Practical plans and tips for dealing with weather
Weather sucks when you are jumping, it sucks more when it falls on a training day, and the most suckiness occurs when it happens during a meet. It might it reduce your number of jumps and can be a major distraction and energy sink that keeps you from performing your best.
One helpful hint is to make a plan before the weather actually hits. A common issue teams have is sitting around in limbo, with nobody feeling brave enough to make a decision to wait it out or call it for the day. The indecision loop is frustrating and not the most efficient use of time. So as a team is forming, plan to make a weather plan.
So how do you plan a weather plan? First, the team should agree on what to do about the missed training when they are inevitably weathered out for some portion of their planned jumps. The choice could be to take your chances and whatever you lose to weather is the end of the story. Another option could be to hold a late season ‘weather camp’ that will get canceled if no significant weather is experienced earlier in the season. Alternatively, the teams could just expect a reduced number of jumps when planning their monetary budget; in other words, aim for 12 jumps, but expect an average of 8 (or reduce your whole plan by 15%, 20%, etc). Finally, teams with access to tunnel could choose to divert extra weathered funds to tunnel time.
Everyone should have his/her own personal wind limits established. You should have a good idea of what your limits are before the winds start kicking up so you are not tempted to make a poor decision. Consider the local conditions (bumpy or smooth winds), direction of the wind (clean or over buildings), and steadiness (steady at 22 mph vs 12 mph gusting to 20).
Before the team starts training, everyone should talk about your limits as a group. More experienced members should be considerate of newer jumpers and avoid pressuring them to jump when it isn’t wise to do so. If one person is uncomfortable, the group should stand down without grumbling or complaining.
In general, the best way to maximize the number of jumps you get in a season is to avoid getting hurt. Be smart.
The best way to maximize the number of jumps you get in a season is to avoid getting hurt
A decision best made before weather happens is what to do when you are in the plane and weather questions arise. First, what is your go/no-go process? Is the cameraman making the whole decision? Is it a consultation? If one person thinks you should go and another does not, what happens? A quick conversation on the ground beforehand makes this situation go smoothly, as opposed to debating the nuances of the plan at 6,000 feet through your helmets while the idiots in the back are helpfully screaming ‘green light!’ Almost any plan works, as long as the team agrees to it.
The team should also decide on the minimum altitude the team is willing exit as a group. For example, if you are breaking off at 4,500 feet, the group may be comfortable exiting at 5,500 feet. These numbers will adjust based on experience levels and confidence in the exits. Note that the group altitude doesn’t necessarily stop individuals from enjoying a solo hop and pop; it is just the altitude from which you will do a 4way exit.
In concert with the minimum altitude you will launch a 4way exit, it can be useful for a team to decide on a minimum expected altitude before the plane takes off. For example, a team may choose to stay down if the pilot is predicting 6,000 feet or lower. Having this set beforehand makes the decision much easier when the situation arises.
Must be present to win
With training, you must be present to win. If you are not on the dropzone ready to rock, you can’t jump. Try not to bend training around forecasted bad weather. It doesn’t take long before it feels like shuffling and gambling ends up leaving a team with fewer jumps overall than just sticking to the original plan. If you have marked the day as a training day, you should commit to giving it a try. If you make this a habit, the odds will roll into your favor across a whole season.
Avoid getting wrapped up in a weather forecast showing mediocre weather. Even if you are lucky enough to live in a part of the planet where the weather forecasts are not absolutely terrible, forecasts still have a talent for being wrong in regards to timing of storms, rain, winds, etc. If you have a training weekend and Saturday looks like potential weather, don’t cancel it prematurely. If Saturday turns out lovely and Sunday sucks, you will lose two training days, not one.
Like every rule, there are exceptions. Sometimes the weather is going to be predictably and obviously terrible. By bad, I mean giant green blobs of doom on the radar, put the hurricane shutters on, hide in the cellar and wear your weight belt bad. If it is that obvious, unanimous, and universal, it might be best to save your time and enjoy a day off. Unless you have a specific team agenda of things you want to accomplish on the DZ, get some rest. Consider spending the day doing chores at home so you can attempt a reschedule.
