Spring Mountain Conditions for the Sierra Nevada 2014

Not great news I’m afraid. We have some very dangerous mountain conditions above 2700m where there are extensive areas of hard ice on all slopes. Strangely, below 2700m, under thaw conditions then there are also some avalanche dangers.

We have been waiting for the warm sun to soften things up for some time now. A few days ago we were up on Cerro de Caballo and found that nothing has really changed in the past month. The main culprit seems to be the high temperatures, overnight freezing, lack of regular fresh snowfall and the almost constant strong winds at altitude scouring the slopes.

Why is this dangerous? On the face of it this should be a good thing for mountaineering shouldn’t it? The problem lies with the fact that there is just so much hard ice on the access to climbs that it will be difficult if not impossible to arrest any slip with an ice axe. If a strong gust of wind catches you off balance and you slip, to stop will be difficult. Indeed, there have been serious accidents occurring every week throughout winter 2014.

The accidents are not only happening to the inexperienced. Even experienced alpinists are getting caught out. These references from the past couple of weeks illustrate this.

ALPINISTS ON ALCAZABA
http://www.ideal.es/granada/20140324/local/provincia-granada/rescatado-alpinista-tras-sufrir-201403241324.html

MOUNTAINEERS ON NORTH FACE MULHACEN
http://www.ideal.es/granada/20140318/local/granada/rescatados-montaneros-cara-norte-201403181111.html

MOUNTAINEER EASY ROUTE MULHACEN
http://www.ideal.es/agencias/20140302/local/granada/rescatado-tras-horas-montanero-herido_201403022140.html

Mountaineering on Veleta

Mountaineering on Veleta

The local spanish forums also show that the majority of hardened local mountaineers are not venturing out into the high mountains at all. Neither for ski touring nor for mountain routes.

What does this mean for your spring visit to the Sierra Nevada? You will have to carefully access what is and what is not possible. Do not take risks or play russian roulette! Take into account the exceptional circumstances this winter and act accordingly.

There should still be plenty of things available, but sights will necessarily have to be lowered and you should be prepared to be as flexible as possible.

Ourselves? We shall be running

 

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The ups and down of autumn in the Sierra Nevada mountains

Autumn is a strange season in the Sierra Nevada mountains. A season of great contrasts that can bring unexpected difficulties for walkers and trekkers. Summer changes to winter very quickly here. This article describes what to look out for and how to deal with it.

The Contrast

23rd September 2012

So there we were, sat on top of the peak of Veleta at 3398m in glorious sunshine with not a cloud in sight. Light winds and 300m temperatures about 15 deg C. We were in T shirts, lightweight gear and required full cover sun hat protection to keep the high altitude radiation at bay. Temperatures at our home in Lanjaron reached 32.6 deg C that day. Granada was even hotter. The last rain we had seen was back in May.

28th September 2012

5 days later we are huddled in our home wondering what had gone wrong! Temperatures outside struggled to rise above 19 deg C all day. The rain was teeming down outside and there was major flooding throughout Andalucia. In Lanjaron we had over 40mm rainfall in 24 hours. Freezing levels were around 2500m which meant the first snowfalls of the coming winter arrived.

Weather records obtained from Lanjaron Weather Station

This of course brings problems for walkers and trekkers visiting Spain hoping for sun and high mountains. Snow? Spain? End of September? Surely not!

Many misjudgements of the weather come from the changing of the seasons and the related mountain risks that brings. Traditionally, the autumn and spring are the most unpredictable, as it may be t-shirt and shorts weather on the Costa Tropical, yet people could well be fighting in blizzard conditions at 3000m.

A fine day on the coast can lead unprepared people into the mountains unsuitably equipped. There have been accidents and in fact the Guardia Civil do place people at strategic access points during these times if they know bad weather is coming in, to check that trekkers are suitably aware and equipped

From this ….. to this ….. in 4 days!

Weather Resources

It goes without saying that knowing that mountain conditions can change quickly here you should be armed with some of the best weather resources around. We have collected the best available and included them on our Weather Sierra Nevada webpage. We compiled this originally for ouselves, as mountain guides, to save us moving from page to page across the internet.

