Snow Survival Survey Needs You

We might be basking in a heat wave, but small dollops of snow are still clinging on in high nooks all over the Scottish hills. Iain Cameron, who is the lead author of an annual paper on snow patches published by the Royal Meteorological Society, has for several years been researching patches that last through to the following winter. In the past couple of hundred years, he reckons there have been only five summers during which no snow has survived somewhere in the Highlands. Following a massive winter snow accumulation, 2014 promises to be a bumper year. There is so much out there to document that Iain is looking for all the volunteers he can get on the hills, on a given date in late August.

For the last six years I’ve organised a late-August survey on the hills of Scotland, where we try and count up every last snow patch dotted throughout the country. I say ‘we’, as this is very much a collective effort, rather than an heroic attempt by one individual.

About to cross the 'snow patch' to reach Orion Face Ben Nevis before 6 hours of shocking weather, 167 kb
About to cross the 'snow patch' to reach Orion Face Ben Nevis before 6 hours of shocking weather
© buffalo606, Jul 2014

The reason for doing this survey is to try and build up a long-term picture of whether lots of patches earlier in the season equates to survivals when lasting snow arrives. Also it’s a good reason to get out on the hill, dressed up in the name of science.

Since the survey was started in 2008 we’ve had (2008-2013) 34, 35, 24, 36, 72 and 81 patches. The number of surviving (that is, surviving until winter snows bury them) patches in the corresponding years is: 12, 6, 6, 2, 6 and 6. At the moment there doesn’t appear to be any correlation, but it’s too early to draw any conclusions, but as each year passes then this data becomes more useful.

So to this end, we need help. August 2014 is going to be a big year for patches, in my view easily exceeding the 81 we had in 2013, and probably running into treble figures. That means we’re going to need foot-soldiers to get out onto the hill and get counting. That means you!

The date is 22nd August (Friday), although in truth the 23rd would do, too.

We try to make the date as close to the 21st each year as is possible. However, work commitments etc mean that not everyone is able to do days that aren’t at the weekend.

So, if you’re going out walking anyway that weekend, why not stroll around one of the locations mentioned below?

If you can assist, then please get in touch with me by email, and I'd be delighted to point you in the right direction.

All these mountains listed are the ones that I either know, expect or hope to have snow on them. The hills highlighted in bold below are the ones that currently still need volunteers. 

1. Nevis range (any of the four 4000 footers)

2. Grey Corries

3. Glen Coe (specifically, Bidean nam Bian)

4. West Drumochter - In my view, Geal-charn (Alder), Ben Alder and Beinn Udlamain will all have snow. Maybe others. 

5. Creag Meagaidh

6. Ardverikie (Beinn a’ Chlachair, Geal Charn)

7. Ben Macdui/Cairn Gorm plateau

8. Braeriach/Cairn Toul

10. Lochnagar

11. Beinn Bhrotain/Monadh Mòr (Cairngorms)

12. East Cairngorms (Ben Avon, Beinn a’ Bhuird)

13. Glen Affric/Strathfarrar/Mullardoch

14. White Mounth, including Glenshee ski area hills

I can provide locations on these hills as to where the snow will be, and where it’s best to look for it if it’s not immediately obvious.


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