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firefly

Snow Patches On Scottish Mountains

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Early June seems like a good time to be starting the thread this year. It is likely that the heavy snows of winter are behind us, and from now on it'll probably be ephemeral summer snows that get the pulse quickening...

Winter 2011-2012 was a very mixed bag. Heavy snow fell in early December, and some big Atlantic storms deposited very large amounts of snow on NE facing aspects. In early 2012 I was very optimistic that this year was lining up to be a vintage one. How wrong could I be?! Notwithstanding a few large deposits in January, the rest of the winter was a huge disappointment. Hardly any meaningful snow fell in February, and March (the warmest in the UK since 1957, and a temperature of 23.6C at Aboyne in Aberdeenshire) all but ended my hopes of having any survivals of snow patches in Scotland past the end of September. However, April and May witnessed some very large deposits across the north east of Scotland. The extraordinary amounts that fell during the first two weeks of May allowed Cairn Gorm to re-open lift operated skiing, and to provide it right up until late May, when a savage thaw occurred during the very hot spell we had for a week.

The last snow in England vanished on the 18th May (located on Helvellyn, here). This wreath, present since December 2011, almost chalked up 6 calendar months. It consistently is the longest-lying patch in England, and is outlasted only sometimes by the other well known patch on the north side of Cross Fell, Pennines. As in 2010, snow persisted into May on the Peak District. However, this was a relic of April's snow.

On Wales, Carnedd Llewelyn held the last snow. This, however, was a remnant of 3-4 April's snow and not the snow from earlier in the winter. This finally vanished around the 19th May.

Thankfully, the beginning of June has seen a couple of days of sub-zero temperatures on the highest hills of Scotland, and fresh snow has been reported below 3000 feet on the 2nd June. Some big wreaths remain on the usual suspect hills, and if proof were needed of the depth of snow then Gary Hodgson's photograph (http://www.tarmachan.blogspot.co.uk/) from 1st June on Ben Nevis (at the Garadh) shows how much can be found if one is prepared to hoof up into the north east face!

I'll update this thread from time to time, but please feel free to contribute to this and the 'main' thread on Winterhighland: http://www.winterhighland.info/forum/read.php?2,143591

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Early June seems like a good time to be starting the thread this year. It is likely that the heavy snows of winter are behind us, and from now on it'll probably be ephemeral summer snows that get the pulse quickening...

Winter 2011-2012 was a very mixed bag. Heavy snow fell in early December, and some big Atlantic storms deposited very large amounts of snow on NE facing aspects. In early 2012 I was very optimistic that this year was lining up to be a vintage one. How wrong could I be?! Notwithstanding a few large deposits in January, the rest of the winter was a huge disappointment. Hardly any meaningful snow fell in February, and March (the warmest in the UK since 1957, and a temperature of 23.6C at Aboyne in Aberdeenshire) all but ended my hopes of having any survivals of snow patches in Scotland past the end of September. However, April and May witnessed some very large deposits across the north east of Scotland. The extraordinary amounts that fell during the first two weeks of May allowed Cairn Gorm to re-open lift operated skiing, and to provide it right up until late May, when a savage thaw occurred during the very hot spell we had for a week.

Many thanks as always

If you were a betting man based on the snow at present and a average summer what chance would you give of any snow remaining come september.

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There will certainly be snow on the hills in September if the summer is 'average'. If we get a sustained warm or hot spell then that prediction will have to be revised!

To my eyes the current level of cover, at least on the Lochaber hills, looks similar to 2007. That year the summer proved to be cold and wet, and we had a survival at Aonach Mor that we haven't had since. I think that come the 1st July survey by Adam Watson and myself we'll have a better idea of the lie of the land.

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It's also probably worth mentioning that the snow that is left will have a tendency to be more resilient than previous summers. There were many freeze/thaw cycles over the winter, and this had the effect of toughening up the snow. For example, in 2010 there was a lot of snow on the hills, but because there were virtually no freeze/thaw cycles the snow was stripped rapidly when the thaw did eventually arrive.

Fluffy, air filled snow is removed far quicker than dense, compacted snow. We shall see!

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June continues cool, and another day where the temperatures on Cairn Gorm are struggling to get above freezing. Doubtless it is snowing above around 3800 feet, and the rate of melt of existing snow will be reduced in the overcast, cool and relatively dry conditions. Also there seems to be little in the way of warm temperatures forecast, with unsettled weather set to continue.

The savage thaws that occurred in March and then late May have not exactly been reversed, but the continuing cool weather extends the lifespan of the patches very nicely.

Though I cannot be sure, as this photograph was taken 10 days ago, I suspect Britain's most southerly snow is a patch on Beinn Ime, roughly here.

