How do I access the weather before going outdoors into the mountains? If you are planning a trip out into the hills then it makes sense to check the conditions before you go off on any adventure. I regularly explore the Scottish highlands where the weather is extremely changeable, so its become a critical skill to learn where to look and check frequently for updates.
There are a few key resources I utilise regularly and can recommend that can be grouped as follows;
- Forecasting apps and websites
- Social Media
Checking all of these resources will give you a good indication of what you might expect once you get to your destination in the mountains and give your expedition the best chance of success.
Check the weather forecast
There are a number of great forecasting tools out there to keep track of the weather for your chosen destination. Here are some I use frequently and would recommend;
- MWIS – Mountain Weather Information Service is funded by the Scottish Government and provides a detailed forecast across 9 key regions in Scotland, including the Scottish Highlands.
- Met Office – the Met Office app is available for both IOS and Android devices through the app or play store. You can form a short list of areas or mountain summits you are interested in monitoring for time lapse photography and check weather updates quickly and easily. The app covers the whole of the United Kingdom.
- Mountain Forecast – covers mountains across the world and is a great resource for getting a second or third opinion on other forecast reports before heading outdoors. I find it particularly useful for looking at freezing altitudes as the charts are clear and precise.
Any of the above resources will provide a clear indication on what the weather is likely to be on your chosen day but remember to check them regularly before you go. Most sites will be updated by 6pm the day before you travel, particularly important if you are relying on a snow forecast. Avalanches can be deadly so always check this information separately via a site such as the SAIS.
Factors to consider
- Visibility – aim for very good or excellent if you are inexperienced navigating in poor conditions
- Wind gusts – overall wind speed is important but wind gusts over 40-50mph can be dangerous throw you off balance
- Temperature – extreme heat or cold can change the equipment you need, be prepared with the right layers
- Rain / snow – avoid heavy down pours of each unless you are properly equipped for it
Webcam window to the world
Checking a long range weather forecast can be useful but looking at the immediate conditions is also worthwhile. Webcams are an excellent way of instantly viewing the visibility levels and elements at your chosen destination.
Steve Fallon’s website makes this process painless by collating a number of different webcam resources together across Scotland. Outside of this region you will be able to find similar feeds on google. Ski centres and tourist information buildings often have camera feeds pointing to high ground that can give you a very useful view of real time conditions. Don’t be fooled by simply checking sites like BBC weather forecast as they are often only applicable to low level walks.
Remember that you should use these feeds in conjunction with checking the forecast sites I provided earlier. Never solely rely on a webcam as it could be a delayed feed taken some time ago and also does not give a true indication of all the elements you will face outdoors. The weather can change quickly so its important to look at both the present and immediate future both making a decision to go outdoors.
Become socially savvy
Webcams can show you whats currently happening out there but sometimes you need a bit of human interaction. Luckily this is where social media can help out. Apps like Facebook, Instagram and Youtube, can be a great place to check up on recent weather in an area and how the terrain is holding up. A grassy slope that has had high levels of rain over the past few days may have turned into a bog and be best avoided. Insights like that you can’t get from a forecast or webcam.
Here are some tips I use for social media;
- Join a group – search your social media platform for like minded people and join or follow their group. Others will be sharing their recent adventure reports and photos, giving you a good insight into real time conditions
- Ask questions – interact with others and ask them if you are unsure. You will find most people will be more than happy to answer your question if they can and it might connect you with new contacts for the future
- Hashtags – search the tags of your chosen destination. More often than not other like minded people will have been to the same region in the last few days and provided updated images or video
Checking updated reports like these will give you great detail on what to expect when you get their yourself. In winter it can be particularly useful to scan through these kinds of social media feeds to access snow levels or ice. Roads that can be straight forward in the summer, may be impassable at points in cold weather, preventing you from even reaching the start of your adventure. Consulting others who have gone before you prior to setting out may save you time and money in the long run
Join the dots
Hopefully you have found these suggestions useful in order to access the weather outdoors before heading into the mountains near you. Are there any other resources you would recommend? I would love to hear about them in the comments below.
Remember that on their own one of these resources is not enough. Cross check as many of them as you can to create a more accurate picture of what to expect and what equipment you will need to carry with you. Weather in the mountains can change quickly and often, so you need to make sure you are prepared for all kinds of eventualities to avoid getting into danger. Most importantly get out there and have fun safely!
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