Mountain safety

Mountains can be inhospitable and dangerous places for the ill prepared. From one hour to the next, from one hill to the next, they can exhibit a dramatic variation in weather conditions. Whether it's a well-planned expedition or a spur of the moment decision to go to the hills, it is important to check the forecast.

This page provides basic information about mountain conditions and advice to help keep you safe including a range of basic skills videos.

Mountain conditions

No matter from which direction the air comes, if it meets a range of hills it will have to do one of two things: either find a way through the valleys or be forced over the top. When air is forced to rise, it always cools. The rate of cooling is not constant, but on average temperature drops by around 2 °C per 300 m (1,000 ft) of ascent. This means that at the summit, the temperature will be much cooler than in the valley. Couple this with the average doubling in wind speed at 900 m compared to low ground, and the overall wind-chill effect on a wet or perspiring human body can be very large indeed. A wind of 40 mph and an air temperature of 3 °C, not at all an uncommon combination even in summer, will yield a wind-chill temperature of -10 °C.

Mountain ranges produce a number of potentially hazardous weather phenomena

  • Gales, storm-force winds, persistent heavy rain or blizzards can be raging at the top, when it is merely cloudy in the valleys.
  • Ice and snow can last long into spring or summer, especially on the sun-shielded north-facing slopes.
  • Certain conditions can also give rise to avalanches.
  • Low cloud is usually more frequent and extensive on the windward slopes, giving widespread hill fog, although under some situations the lee slope can also be affected by hill fog.

However, on a day-to-day basis, such potentially dangerous weather is the exception rather than the rule. Checking the mountain forecast gives essential forewarning of the likely conditions on your chosen route. You can also access our mountain forecasts while you are out and about via your mobile phone.

Some basic safety advice can be found below.

  • Check the mountain weather forecast before setting out
  • Make sure you have appropriate clothing, equipment and food, not just for the current conditions but also in case the weather changes for the worse
  • Make sure your walk is suitable for your ability

Mountain safety videos

The Met Office, in conjunction with the Welsh Assembly Government, British Mountaineering Council, Mountain Leader Training and Sports Wales, have produced a series of short videos on the skills you will need throughout the year and how to stay safe on the mountains.

General hill skills

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General skills and training you need on the mountains throughout the year

General hill skills transcript Transcript (PDF, 107 kB)

Dealing with bad weather

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What to do in the event of changeable conditions, poor visibility or high winds

Bad weather transcript Transcript (PDF, 101 kB)

Planning for winter conditions

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Equipment and mountaineering skills required during the winter months

Winter conditions transcript Transcript (PDF, 97 kB)

What to do in an emergency

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Mountain safety - what to do in case of an emergency

Emergencies transcript Transcript (PDF, 106 kB)

Planning for summer conditions

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Summer conditions - what to do in the mountains

Summer conditions transcript Transcript (PDF, 73 kB)

Support to Mountain Rescue Team and SAIS

Whenever an incident occurs requiring the mobilisation of a Mountain Rescue Team, the Met Office is ready, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to provide back-up. The forecasters at RAF Kinloss support the mission planning and control at the Aeronautical Rescue Co-ordination Centre, and the forecasters at RAF Lossiemouth provide forecasts directly to the helicopter crews.

Forecast data supplied by the Met Office also contributes to the preparation of the avalanche forecasts produced by the dedicated team of the Scottish Avalanche Information Service (SAIS) at Glenmore Lodge.

The Met Office provides a daily forecast service to SAIS from mid-December to shortly after Easter. This forecast is transmitted to each of the five sites at Northern Cairngorm, Southern Cairngorm, Lochaber, Glencoe and Creag Meagaidh for input into their avalanche-prediction computer models. In addition, SAIS has access to high-level automatic weather stations installed by the Met Office to help improve the accuracy of the mountain forecasts.

Last updated: 3 September 2013