Expedition Weather

You need to become something of an amateur weather forecaster on an expedition because your safety and success are so closely bound to nature's moods. When you get to the climbing area, add to your knowledge of local weather patterns by talking to other climbers and to people who live there. Find out the direction of the prevailing winds. Ask about rain and storms. On the mountain, become a student of weather patterns. Your altimeter can serve as a barometer to signal weather changes.

Take clues from the clouds. Cirrus clouds (mare's tails) warn of a front bringing precipitation within the next 24 hours. Lenticular clouds (cloud caps) mean high winds. A rapidly descending cloud cap signals that bad weather is coming. And if you climb into a cloud cap, expect high winds and poor visibility. Be prepared for the fact that big mountains typically have storms and winds to match. Wait storms out if you can because of the risk inherent in descending under bad conditions. If it looks like you'll be stuck for some time, start rationing food.

Fair weather poses problems too. If it's hot and solar radiation is intensified by protected glaciers, the result can be collapsing snow bridges, crevasse movement, and increased icefall. Then it's best to climb at night, when temperatures are lowest and snow and ice are most stable.

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