How to find Winter Mountain Weather information, a dark art or not?
Scotland in Winter is one of the most exciting times to be in the mountains in my opinion. However a healthy dose of decision making is needed to navigate the weather, snow conditions and even roads to make your day out on the hill go smoothly.
Below are some examples of resources that I use to help me make decisions when working in the mountains.
I have split it into 4 main categories:
These are most peoples go-to way of checking the weather. The information is usually set out in an easy to read format, with the ability to look a few days ahead, making planning much easier.
MWIS provides a 3 day forecast for all of the major mountainous areas of the UK. This the forecast that you will see up in shop windows, hostels and guiding companies all over. It is easy to read and is split into useful weather factors (wind, rain temp etc.) so you can understand how each factor will affect your day. It is often a bit dramatic but when in a potentially dangerous environment in the mountains this is justified. A brilliant resource which is certainly one of my first points of call.
Met office provides a general forecast for every where in the UK, areas forecasts for the mountains (found in the specialist forecast section) and also individual summit forecasts. Personally I feel the mountain area forecasts have too much “stuff” going on on the page and can be slightly hard to digest however the summit forecasts are excellent. The only problem is in Scotland you need to know and be able to spell the Gaelic name of the mountain, best to stick to the summit map at the bottom of the page.
XC Weather and YR.no - https://www.xcweather.co.uk
XC weather and YR (run by the Norwegian Meteorological Institute). I find them both to be very visual and easy to interpret forecasts and I often look them up to compare them with MWIS or the Met office. They give a very specific prediction of rainfall amounts which is sometimes useful to see.
Understanding Avalanche dangers and snow can feel quite intimidating but we are very lucky to have the Scottish Avalanche Information Service to help us interpret what is happening in the mountains. There is also information about how to plan journeys in the mountains (http://beaware.sais.gov.uk). If in doubt then there are winter skills courses and avalanche courses which can be invaluable in helping you get out into the mountains safely and learn the skills to head out by yourself.
https://www.sais.gov.uk There is also an App which has all the information on.
There are two main useful parts to this service, the forecasting pages and the blog. There are 6 different forecast areas covering the main mountainous regions. All the information is laid out in an easy to read format, it is important to not get too focussed on the aspect wheel (pictured below). Make sure to read the text and the observed hazards on the mountain.
The blog is also brilliant for finding out what the conditions are on the hill.
Forecasters go out everyday and there are often photos of areas of interest which when combined with the forecast can help make decisions.
The more often you look at the information the better you can build a picture of how to use it to help you make safe decisions.
Below are two Apps that I think are very good for the UK mountains. However the Met Office, XC weather and YR all have apps as well which can be useful to have them all on your phone for quick reference.
Mountain Weather UK
This a brilliant app for bringing together all the information you might need into one place. There are area forecasts taken from MWIS, specific summit forecasts as well as live data from weather stations all over the country. This is all brought neatly together in a easy to use and easy to read format. A few years ago it cost me £3 so I presume it is still the same and in my mind that was money well spent.
Windy - https://www.windy.com
Windy is an app as well as a website. A word of warning, it does take a little while to work out which bits are most useful to you as there are a million and one different options. However if you master it there is so much useful information that we can extract. It has an excellent interactive map which you can set to show you wind/rainfall etc. You can also zoom out to see the overall weather patterns over the continent or the world, useful for understanding why things are happening. Choosing which computer model the map is showing which can also be fascinating to see the differences. Give windy a go, if you persevere it really is an amazing resource
Live Data and Webcams
Can you beat actually seeing what is going on up the mountain? I think not.
Some examples of where to find this information are below, but there are plenty more places if you start looking. Windy for example has links to local webcams when you search for a weather forecast.
Weathercast links to weather stations all over the world and allows you to click on them and see what is happening in real time and what has happened over the last few days, which can be especially important in winter when thinking about avalanches.
Holfuy - https://holfuy.com/en
Holfuy operates the weather stations on Aonach Mor (and a couple of other places), I check this whenever I am heading out around Fort William as it gives me a picture of what is happening at 900m with the wind and temperature.
Ski Centres - https://www.nevisrange.co.uk/webcams/
Most of the Scottish Ski centres have a number of webcams around their resorts which gives you the chance to see for yourself what is happening on the hill. Certainly a resource not to be ignored.
Lets not forget that the options above are not an exhaustive list. There are lots of other websites to look at as well as Newspapers, the Shipping Forecast and TV news and Weather.
Making choices in the mountains is all about judgment. By being well informed about the weather and not just looking at one source makes us more likely to make the right decision.
Hopefully some of this is useful information, let me know in the comments if you have other sites you think work for you!