The biggest issue with weather is managing your energy throughout the day to make sure the jumps you do get are productive. Sitting around the dropzone on standby can either lull you into a dull state that is hard to recover from, or have you exhausted from keeping your energy too high. Weather can drag out the time on the dropzone into a very long day, which is a huge factor when considering fatigue. Even though you are not jumping, being “switched on” all day can tap mental energy. The trick is to find the sweet spot between being too restful and being too vigilant.
If you let yourself sink a bit too far into the couch, it can take some time for you to become physically and mentally alert enough to perform your best. Awaking after sleeping especially takes time to recover. Unless you are on a hold with your team and you know you will have time to adequately wake up your body and brain, just avoid going to sleep outright. Similarly, getting too deep into a movie or some other very relaxed state will take more transition time to get ready to perform.
Lying down or sitting for extended periods of time can contribute to sluggishness. Devise a strategy with lots of stretching/moving breaks.
On the other side of the coin, being too alert for too long can be an issue. Engaging in activities that make you upset or stressed out (significant others, politics, work) needlessly sap your energy. Constantly checking weather apps and worrying about the rest of the day can do so as well. Listening to “Eye of the Tiger” while chugging Red Bull and flexing in the mirror for an hour is probably a no-go, too.
Physically, it’s not a great time to engage in activities that will take recovery time. Working out might be acceptable to the team if you are on a hold and have enough time to successfully bounce back (and you know… shower!).
If you could be on a call any minute (that is, you are not released), pick things that are moderately active and moderately engaging. Standing up and socializing, juggling, hacky sack, and stretching are all great ideas. Even checking Facebook, listening to music, playing Candy Crush, or tinkering with email can keep you mentally active, if you are taking frequent breaks to stand up and move around a bit. Skydiving related activities, like creeping or spending time in a mockup, are great too.
When on a hold, the team should meet to walk the next skydive every 20 to 30 minutes. This keeps the dive fresh, gets the team moving a little, and breaks them away from whatever they were doing. Just agree on a time and place to meet again after each walkthrough.
When you do go on call, hopefully you will have time to get yourself into the right mindset. If you have stayed in the right mental and physical headspace during the weather hold, you will need less time to be fully ready to focus on the task at hand. Take the time you do have to check in with your headspace and physical status, and make any adjustments you need to before gearing up.
Almost any plan works, as long as the team agrees to it
An extreme example of a challenging energy management task is the unfortunate case of multiple gear ups with no actual jumps. It is hard to shift from butt-kicking mode to stand down mode too many times without experiencing some fatigue.
The best solution here is to try to stay in the sweet spot when you gear down, and take a relaxed approach to the false gear ups. Shrug off the non-jump as quickly as you can, and get your mind attending some other activity. Avoid spending too much time groaning about manifest’s call, the pilot’s decision, or staring up at the sky (or your weather app) angrily trying to predict what will happen. Get back to the sweet spot, and do something happy.
Weather During Meets
Of course, weather has been known to defy the collective wishes of the competitors and show up during meets. Great athletes are particularly good at using rest periods of their sports to maximum advantage.
The great news is that if you have practiced staying in the sweet spot during weather on training days, you have the skills you need to cope with the bad weather at the meet. The same idea of staying in the sweet spot (keeping physically and mentally engaged) and staying focused during walkthroughs all help teams cope with delays.
Different meet directors will have different techniques for coping with weather holds, but the all inevitably keep you on site for a period of time. If it is bad enough, they may put you on an occasional hold until x-o’clock. Just make sure you are listening to an official communication channel and your teammates have an internal plan for communicating and meeting up. If you are released for a couple hours, you do not need to stick around and walk dutifully every 20 minutes. Take a break and plan to meet before the release reaches its end for a great walkthrough and perhaps a quick creep if it has been a long release.
When to Call It
No one wants to call it, but everyone knows it should be called. This is pretty common scenario. Taking charge and calling it quits is a risk. What if it does clear up in an hour, despite the fact that there are 50 mph gusts forecasted until next Tuesday? Who wants to be wrong?
As I emphasized earlier, the group should generally err on the side of sticking it out. You will get more jumps this way. However, there is a line where either the forecast is too dire, or the team energy has dipped too much from hours of waiting around to make waiting any longer worthwhile. This is when the group should call it.
My first recommendation to avoid the nobody-wants-to-call-it standoff is to give the power to the coach or the captain. By designating someone in charge, it makes it clear who is going to make the decision.