On this page you will find summaries and graphics of:

  • The state of mountain access and road conditions
  • A summary of the next days weather
  • Weather Alerts put out by AEMET
  • Webcams from differing heights in the Sierra Nevada so you can see what real time conditions are like
  • The latest AEMET forecast
  • Mulhacen Forecast from Meteo Exploration
  • Mulhacen Forecast from Norwegian Meteorological Institute
  • Sierra Nevada from MeteoBlue

Equipment

Having consulted the “Weather Resources”, make sure you are properly equipped. We have a suggested “Equipment List” but this will need to be tailored to each individuals particular tastes. If in any doubt err on the side of caution.

When do the first snows arrive?

We get this question asked all the time. It is normal for some snow to fall at the end of September or beginning of October, but this is followed by a return to normal temperatures the week after, stripping away the snowpack. The first major snows that consolidate and stick around tend to be either end october or during November. The earliest weve ever know was 8th october in 2008 but that was an unusually heavy snowfall year. After the first consolidated snowfalls then the Sierra Nevada will be in full winter condition.

What high mountain itineraries will be possible in the Autumn?

Of course it all depends on the snow, but to give you some ideas ……. this October we have the following planned (some with places still available). If in doubt you should always take a local guide with you who knows the mountains.

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Alpujarras weather trends in 2011 from our Lanjaron meteo station

At the end of the year it is always interesting to look at the extremes, averages and trends in the years weather. Our weather station in Lanjaron, Alpujarras has provided the following information for 2011 (2010 figures in brackets).

Temperatures – nothing too different on the maximums and minimums, but interesting to note that 2011 was far more extreme overall than in  2010. The number of times the temperatures exceeded 30 or were less than 10 were much more than in 2010.

Rainfall much higher in 2010, but that was an exceptional year.

View all the Alpujarras climate data since 2006

Temperatures

  • Max High 36.3 (2010 38.2)
  • Min Low 0.3 (2010 0.0)
  • Average temp 15.8 (2010 16.0)
  • Average max 27.6 (2010 26.7)
  • Average min 7.1 (2010 7.1)
  • Max temperature over 30 degrees on – 48 days (2010 – 26 days)
  • Min temperature under 10 degrees on – 154 days (2010 – 114 days)

Rainfall

  • Total precipitation 442mm (2010 720mm)
  • Days when precipitation over 2.5mm – 37 days (2010 – 42 days)

Wind

  • Maximum gust 61 km/hr (2010 61 km/hr)
  • Average maximum gust throughout the year 22.6 km/hr (2010 – 26.3 km/hr)
  • Average speed 2.4 km/hr (2010 3.2 km/hr)
  • Average wind direction – 265
Click to load Climate Data 2011 in larger window

Click to load Climate Data 2011 in larger window

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Alpujarras monthly weather records since 2005

If you are a statistic freak like me, live in southern Spain and are constantly talking to friends about the ins and outs of the weather then this post may be for you. Put the myths to bed! When somebody says “It’s not as hot as it was last year!” or “It didn’t rain as much last year!”, then you now have the answer at your fingertips.

Below are the facts as recorded by our monthly records from our weather station at Lanjaron in the Alpujarras, Andalucia. The lowest temperature each month, the highest temperature each month, the average low and high and the number of days and amount of rain.

Visit the Live Weather Station
The Monthly Weather Records website

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The effects of windchill when in the mountains

Windchill is a factor we take into account most times when we visit the high Sierras. We ignore it at our peril. A 32km hour wind at 0 degrees centigrade gives an effective -12.5 degree “feel” to the temperature. The chart below will help in ascertaining the dangers.

Most likely from December to February each year, we can get -10 degree temperatures at 3000m on Mulhacen with winds of 56km per hour. This gives a dangerous effective temperature of -32.5 degrees! Within minutes exposed areas of the body can become iced.

