Mountain summit weather forecasts are the final (and arguably most important) piece of the jigsaw puzzle. I started off this series explaining the importance of, and how to research, the national weather forecast when planning your mountain journey. Then I covered how I go about understanding the regional mountain weather, including avalanche information. Now I will complete the story sharing how I go about understanding the weather conditions that I am likely to find on the summits that I plan to visit.
As before, how I access this information depends on whether I am working from a desktop computer or a smartphone. If I am on a desktop then I tend to go direct to specific websites. On my smartphone, I use the MWUK app to act as my one-stop-shop.
Met Office Mountain Summit Weather Forecasts
If I have access to a full-sized screen then I will usually go to the Met Office’s mountain forecasts. Clicking on the regional map (eg South West Highlands) will take you to the regional forecast for that area. At the bottom of the page there is a map, with ‘map pins’ denoting mountain summits.
Clicking on a ‘map pin’ or scrolling to zoom in will cause the pin to ‘explode’ and split into multiple smaller pins. These new pins may still represent several summits. Clicking on a pin again will repeat the process until you can finally identify the single summit that is of interest. Finally, clicking on the single summit pin of interest will open a page giving the detailed mountain summit weather forecast for that summit.
You now have access to a full table of data outlining the summit weather forecast in hourly blocks. This includes the general weather, precipitation, temperature, wind-chill (feels-like), wind speed and direction, wind gusts, visibility, humidity and UV levels.
A further point to recognise is that this Met Office forecast is updated throughout the day. So, unlike the MWIS forecast, you can check it in the evening and in the morning before you set out to get the most up-to-date-forecast.
If I am working from my smartphone then once again I tend to use the MWUK app for most purposes.
From the Home screen, choose ‘Mountain Areas’ and then the area of interest (e.g. South-West Highlands). Within an area, there are three further menu items:- 5-Day Mountain Forecast; Mountain Summit Forecasts; and Weather Stations. Previously, for the regional forecast, we looked at the 5-Day Mountain Forecast.
Now that I am moving on to specific summits, I will choose the Mountain Summit Forecasts and will be offered a list of dozens of summits in the area. I will scroll and select my summit of interest and through this can access a screen showing the essential information in 3-hour time blocks. Clicking on each time-block reveals a further screen with more detailed information for that time period.
If I want to improve my understanding further then looking at actual live data readings will help even more. MWUK’s list of Weather Stations lets me choose a station near to my chosen summit. From here I can see the measurements taken as recently as an hour ago, and for the preceding 24 hour period. Temperature, visibility, wind direction and wind-speed are all shown. Remember this is what has actually happened in the recent past, not a future forecast. But the two different sets of information are two-sides of the same coin.
Planning Decisions from Mountain Summit Weather Forecasts
These are some of the things that I might be thinking about when looking at mountain summit weather forecasts and weather station readings:
- Does the summit station data ‘fit’ with the forecast? If the forecast was correct, then is that what the summit should be experiencing? If not, what can I deduce? Are summit conditions worse than forecast? Has a forecast change in weather (better or worse) arrived sooner or later than expected? How does this affect my plan for the day?
- What are conditions likely to be on the summit? What clothing and equipment might I need? Is going to the summit at all still a viable plan?
- Should I have a cut-off time and/or cut-off conditions based on the forecast? For example, if I haven’t reached Point-x by z o’clock then will I be too late to reach the summit before bad weather arrives? Or, if I think the wind is gusting above 40mph sooner than expected does that indicate the early onset of a forecast storm?
- Is my route choice the most appropriate? If the wind is from the south-west then should I seek a sheltered approach on the north-east side of the mountain? Can I plan a route where I will be mostly walking with the wind at my back rather than in my face for most of the day? Would the answers to these questions be the same in summer and in winter, or not?
- Access detailed mountain weather forecasts from any number of sources to understand the summit conditions on your planned day.
- The Met Office website gives a comprehensive table of data with the forecast conditions for hundreds of summits.
- The MWUK app does a similar job in a format suitable for a smartphone.
- The MWUK app also gives access to actual readings from summit weather stations in the area.
- Compare live data readings with the forecast.
- Make sensible decisions and choices about your choice of route, what to take and wear, and whether going to the summit is even a sensible choice at all – or not.