Don Pablo Edronkin

A Brief Pondering About Storms.




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"Sometimes, I prepare myself for a whole year in order to spend two weeks climbing a particular mountain in Patagonia.

Sometimes, the weather will not let me reach the peak, but sometimes, instead of one peak I am able to climb two, or three in a row.

This made me think that you should never let yourself be deceived by momentary storms, and keep your ideas even if it means coming back a year after, for when opportunity finally knocks on your door, you will be ready to grasp it with both hands.

However, it is indeed useful to know what goes on above the mountains if you are planning some outdoor activities there.

Mountain weather is quite complicated; not only the overall shape of mountain ranges contribute to rain and snow fall, and of course, the creation of too many clouds, but there are also micro events and small areas where weather seems to follow its own will.

Basically, mountains make the air lift; this in turn produces condensation of water contained in the atmosphere; the warmer air that is found near the surface tends to climb because it is less dense than cold air. Then, after reaching a certain point condensation occurs and thus cumulus clouds are originated.

If these clouds acquire their own internal dynamic, they tend to continue growing until they become storm and rain clouds, known as cumulonimbus; this is the most important kind of cloud causing foul weather in the mountains (and in other places too).

The shape of valleys also funnels winds in certain ways; this can be extremely dangerous for paragliders, small aircraft pilots and parachutists because at least half of such winds involve very strong downdrafts that surpass the power or capability to climb of small aircraft or flying devices. It also creates local weather phenomena.

Turbulence in the air comes mainly from the warming of air masses that tend to climb as if they were bubbles, from the eddies created as the laminar flow of wind is cut by the mountain themselves, and a couple of other phenomena, but these are the most important.

Mountain weather is complicated; it cannot be explained in one article but once you get the basics, you will be in a better condition to make predictions.

This is indeed, very basic; however, the fundamental of change rapidity and how winds produce market effects on mountainous regions are easy to understand. Believe it or not, almost all other weather phenomena in these regions are derived from the fact that the Sun heats the air in a very discontinuous way (i.e. there are many areas under shade and others under sunlight at the same time), this produces local ascending thermals or currents, and in turn, this produces condensation and downdrafts.

Depending in the way in which the forces that produce them interact between each other, you get different results. It is all very easy; what may not be easy is to get out of bad weather.

By the way, weather forecasts in the mountains usually last - realistically - about four hours.

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Altostratus over the mountains
Some fair mountain weather: altostratus clouds covering
the Patagonian ski at about 4.000 m ASL.

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