Jim Woodmencey is unassuming and kind, order and Arnold Palmer instead of a dry martini, and wears a Stio puffy instead of a tailored suit, but he is Jackson's own James Bond of weather forcasting.
When he’s not updating his MountainWeather.com website at 4 a.m. each morning, predicting avalanche conditions for heli-ski operations, or issuing thunderstorm warnings for climbing expeditions, he trains Air Force special ops soldiers about weather forecasting for remote, mountainous areas like Afghanistan. He also teaches them about movement in avalanche terrain. In Woodmencey’s world, weather is not only variable and exciting—sometimes it’s highly classified.
Woodmencey sure has come a long way for a humble rock climber from the Bay Area who got into meteorology so he could have an advantage on backcountry missions. After spending the year after high school graduation dirt-bagging in Yosemite (think: nonstop climbing and eating ramen noodles), he attended Montana State University to pursue a degree in meteorology.
Growing up, Woodmencey remembers hearing his father say he couldn’t wait to retire so that he could finally focus on the things he wanted to do.
“I always had that in the back of my mind,” he says. “I didn’t want that for myself. I decided to do all the things I wanted first.”
So he opted out of a city-based job for the National Weather Service after graduation. Instead, he guided heli-ski trips for 20 winters and worked as a climbing ranger at Jenny Lake for 14 summers, using his degree only informally at first.
In 1991, Woodmencey bought a computer and began forecasting for High Mountain Heli-Skiing. With the help of a few of his clients, he got a radio slot in 1994 and produced the Mountain Weather website in 1997. These days, he works full-time as a meteorologist, and writes columns for two local newspapers in addition to maintaining his website.
Woodmencey’s expertise isn’t just for high-end athletes. His forecasts are used by everyone from professional climbing guides, to people wanting to know when the rain will stop so they can go out and get groceries. Even truck drivers concerned about the outlook for Interstate 80 check his forecast.
“Forecasting thunderstorms in the summer is complicated because there are so many variables,” Woodmencey says. “I am always thinking about how the climber, the backpacker, and the fisherman will interpret the information I am giving.”
This summer brings the highly anticipated total solar eclipse on August 21, and with it, eclipse weather forecasting with Woodmencey at the helm. He will be updating his website with eclipse viewing information, so be sure to check in for the best shot at seeing the once-in-a-lifetime spectacle.