I remember our recent trip to the Patagonian Icefield in November 2010.  It wasn’t very cold in reality, maybe zero degrees BUT we had a 100+km/hr wind to cope with. It ended up being one of the coldest and most exposed experiences of my life. Effective temperatures were all day consistently at -25 or below. No part of the body could be exposed to the raging spindrift.

A windchill chart is shown below that shows the cooling effects of wind given relative air temperatures. It is self explanatory. Yellow shading signifies danger of icing in 1 minute. Pink shading in under 30 seconds! Hope you find it useful.

windchill-chart

windchill-chart

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Alpujarras Weather for your iPhone or Android Smartphones

Get Live Weather, Records, Graphs, Webcam and Forecasts for the Alpujarras region of southern Spain direct to your iPhone, Android or Smartphone.

Our Davis Vantage Pro weather station here in Lanjaron, in the Alpujarras, has been operating now for some 3 years and provided us with much information and records about the weather patterns here. Now we have prepared a smartphone version integrating readings from the station, utilising software developed by Sietse Vissar.

Alpujarras smartphone weather

Alpujarras smartphone weather

Available is the following data…………. (temperatures, humidity, rainfall, wind)

Current weather summary  – ie whats happening now!
Live Weather – Detailed breakdowns of current weather
Historical weather data – for the past hour, day, week, month etc
Graphs – Detailed graphs for the past hour, day, week, month etc
Webcam – Our up to date webcam view of Lanjaron refreshed every minute
Forecast – 10 day forecast from the reliable yo.no
Weather Station locator on Google Maps

Settings – there are many settings for displaying the readings (eg degrees C or F). In addition you can change language to spanish as well as many other languages.

Just point your smartphone browser to http://www.spanishhighs.co.uk/smartphone/ and bookmark it to your homepage.

……… and voila!

We have tested this on most smartphones successfully, but have had some trouble getting it to function correctly on Symbian based Nokia phones. Any feed back would be welcomed.

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Aspects of weather forecasting in the Sierra Nevada mountains

How do you judge mountain conditions in the Sierra Nevada from the wealth of information currently present on the internet? These are some pointers after having lived in these mountains for the last 8 years.

Many misjudgements of the weather come from the changing of the seasons and the related mountain risks that brings. Traditionally, the autumn and spring are the most unpredictable, as it may be t-shirt and shorts weather on the Costa Tropical, yet people could well be fighting in blizzard conditions at 3000m. A fine day on the coast can lead unprepared people into the mountains unsuitably equipped. There have been accidents and in fact the Guardia Civil do place people at strategic access points during these times if they know bad weather is coming in, to check that trekkers are suitably aware and equipped.

The photo below was taken on 10th October 2010 from the Sierra Nevada ski centre web cameras at 2500m. Early autumn here in Andalucia. The week before we were basking in Lanjaron at over 30 degrees C.

first-snows-sierra-nevada-2010

first-snows-sierra-nevada-2010

Strangely enough, the winter is more predictable. Most mountain goers seem to know that we have severe weather then and at a bare minimum it will be very cold and windy. Similarly, summer is generally great high level walking and trekking with not too much required in the way of protective clothing save for the odd afternoon thunderstorm.

Internet Resources

You will find a stack of the latest forecasting models and links at our Sierra Nevada mountain weather pages. We update the page frequently as and when better models are released. But, how do you interpret the sometimes varying details?

How we access, is that we review a broad cross section of models from the AEMET Sierra Nevada ski forecast, which is accurate for the next 2 days, to the MeteoExploration Mulhacen summit weather, to the Spanish El Tiempo.  This is less accurate but does predict the next 5 days. These are not the only ones we use. See our pages for further sources. In addition we watch Spanish TV stations (both national and local) for an up to date assessment.

When all sources generally agree as to what is happening then it is almost certain to occur as stated. Conversely, when sources disagree, then the weather could go either way. This is not all bad, as “either way” usually means “not that bad”. When this disagreement happens then expect bad but not severe weather as an outcome.

We are available to assist in weather forecasting for your trip to the Sierra Nevada mountains, whether you are in a guided or self guided group, by using our contact form.