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Greetings snow lovers...

With all this rain that's been falling, it's easy to forget that there are still large quantities of snow present on the hills north of Hadrian's Wall! We've been keeping an eye on things, and the prognosis for snow looks pretty reasonable in 2012. June's figures for Scotland will, I'm sure, show a reasonable 'below average' return for mean temperature and sunshine hours. The last few days have seen a warming up above 3000 feet, but as with May the first three quarters of if were cold and overcast. There have been a handful of days this month where fresh snow has fallen.

A recent picture of Braeriach's Garbh Choire Mor (the snowiest place in Britain) from 19th June shows how much snow is still present:

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Garbh Choire Mor, 19th June (Attila Kish)

An isolated and difficult to reach mountain that I've never visited, and whose slopes have been known to hold snow 'til early September, Beinn Heasgarnich, I trudged up yesterday. I was rewarded with some reasonable sized snow-patches, the biggest of which was 46 metres wide and about 25 metres long.

I suspect that the snow in the photograph below (Creag Mhor) is the most southerly now in Britain. If I were a betting man I would say that the Cuidhe Chrom on Ben More has vanished, albeit only recently. I couldn't see it yesterday, but the cloud did obscure my view. The rest of the pictures are here.

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as always your posts are factual and interesting so many thanks

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Thoroughly interesting, always love this thread, keep us posted firefly :)

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Thoroughly interesting, always love this thread, keep us posted firefly :)

Yes I second that. One of my favourite threads.

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Very interesting.

Looks to me as if northern Scotland should remain cool during the first week of July as we see low pressure around.

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Many thanks for the update. I very much enjoy reading your posts, firefly.

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Thanks all for your comments. :)

The snow this year is almost certainly going to be more robust than it has been for a number of years. During early season (December and January) there were some BIG storms from the west, which filled in a lot of the east and north east facing hollows that hold the longest lying snows. Nothing major about that, but interspersed between those storms we had a series of mild days, which consolidated the snow pack. In 2010 and to a certain extent 2011, the snow that fell in winter was not consolidated due to the run of cold, frosty weather. This type of snow tends to be fluffy and air-filled. It looks pretty on a picture, but when warm temperatures eventually do arrive then the snow vanishes like, er, snow off a dyke!

This year is not going to be a vintage one, nor particularly memorable one. However, I am reasonably confident that we will see at least a few survivals. If we do, that will be six winters on the trot that snow has survived to. After the complete melting of all snow in 1996, 2003 and 2006, few gave the prospect of semi permanent snow in Scotland much of a chance. As we've seen from the recent run of cool summer months, weather is a very fickle mistress.

Edited by firefly
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Another week passes, and another week of cool temperatures and slow melting of the highest snow. The medium-range forecast for the high tops in Scotland shows no sign of improvement, with Cairn Gorm summit struggling to get above 3 degrees Celcius for much of the last few days. The Greenland high continues to influence the weather, dragging the rain farther south than is normal, leaving Scotland with little of the SW 'hairdriers' we would normally expect at this time of the year.

Compare the two photographs by Attila Kish of Garbh Choire Mor, Britain's snowiest place. The first one was taken on 6th July: http://www.flickr.com/photos/snowgeek70/7519235570/in/photostream

The second on the 19th June: http://www.flickr.com/photos/snowgeek70/7407052892/in/photostream/

A difference, of course, but not as much as you'd expect at this time of the year. Still a very significant depth there at present. Perhaps in the region of 10-15 metres at deepest.

Sorry for the lack of hyperlinks, but writing on an iPad in 37 Celcius Crete!

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A couple of comparisons showing loss of snow at a couple of sites in the southern part of the main Cairngorms range between 3 June and 14 July. Firefly, please let me know if I have misidentified these sites! Although taken from different angles and distances the melting is very noticeable, although perhaps not as much as you might expect over 6 weeks at this time of year.

Thumbnails can be clicked for bigger images.

The Laird's Tablecloth, Beinn a' Bhuird:

3 June:

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14 July (3 patches have now broken off the main patch and various surrounding patches have melted - the largest patch is still at least a couple of hundred metres long though, I think)

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Beinn Bhrotain:

3 June:

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14 July (shows a smaller area of the hill, but the patch on the right is what remains if the largest patch in the 3 June photo - this patch lasted until the turn of August/September in 2011)

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I have various other photos of the southern Cairngorms taken from Sgor Mor above Glen Dee on 14 July which I will link to later (Firefly, I will also try and add these to the Winter Highland thread but my laptop always seems to have problems with it).

My general (although fairly inexpert) opinion was that there is more snow around than the same time last year, although some of the remaining patches are quite small and broken-up. A lot of the very longest-lasting sites are not visible from Sgor Mor of course, but there were for instance 29 patches (including all the smallest fragments) on Monadh Mor.

