t just look at the annual rainfall for your location. Drill down and have a look at the monthly figures – and look at the average numbers, both annually and the ten-year (or longer) highs and the ten-year (or longer) lows.
Longer period highs and lows are better than ‘only’ ten year periods, because there are some 50+ year cycles of climate that impact on rainfall, making peaks and troughs in annual rainfall cycle through 50 year and longer periods. See our article on evaluating weather issues and vulnerabilities for more on how to assess likely annual rainfall and its variations.
Ideally, you want some rain just about every month, although depending on the crops you plan on growing, there might be some that need a period reasonably rain-free around harvest time.
The amount of rain you want/need depends on the type of agricultural uses you’re planning on, and also on the type of ground, and other weather issues like heat (more heat = more water evaporates), humidity (less humidity = more water evaporates) and wind (more wind = more water evaporates).
In addition there’s your own personal consumption of water too, of course, but this will be only a very small percentage of your total water needs.
Another issue is how much rainwater you plan to collect from the roofs of your various structures on your site. Remember the rule of thumb that an inch of steady rainfall on 1000 sq ft of roof represents almost 623 gallons of water (less some which may evaporate off or remain on the roof or soak into the roofing material – the slower the rain falls, and the warmer/windier the weather, the greater your evaporative loss will be).
Ideally it would be great to have at least a couple of inches of rain every month (other than for any period of time you or your crops need to be dry).
Be careful also of how what appears to be a single rain-free month can actually be concealing almost three solidly dry months. If you are looking only at monthly data, and you see three months with rainfall of 0.3″, 0.0″ and 0.4″, for all you know, the rainfall in the first month might occur in the first few days, leaving three weeks of that month without rain, and the rainfall in the last month might occur in the last few days, adding another 3+ weeks of dry weather at the other end of the officially dry month.
You need to get a feeling for daily rainfall patterns as well as monthly patterns to more accurately project possible rainfall. We discuss rainfall analysis in some detail in our article on how much rainwater you can store.
Of course, anything is possible with irrigation, but irrigation can be an added layer of cost (in equipment, in time, and in energy) and complication (more things to maintain), and any way you can minimize your reliance on irrigation, the better you’ll be. Nonetheless, if you need more water, you’ll need to be assured of being able to get it (this is more a derivative than a direct weather issue).
Sunshine is important for several reasons. It provides heat and growing energy for crops. It also can be a source of energy for you and your electrical systems, via photo voltaic (ie solar) cells.
In addition to the general rule of thumb zones the country is divided into in terms of average hours of sun a day, you want to drill down and get more specific information for your county and as close to your potential site as possible.
The sun at your exact site will of course be based on regional weather and also on any local unique modifications, either to the weather, or the presence of blocking obstacles that obscure the sun for part of the day (especially in the winter, when the sun is lower in the sky).
Some obstructions you might be able to clear (ie trees) but others you’ll have to accept (such as mountains/hills).
You can compensate, to a certain extent, for diminished sunlight by simply adding more and more PV panels, but this of course runs up your capital costs still further. PV cells still generate current in partial sunlight, in a more or less linear fashion – half as much sun ‘brightness’ means half as much power generated, but shade compared to bright sun means a massive fall-off in power generated.
The ‘growing season’ is a rough rule of thumb way of getting a quick indication of how successful you’ll be at growing crops in any area. It counts the number of days from the last frost in spring until the first frost in fall.
However, this number can be overstated, because from a point of view of when you can start growing crops, you want to have ground that is unfrozen and no longer covered in snow. It is possible, particularly on the northern side of slopes where no direct sun reaches, for pockets of snow to sit on the ground well past the end of overnight frosts and for the ground to remain frozen for some time after the final frost.
The benefit of the Growing Season measurement is that it is fairly widely reported and tracked, so it is an easy number to obtain without needing to do a lot of calculations or research, and within certain broad tolerances, all other things being equal, a location with a measurably longer growing season will allow for more bountiful harvests than a location with a shorter growing season.
Growing season length can also indicate if you have a chance of using your garden space for two crops or only for one each spring/summer/fall.
There is another measurement that in some ways is more exact and helpful. We discuss that in the next part of this article series.
Read More in Part 2
This is the first part of a two-part article on weather issues at your retreat location, and of course, part of the broader series on weather related issues in general.