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Simulated Lanjaron forecasts now incorporated into our weather station

Our Davis Vantage Pro 2 weather station in Lanjaron has now been active and running now since October 2008. It is a useful resource for those who either live here or are visiting the Alpujarras. We have now incorporated a visual forecasting feature into our station reporting as a result of the technology devised and run by yowindow.com.

Top 7 features:

  • The weather at your fingertips – real cloud coverage, rain/snow, mist, wind
  • Total weather control
  • True Moon phase, Sun and Moon position, sunrises
  • Watch weather forecast exactly at the moment you want
  • Current temperature beside the system clock
  • Takes data from the weather station in Lanjaron.

Go on have a play. Move the controls. Watch the sun set! Visit the weather station

Feel free to use the code below to add the widget to your website or blog. You can alter sizes to suit but please keep the 2 Yowindow links intact at the bottom.

YoWindow.comForecast by yr.no

Coding required……………..

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<div style=”width: 600px; height: 15px; font-size: 12px; font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;”><span style=”float: left;”><a style=”color: #2fa900; text-decoration: none;” title=”Free Weather Widget” href=”http://yowindow.com?client=widget&amp;link=copyright” target=”_top”>YoWindow.com</a></span><span style=”float: right; color: #888888;”>Forecast by <a style=”color: #2fa900; text-decoration: none;” href=”http://yr.no”>yr.no</a></span></div>
<div style=”width: 600px; height: 15px; font-size: 12px; font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;”><span style=”float: right; color: #888888;”>
</span></div>

<div style=”width: 600px; height: 400px;”><object classid=”clsid:d27cdb6e-ae6d-11cf-96b8-444553540000″ width=”600″ height=”400″ codebase=”http://download.macromedia.com/pub/shockwave/cabs/flash/swflash.cab#version=6,0,40,0″><param name=”data” value=”http://swf.yowindow.com/wimo/hpPal/hpPal.swf” /><param name=”allowfullscreen” value=”true” /><param name=”wmode” value=”opaque” /><param name=”bgcolor” value=”#FFFFFF” /><param name=”flashvars” value=”location_id=gn:2513477&amp;location_name=Lanjaron&amp;time_format=24&amp;unit_system=metric&amp;background=#FFFFFF&amp;copyright_bar=false&amp;landscape=http://www.spanishhighs.co.uk/weatherlive/lanjaron/lanjaron2.ywl&amp;current_weather_url=http://www.spanishhighs.co.uk/weatherlive/yowindow-xml.php” /><param name=”src” value=”http://swf.yowindow.com/wimo/hpPal/hpPal.swf” /><embed type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” width=”600″ height=”400″ src=”http://swf.yowindow.com/wimo/hpPal/hpPal.swf” flashvars=”location_id=gn:2513477&amp;location_name=Lanjaron&amp;time_format=24&amp;unit_system=metric&amp;background=#FFFFFF&amp;copyright_bar=false&amp;landscape=http://www.spanishhighs.co.uk/weatherlive/lanjaron/lanjaron2.ywl&amp;current_weather_url=http://www.spanishhighs.co.uk/weatherlive/yowindow-xml.php” bgcolor=”#FFFFFF” wmode=”opaque” allowfullscreen=”true” data=”http://swf.yowindow.com/wimo/hpPal/hpPal.swf”></embed></object></div><div style=”width: 600px; height: 15px; font-size: 12px; font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;”><span style=”float: left;”><a style=”color: #2fa900; text-decoration: none;” title=”Free Weather Widget” href=”http://yowindow.com?client=widget&amp;link=copyright” target=”_top”>YoWindow.com</a></span><span style=”float: right; color: #888888;”>Forecast by <a style=”color: #2fa900; text-decoration: none;” href=”http://yr.no”>yr.no</a></span></div><div style=”width: 600px; height: 15px; font-size: 12px; font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;”><span style=”float: right; color: #888888;”></span></div>

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Alpujarras Weather Station Records for May 2010

Our weather station in Lanjaron, Alpujarras, Andalucia, recorded the following weather data for May 2010. Links to the station which is live on the internet during daylight hours can be found below.