Edited by spindrift1980
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Hi firefly... I was doing my low hills training in Mid May and there was a real dumping of snow on the ground above 700m then...it did melt really quickly because of a storm from the west coming in...... however I bet that filled up the snow patches again on the tops!

We went camping on the west coast and went via Ullapool mid June.... there was still snow patches on Sgurr Mor at just over 3500ft and Beinn Wyvis at 3200ft! So you dont have to be all that high to see them.

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Excellent photos, spindrift. The ones of the Laird's Tablecloth and Beinn Bhrotain from Saturday are very useful. Laird's patch looks to be a couple of hundred metres long. Nae bad! Looks like you had a reasonable day for it, too.

If you've a keen eye, you can see the difference in vegetation colouring adjacent to the Laird's Tablecloth snow. Where snow has recently melted, the grass is brown. This is because it is emerging from its dormant winter state, and to all intents and purposes it thinks it's spring, not midsummer! It readily turns a lush green colour, with sheep and other grazing animals favouring it over that which has been exposed for a while. This is because it is more nutrient rich (more phosphorous). I have seen red deer grazing near snow patches often, and used to wonder why.

Another interesting point that many people miss is the types of vegetation that dislike snow. Heather, for instance, does not like long snow lie on the hills. It can tolerate it for a while, but snow which lies for even a few months a year dissuades heather from forming. In the photograph below of Carn Ban Mor, taken on the 31st May 2009, you can see a long-lying snow patch resting in a heather-free hollow. Look again at the stream gully and surrounding area where the snow has recently departed. No heather. You can tell where the snow lies longest on account of this, so even if you visit in September and see no snow you'll be able to tell what shape the patch in an average summer!

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*EDIT* - Just to illustrate the point, below is a photograph from 9th September 1959 of the ground under the Sphinx snow-patch, Braeriach. This piece of ground, exposed to daylight for probably only a handful of months since the 1700s, has nothing growing whatsoever below it.

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Interesting photo of Carn Ban Mor there, Firefly. I've found a photo I took of it from near Ruthven Barracks on 7 July 2010 which shows a snow patch and a similar shape of grass indicating late-lying snow. There was more snow still there on 7 July 2010 than there was on 31 May 2009 by the looks of it.

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I've seen the areas of grass amongst heather indicating late snow lie often in places like Glen Shee. Also, on hills in the west like Ben Lui where there is mostly grass and very little heather you can often see the 'dormant' grass emerge in patches in late spring/early summer as you say, from under areas of late-lying snow.

Feel free to post any relevant photos on WinterHighland or to add them to your archive. I should get back on WinterHighland eventually, once I have access to my own computer. I notice Adam Watson made a post this afternoon about the Laird's Tablecloth, saying the western section was split into 3, so one of the small patches in my photo must have broken up in the last couple of days.

MWIS has the freezing level not far above the summits again later this week, but 'becoming very much warmer' from Saturday onwards so the rate of melting might be about to increase.

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*EDIT* - Just to illustrate the point, below is a photograph from 9th September 1959 of the ground under the Sphinx snow-patch, Braeriach. This piece of ground, exposed to daylight for probably only a handful of months since the 1700s, has nothing growing whatsoever below it.

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Why are the rocks black?

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Why are the rocks black?

The photograph shows a piece of ground that, before 1959, was last exposed in 1933 (i.e. the last time the snow melted). So in essence the snow-patch that was present in 1959 contained all the muck, dirt and general detritus that being 26 years old entails. As the snow melted, it deposited all this detritus on the rocks and ground it was lying on, giving the impression of having been given lick of black paint. Sandy Tewnion, the photographer, commented that the black residue was like tar. Not sure why that was, as I'm no expert.

The most likely explanation is that it's nothing more than good old fashioned dirt!

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The photograph shows a piece of ground that, before 1959, was last exposed in 1933 (i.e. the last time the snow melted). So in essence the snow-patch that was present in 1959 contained all the muck, dirt and general detritus that being 26 years old entails. As the snow melted, it deposited all this detritus on the rocks and ground it was lying on, giving the impression of having been given lick of black paint. Sandy Tewnion, the photographer, commented that the black residue was like tar. Not sure why that was, as I'm no expert.

The most likely explanation is that it's nothing more than good old fashioned dirt!

I would imagine that if the last remnants contained so much dirt it would have considerably enhanced the thawing process as the albedo would be much reduced. I assume that the snow patch receives no direct solar radiation but dirty snow/ice with such a low albedo would be quite effective at absorbing secondary radiation, thereby speeding up the melting.

Edited by Terminal Moraine

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