Temperature

Normally, a temperature drop of 3 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit for every 1,000 feet gain in altitude is encountered in motionless air. For air moving up a mountain with condensation occurring (clouds, fog, and precipitation), the temperature of the air drops 3.2 degrees Fahrenheit with every 1,000 feet of elevation gain. For air moving up a mountain with no clouds forming, the temperature of the air drops 5.5 degrees Fahrenheit for every 1,000 feet of elevation gain.

a. An expedient to this often occurs on cold, clear, calm mornings. During a troop movement or climb started in a valley, higher temperatures may often be encountered as altitude is gained. This reversal of the normal cooling with elevation is called temperature inversion. Temperature inversions are caused when mountain air is cooled by ice, snow, and heat loss through thermal radiation. This cooler, denser air settles into the valleys and low areas. The inversion continues until the sun warms the surface of the earth or a moderate wind causes a mixing of the warm and cold layers. Temperature inversions are common in the mountainous regions of the arctic, subarctic, and mid-latitudes.

b. At high altitudes, solar heating is responsible for the greatest temperature contrasts. More sunshine and solar heat are received above the clouds than below. The important effect of altitude is that the sun's rays pass through less of the atmosphere and more direct heat is received than at lower levels, where solar radiation is absorbed and reflected by dust and water vapor. Differences of 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit may occur between surface temperatures in the shade and surface temperatures in the sun. This is particularly true for dark metallic objects. The difference in temperature felt on the skin between the sun and shade is normally 7 degrees Fahrenheit. Special care must be taken to avoid sunburn and snow blindness. Besides permitting rapid heating, the clear air at high altitudes also favors rapid cooling at night. Consequently, the temperature rises fast after sunrise and drops quickly after sunset. Much of the chilled air drains downward, due to convection currents, so that the differences between day and night temperatures are greater in valleys than on slopes.

c. Local weather patterns force air currents up and over mountaintops. Air is cooled on the windward side of the mountain as it gains altitude, but more slowly (3.2 degrees Fahrenheit per 1,000 feet) if clouds are forming due to heat release when water vapor becomes liquid. On the leeward side of the mountain, this heat gained from the condensation on the windward side is added to the normal heating that occurs as the air descends and air pressure increases. Therefore, air and winds on the leeward slope are considerably warmer than on the windward slope, which is referred to as Chinook winds. The heating and cooling of the air affects planning considerations primarily with regard to the clothing and equipment needed for an operation.

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