Records for the month of May 2010

alpujarra-weather-records-may-2010

alpujarra-weather-records-may-2010

You may also be interested in:
Visit the Lanjaron weather station live datafeed
View past weather records
Sierra Nevada Mountain Weather Forecasts

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The unprecedented dangers in the Sierra Nevada mountains this winter

The tragic freak death of an experienced, much loved 58 year old mountain guide from Granada, has demonstrated the unprecedented perils of this winter season in Spain’s Sierra Nevada. Heavy rain and gale force winds have brought a series of blizzard conditions to the high mountains since mid-December. What are the dangers and how do we deal with them?

Roads badly damaged in the Sierras

Roads badly damaged in the Sierras

Whatever the truth about El Niño this year, the fact remains that whilst the UK has been having the coldest and snowiest winter for many years, due to scandanavian weather influences, the lows normally reserved for northern Scotland have fled south. Instead of a few bad days each month renewing the snowpack, we have one low pressure system after another crossing the Sierras, bringing with it heavy rain, gale force winds and blizzards.

It all started in mid-December when the first “waves” hit. Very suddenly the mountainsides turned white. They have remained that way with a continual build up of snow ever since. We now have 4 to 5 metre snow depths. Great if the weather ever relents enough to give us a window of opportunity to climb them!

Unprecedented Dangers

Access tracks in the Alpujarras

Access tracks in the Alpujarras

The constant rain has soaked the earth. Houses that were not built to withstand the deluge have collapsed. Avalanches of stones have taken away others. Thousands of families have been displaced from their homes in Jerez de la Frontera and alongside the Rio Gualaquivir due to flooding.

Access tracks to the mountains, usually only affected by snowfall have been cut by rock avalanches. I have been above Capileira today and seen countless examples of the earth slides at first hand. Roads have been undercut by fast flowing rivers and the tarmac has sunk in places. All very precarious.

Yesterday, a 58 year old, very experienced, mountain guide from Granada was killed when walking with a group back to his car near the Rio Genil, Guejar Sierra. An avalanche of earth wiped away 30m of tarmac road he was walking on. A freak accident. A tragedy.

Some of the great scrambles we have been enjoying have changed forever. Huge chunks have fallen off ridges. We have had to cancel some climbing and scrambling trips due to the unpredictable circumstances.

High Mountain Conditions

We are used to dealing with avalanche conditions, ice and all the normal dangers associated with the Sierra Nevada. What is a bit strange is that we are having to pick and choose our times and places to climb like never before. In the UK, mountaineers are somewhat used to dodging the fronts. It is almost an unknown quantity here in “sunny” Spain! To give the local mountaineers great credit, there have been less accidents this year than previous years. Remarkable given the difficult winter conditions.

In the mountains themselves we have had daily changing conditions. Fluctuating valley temperatures (10 to 26 deg C high in Lanjaron last week. Source: Lanjaron Weather Station) have led to sheet ice one day and slush the next. Avalanche conditions one day, stabilised the next.

Recommendations

Without wanting to state the obvious, if you are venturing into the Sierra Nevada at the moment you MUST

(a) Consult multiple weather forecasts and try to form a consensus of what is to come.
(b) Leave route plan with somebody and check in regularly if you can.
(c) Must take ice axe and crampons and know how to use them (we also take helmet, shovel, probes, avalanche transceivers).
(d) Know the route beforehand and have an escape plan.
(e) Be prepared to turn around and leave your summit for another day.
(f) Be suspect of any type of rock holds.
(g) Keep well clear of bare, weed free earth at the sides of roads. This, when sodden, is the most likely to avalanche.
(h) Consult locally for advice regarding access, state of high huts (the Cariguela and Caldera huts have all but disappeared under the snow!)

If in any doubt, stay at home and watch the TV. In the words of Hervey Voge…………

The mountains will always be there, the trick is to make sure you are too

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