The second helpful tip is to have some guidelines in place beforehand. Some examples of good guidelines might be: “if we haven’t done two jumps by 2:00pm, call it” “if there is a more than 80% chance of rain for the rest of the day, call it” “if you’re rafting through the landing area, call it”. The team should agree that these are guidelines so the captain can exercise common sense. If you haven’t made two jumps by 2:00, but you’ve held the meeting time until 1:00pm because the weather is going to be great in the afternoon, obviously stick around!
Thirdly, be mindful of the number of jumps you will get in the best-case scenario. If it is dwindling down to the end of the day and you can only reasonably expect one or two more jumps if the weather miraculously clears, it might tip the scales in favor of calling it.
If you are the one in charge of the decision, be aggressive about jumping without wasting resources. If jumps are going to be a poor investment because of poor energy, rain while you are skydiving, or dangerous winds, be bold and let everyone go. There is always a risk it will clear up, but if you make a well thought-out decision, you will feel okay with it.
Another factor on a weather day is keeping other people around so that if the weather does clear, you have someone else to fill the plane. A great manifest can make a big difference here, as their announcements can keep people focused on brighter skies to come. However, your attitude can impact things too. Fun jumpers often look to the teams as their cues of whether or not they should stick around. If you are on a mid-day weather hold and all leave the dropzone for a movie until the storm clears, it might look to other jumpers like you are splitting. It’s not a deal-breaker for seeing that flick, but it is something to consider. Also, be positive about the likely weather outcome when talking to other jumpers. If you doom and gloom it too much, you might scare everybody else away and leave your team staring at beautiful skies and a shuttered up manifest.
Practical Weather Management Techniques
Despite your best efforts to will it away, the wind has rolled in and you can’t jump. Now what? Below are pragmatic tips that can help you stretch out your day with maximum energy management.
If the day looks marginal, consider the floating the morning call time pending actual conditions. This works best if everyone is reasonably close to the DZ and staying somewhere more comfortable than the team room. Someone on or near the DZ is in charge of waking up and looking out the window. If the sky is poo, they send a message to the team telling them to stay in bed and expect another text in an hour. The process is repeated until the weather clears or an agreed upon cutoff time is reached.
Similar to the morning on-call plan, allow people to go off and do their own thing for a set period of time, often an hour or two. This relieves what can end up being a day trapped in the team room and allows people to take a break or manage other tasks. It is a fairly low risk strategy, since it is unlikely to clear up shortly after you choose to release, and you are not likely to miss too many loads if it does. If teammates have other things they can or need to do, it promotes good energy management.
This is like a rolling hold. Teammates agree to not be more than 20 or 30 minutes away from the dropzone. It allows people staying close by to return home for a bit or make a trip to Starbucks. It reduces the risk of missing a load that can happen on a full release, but has the disadvantage of having teammates always feeling at the beck and call of the weather.
Move the Rest Day
If you have a long camp, wise coaches always advise keeping your rest days flexible if possible. This allows the team to look ahead and pick the least good looking weather day as an off day, increasing the chances of good weather when you are training.
Productive Things To Do
One practice is to develop a list of things to do on a weather hold. Typical rainy day lists involve things that are important but hard to squeeze in on jumping days. Creeping through all the randoms and blocks is a popular list item. Logistics, calendars, and planning are great items to address while it storms. It is great to keep a shared list of ideas online that can be updated between camps by all members. Teammates can sump their ideas or nagging to-dos on the list so everyone isn’t left scratching their head when the clouds come in.
Weather List Ideas
• All the randoms
• Creep and block-talk all the blocks
• Problem random or block drill (if you are having issues with your 15 build, creep A-15, B-15, C-15, etc.)
• Random draws
• Practice exits
• Take pictures of all your exits in the mock up
• Create a team “best of”
• Do a compare and contrast of two teams’ block technique
• Practice judging jumps (yours and others)
• Calendar syncing
• Coordinating dropzone give-backs
• Settling accounts
• Team logos/t-shirts
• Take team photos
• Write articles about being on a weather hold
Of course, the ultimate back up plan is to hit the tunnel. This is a great way to increase your skills even when you cannot jump. As long as the team agrees to the budget and you manage to find an open slot, rock it out!
Helpful SDC Rhythm tool: Weather Checklist
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Check out furycoaching.com for more helpful articles.