Clouds of Warning

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Pablo Edronkin

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There is a condition in the mountain sky that indicates that shelter should be obtained as soon as possible.

Mountain weather varies with extreme rapidity and its impact tends to be higher than in lower regions too. A storm in a mountain is often more violent than the same event in flat areas - except for tornadoes an hurricanes, of course - or in other words, violent weather tends to be more common or frequent in mountainous regions than in others: For each hurricane, tornado, typhoon or cyclone that appears somewhere in the world, there are far more blizzards happening everywhere, in countless valleys found in the middle of many mountains. Perhaps these storm systems receive little or no attention and are relatively small, but for those found under or inside them, situations could unfold into potentially dangerous scenarios.

Colder weather is a rule as you gain altitude and that indeed is a factor, but considering the typical outdoor enthusiast that treks or goes mountain climbing, there are other factors to consider as well, such as exposure, lack of adequate cold weather equipment, lack of training and experience and lack of judgement to assess and evaluate the risks involved in a mountain storm. Why take chances when there is a way to forecast incoming bad weather in the mountains? Of course, it is not a failsafe technique but if you combine it with a little prudence you will stay out of trouble most of the times.

This technique is exceedingly simple; you just have to look at what the clouds are doing:

If the clouds begin to appear at lower altitudes, "touching" the peaks of the mountains, weather will be unstable.

If the clouds seem to hit the mountains lower than the peaks, bad weather is incoming.

If the clouds gain altitude, weather will improve.

Consider that several mountain ranges have a side that is rather more moist and with more blossoming vegetation than the other, like the Andes or the Himalayas. That has a lot to do with the average winds in each area; these winds move the clouds in a collision course against the mountains, and when they hit them, precipitation occurs. So, places like Paro end up being far more fertile than the region around Lhasa, but in extended mountain ranges like the Andes, this relationship between predominant winds and precipitation varies: In the Patagonian Andes, predominant winds come from the southwest, so cities like Puerto Natales appear as much more moist and fertile than others like Rio Turbio, located in the steppes just twenty kilometres away, to the east; however, in the Andes of Peru the fertile side is the east and the barren one is the west, where the Pacific coast lies. So, a place like Lima is far dryer than Iquitos, in the Peruvian Amazon.

Indeed, this process is far more complex but this brief explanation should be enough, and the technique that we have just presented to you is based on this empirical observation.




What would you do in this scenery?





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