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Understanding mountain weather – Tip #51

By 20th June 2020September 27th, 2021Resources, Summer, Tips, Walking, Winter, Winter Walking

Understanding mountain weather


As regular, or even occasional, hill-walkers and mountaineers, it’s vital that we have an understanding of mountain weather. Therefore a number of my previous tips have been related to the weather systems. Why wouldn’t they be? After all, it’s the past weather that has partly made the mountains as we know them and it’s the weather that now partly dictates what we can do in the mountains – including where and when.

Learning resources

One way of getting a quick burst of meteorological training is by enrolling in a free online course. There are plenty out there, but here is one that I did a few years ago called “Come Rain or Shine: Understanding the Weather.” The Met Office website also has a section which provides excellent learning resources for those wanting to improve their understand of mountain weather some more. The Royal Meteorological Society website is another good place to look.

But a general understanding of weather systems is still not enough. We need to understand how the mountains create their own weather. We also need to know how the effects of the weather on people is magnified in the mountains.

What to know

Here is a short list of some of the most important topics to read up on and gradually gain an understanding of:

  • Weather forecast sources and resources – and the pros and cons of different ones.
  • What happens in high and low pressure systems.
  • What  happens when a typical low-pressure weather system (a cyclone, or depression) moves across the UK.
  • The lapse rate.
  • Wind funnels, such as summits and cols.
  • Anabatic and katabatic winds.
  • Temperature inversions.
  • How to read a synoptic weather chart to deepen your understanding of what the weather forecast ‘tells’ you.

On all our hill and mountain courses and guided walks, summer or winter, we always examine the weather forecast – both to plan our day safely and to improve your understanding in general. If you’d like to start understanding mountain weather then why not get in touch and enquire about our hill and mountain skills courses.

Unusual sightings

You never know – sometimes you may see something unusual, rare or unique. The photograph below shows Asperitas clouds building over Pen yr Ole Wen in Snowdonia. At the time (2016), Asperitas clouds were just about to be officially recognised as the latest distinct cloud type. These clouds are not all that common, and certainly quite rare in the UK. Although when I took this photograph I didn’t know what the clouds were, I knew enough to spot that this was a very unusual formation.

The sinister swirling of Asperitas clouds building over Pen yr Ole Wen, a mountain in Snowdonia, spotted during a guided mountain walk, developing our understanding of mountain weather.