I’m writing this from my office at home, in Edinburgh, on the snowiest day of the year, and probably the snowiest in Edinburgh since at least 2010.
What Choices do I Have?
As an avid hillwalker, I want to get stunning views and stay out of the rain when I go out. To do this I can:
(A) Take a chance and hope the weather is going to be ok. On average, it only rains 250 days a year in the Highlands (according to Scotlandinfo.eu – please note: this link will take to to an external site) – that means I have a 31.5% of not having any rain right???
(B) Get an accurate weather forecast so I can make an informed decision.
Sounds like a bit of a no brainer really (if you went for option A then you definitely want to read on!)
Forecasts for the People
Unfortunately many weather forecasts cater for built up areas – Cities and Towns – which are usually in more sheltered areas, at a lower altitude. This makes sense as this helps the majority of the population, especially those that rely on it for their personal safety or for work.
As a hillwalker we need information on what’s going on higher up.
Options for Hillwalkers
Don’t worry – we still have options that help us out.
As hillwalking becomes more popular, and technologies improve, there will be more and more information available that helps us make a better decision, helping us have a great day in the hills, and staying safer as we do so.
Here’s a three of my favourite weather forecasts that cater for those who are heading for the hills.
Mountain Weather Information Service
MWIS was set up by Geoff Monk in 2002. MWIS sets out 9 mountain areas across the UK (5 in Scotland, 2 in England, and 2 in Wales). As these areas are relatively large, it is sometimes necessary to take a look at two or three close by to get a better picture of the location you want to visit.
Within each of the MWIS forecast areas there is an overview of the general forecast, as well as a synoptic chart. After this the forecast is specific to the area, giving detailed information on a range of elements that are important when out in the hills, including:
- Wind Speed (in mph) & Direction, as well as the effect the wind will have on a person
- How Wet: Any precipitation that is likely to fall, how and when it will fall
- Cloud cover on the hills – what height this will be
- Chance of a cloud free summit (or Munro in Scotland)
- How cold at 900m – this is hugely important as weather forecasts for the cities usually gives sea level temperatures, which will be significantly different compared to higher in the hills.
- Freezing level – especially important over the winter months when you need to prepare your winter kit.
As you can see, this information is geared towards people heading up higher into the hills, and once you get used to the geographical areas that each forecast covers, MWIS is an invaluable tool when looking to get out!
MWIS have also started to create planning videos which can be of help in understanding the weather forecasts given.
Set up as a collaboration between the NRK and the Meteorological Institute in Norway, YR.no uses data from many different sources across the world to create more accurate weather forecasts. Offering forecasts for cities and towns, you can also search YR.No for hills or Mountains as well.
Within this there is a short term (hour-by-hour) or Longer term view of the weather. As with all forecasts, the short-term is likely to be more accurate. The details a forecast from YR.No will give you are:
- General weather overview (cloudy, sunny spells etc)
- amount of precipitation (in mm)
- Wind direction and speed (in m/s – but with a description of what this equates too alongside it)
Although not as detailed as MWIS, YR.No is better for giving forecasts for specific hills or other locations.
The Met Office is the UK’s National Weather Service. They collect and distribute information to most UK based forecasters, and work with international services as well.
In recent years, the Met Office have introduced summit forecasts on a number of mountains across the UK. All you need to do is type it in their search bar. Once there you’ll see the following information for the next 7 days:
- General weather overview (as a symbol, hover over for descriptions)
- Temperature, as well as “real feel temperature (when taking into account windchill and temperature drop with altitude)
- Wind Speed, speed of gusts, and wind direction (in mph)
- Visibility – using their own scale from Excellent (E) to Very Poor (VP)
- Humidity – how likely it is that precipitation will fall in some form
Met Office have also started an online course in understanding the weather: Visit their training partners website to register your interest on the next course (https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/learn-about-weather)
As with all forecasts, the short term (e.g. today and tomorrow) are likely to be quite accurate, with later forecasts becoming more inaccurate – this is purely as more time means that there is more chance of things changing!
By keeping track of forecasts in the run up to a trip is essential. Looking at least 1 – 2 weeks out, then again in the days leading up to a trip means you are less likely to be disappointed, especially if you have to cancel or change your plans at the last minute because of the forecast.
Not Always Right
With all this being said, even if the weather forecast has said it’s going to be a clear, blue sky day, it’s always worth remembering that forecasts are still trying to predict the future so may not always be right. Prepare for the worst and you’ll be safer!
Which forecast should I use?
More the Merrier
I would recommend that, rather than sticking to one forecast throughout, it is better to look at a number of forecasts to see if there is a general consensus between them.
If all three (or more) show the same pattern emerging, then it is likely to be more accurate. If all three show different forecasts for the same location, on the same day, then there is greater uncertainty across the board.
This is obviously not a comprehensive list of forecasts, with new ones popping up regularly. If you know of a forecast you think should be covered then comment below and I’ll look to add it in!