Mountain safety

This page provides some basic safety information including a range of skills videos to help you plan ahead and prepare for the conditions.

Mountain conditions

No matter which direction the air comes from, 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 so at the summit the temperature will often be much colder than in the valley. Couple these much stronger wind speeds on high exposed ground and the impact of the wind’s strength and the wind-chill effect can be very large indeed. As air rises over a mountain and cools it can also generate low cloud which can be difficult to navigate through. This cloud can also increase the intensity of rainfall – a phenomenon called “orographic enhancement”.

A number of potentially hazardous weather phenomena often occur in the hills and mountains including:

  • Storm-force winds, persistent heavy rain or blizzards which can be raging at the top when it is merely cloudy and breezy in the valleys.
  • Colder conditions at height and strong winds can give a severe wind chill and lead to hypothermia, especially if waterproofs become soaked through in wet conditions.
  • Ice and snow due to colder temperatures at height. Lying snow can last long into spring or summer, especially on sun-shielded north-facing slopes.
  • Certain conditions can also give rise to avalanches. Avalanche forecasts for Scotland are provided by the Scottish Avalanche Information Service.
  • Low cloud, either from cloud moving across the area or generated by the hills themselves, results in very poor visibility. Cloud cover or heavy snow combined with snow cover on the ground can give white out conditions.

Checking the mountain weather forecast gives essential forewarning of the conditions on your chosen route. You can also access our mountain forecasts while out and about (although beware there is often no phone signal in remote areas).

Some basic safety advice to follow.

  • Check the mountain weather forecast before setting out. Also check avalanche forecasts where available.
  • 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 or if the route turns out to be longer than expected.
  • Make sure your walk is suitable for you and all of your party’s abilities.
  • Plan appropriate escape routes to lower ground in case the weather turns.
  • Be flexible with your plans. Be prepared to turn back and leave it for another day if conditions or the route turn out to be unsuitable.

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

Transcript 

Dealing with bad weather

 Transcript

Planning for winter conditions

 Transcript

What to do in an emergency

Transcript

 Planning for summer conditions

 Transcript

Support to Mountain Rescue 

Mountain Rescue Teams (MRTs) carry out specialist search and rescues and are ready to respond to those in need 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Callouts can range from rescuing climbers from precipitous crags, helping sick casualties off the hill, to rescuing dogs and other animals from inaccessible places.

MRTs rely on accurate mountain forecasts to safely carry out rescues and training operations. The Met Office provide direct support to RAF MRTs based at Lossiemouth, Leeming and Valley.  We support the teams with text forecasts and tailored weather briefings as required for callouts and training. We also deliver presentations and training workshops to MRTs to help give them a good grounding in meteorology and mountain weather.

Support to Scottish Avalanche Information Service (SAIS)

 

SAIS publish daily forecasts of the avalanche hazard for the 6 most popular walking and climbing areas of Scotland during the winter season. This avalanche information, alongside mountain weather forecasts, enable people to make sensible and safe decisions when planning ahead and venturing into the hills in winter.

Weather forecasts written by Meteorologists in Aberdeen play a key role in the preparation of the avalanche forecasts. These are provided daily from around mid-December to late April for six mountain areas in Scotland: Northern Cairngorms, Southern Cairngorms, Creag Meagaidh, Glencoe, Lochaber and Torridon. SAIS forecasters go up into the hills to take daily snow observations and samples, then use the weather predictions and an expert knowledge on snow conditions to produce avalanche forecasts. SAIS also has access to weather observation data for high-level automatic weather stations installed by the Met Office.