Mountain Weather
Information Service

We've all had days when we've not been able to make it to the mountains. The plans have changed for one reason or another - whether because of a poor forecast, other "more important" commitments or a global pandemic locking us in our houses. Either way, we're not going. We have made the decision, or the decision has been made for us.

Then comes the difficult part. We wake up in the morning, look out the window and compulsively check the mountain forecast. Because everyone's subconscious likes to torment its owner in this way. We know we're not going, but we can't help it: we look anyway.

Here is a little guide to interpreting the indoor mountain forecast. That is, how to interpret the weather when you're stuck indoors. You're welcome.

1. Sunny

Your Reaction: It looks like a lovely sunny day. Perfect for a day in the mountains.

Correct reaction and consolations: 

  • What a scorcher, I'd be way too hot if I was in the mountains today.
  • I'm so glad I'm inside not getting sunburnt.
  • Think of all the water I'd have to carry to stay hydrated today.

What you'd rather do instead:

  • Spend time lazing on your patio with a cool drink, maybe with a book.
  • Think about doing DIY or gardening.
  • Work on that suntan.
  • Eat an icecream.
  • Have a BBQ. Discover you've forgotten how, do it on the gas and leave the smouldering logs for toasting marshmallows later.

2. Overcast

Your Reaction: Not too hot, not too cold. Perfect for a day in the mountains.

Correct reaction and consolations: 

  • What a dull day, it would be really boring to be in the mountains today.
  • All the pictures I took would look so flat - I might even spend the whole day in the cloud without a view.
  • I'm so glad I decided to wait for a nicer day with better weather.
  • Imagine the effort navigating in the low cloud, dodged a bullet there!

What you'd rather do instead:

  • Think about putting the washing out, but decide it'll probably rain.
  • Plan what you'll do in the summer/winter (delete as appropriate)
  • Watch mountain documentaries noting how every shot is either gloriously sunny or challenging precipitation. Consider how lucky you were to have skipped today's mediocrity.

3. Rain

Your Reaction: A bit damp but butter than siting inside. Perfect for a day in the mountains.

Correct reaction and consolations:

  • I'm so glad I'm not out there getting soaked and miserable.
  • Think of all the hassle trying to dry my gear out after a day like today.
  • The last time I was out in the rain my boots proved to be less waterproof than I hoped.
  • 'Streams in spate' might mean our perfect route is thwarted by raging torrents.

What you'd rather do instead:

  • Play copious amounts of board games. Introduce new rules in Jenga; lose a couple of friends over Scrabble; consider at what time it is appropriate for a group of adults to crack out Twister.
  • Read a guidebook - same experience, much drier.
  • Reproof your jacket, just in case.
  • Consider popping to the shops for something. Spend over an hour waiting for the rain to "ease off". Arrive back in five minutes, drenched, and feel glad you didn't have a whole day of that.
  • Go swimming - unless you jump in fully clothed, this way you can claim a moral victory over water for the day.

4. Wind

Your Reaction: Mobility torturous? Nah, type 2 fun. Perfect for a day in the mountains.

Correct reaction and consolations:

  • Wow it looks horrendous outside, I would have had to pack rocks in my rucksack just to stay on the ground.
  • I'm so glad I'm not battling into the wind all day.
  • The cairns would probably be taking off in weather like this...
  • [Insert name of dog or smallest friend] would have been a kite today!

What you'd rather do instead:

  • Sit indoors smugly listening to the gale outside, thinking about how cosy you are.
  • Read about lapse rates, wind chill and hypothermia.
  • Look out the window, hoping to spot an umbrella turning inside out.
  • Check the weather observations later and feel glad you avoided the top gust of 107mph on Aonach Mor.

5. Snow

Your Reaction: Yes! Winter. Perfect for a day in the mountains.

Correct reaction and consolations:

  • I bet we'd get there and find the conditions were actually rubbish. Who wants to 'walk' through knee-deep snow anyway?
  • Given the previous weather, the avalanche conditions are probably really sketchy today. (Don't check it.)
  • [Insert route you've wanted to do all year] would probably have been a huge disappointment today. Let's wait until it's perfect.
  • Hail was also in the forecast - I could do without the exfoliation treatment.

What you'd rather do instead:

  • Watch mountaineering movies about other people getting cold and miserable.
  • Update your winter log book, gaze longingly at the photos in your guidebook (whilst reminding yourself that it was taken on a better day than today).
  • Re-read the guidebook, in case you missed something.
  • Sharpen your crampons, maybe do a bit of bouldering.
  • Sit by the fire with a warm drink, feeling sorry for everyone foolish enough to venture outside.

Emily Woodhouse is an adventure writer based on Dartmoor. She is an active member of Mountain Rescue and a summer Mountain Leader, currently working towards her winter qualification. Founder of Intrepid Magazine, she works to help break stereotypes about women in the outdoors.