These days, before we go hiking in the mountains, we check the forecast on an app or website, but wouldn’t it be much more efficient if we could predict Scafell Pike’s weather before we even head for the Lake District? The skies hold the clues we need to have a good understanding of what’s coming next, all you have to do is look up at the clouds. Here, I’m going to tell you how.

How Can We predict Scafell Pike’s Weather?

I use the Met Office App and the Mountain Weather Information Service website for every trip to the Lake District, Peak District, and especially Snowdonia and Scotland. When I’m out for a few days on an expedition in Scotland and get no signal on the phone, these facilities may as well not exist.

We rely too much on technology. Not only because it’s not always correct but because we are losing our connection with the Earth. I’m not going to get all spiritual on you, not in this post anyway.

The thing is, the clues to predicting the weather are in the sky.

Cloud

Clouds are formed by the condensation of water as air rises and cools. There are various types of clouds, depending on temperature, air pressure, and altitude.

Cirrus cloud over Glenridding
Cirrus cloud over Glenridding

Cirrus Cloud

Thin and wispy, Cirrus clouds appear high in the sky, between 16,000 and 45,000 feet. The sparse nature of these clouds is due to the condensed water having crystallized, mostly into ice. It’s pretty cold up there.

Cumulus cloud seen from High Street in the Lake District
Cumulus cloud seen from High Street in the Lake District

Cumulus Cloud

Another common form is the Cumulus cloud that appears fluffy. Cumulus is Latin for heaped so when you see a cloud that looks stacked up in a lump, that’s one. The clumpy Cumulus clouds are formed due to air rising and carrying water with it by evaporation. The best pictorial representation of a Cumulus cloud is the iconic Toystory cloud.

Stratus cloud north of the Cannon Stone on Tryfan
Stratus cloud north of the Cannon Stone on Tryfan

Stratus Cloud

Taking the form of a blanket, Stratus is Latin for layer. We get lots of this in the UK and it just hangs there below 6500 feet. These are low clouds that cover wide patches of the sky. If Stratus cloud gets low enough we call it fog.

Cumulonimbus cloud
Cumulonimbus cloud

Nimbus

Thick dark Nimbus may start off as Cumulus cloud, stacking up to 50,000 feet. When you see videos of Cumulonimbus cloud forming, the most dramatic clouds form this way and it looks awesome. We just don’t sit still enough, do we? Well, you’ll probably get wet if you did because Nimbus cloud is the rain cloud.

Down to our 9 Ways to Predict Scafell Pike’s Weather

Blue skies mean the weather’s nice.

Was that an obvious one?

OK, there are still clues on a clear day to what’s coming next but we’ll get to that later. Let’s look at some more telling signs. Clouds tell us a story of what’s coming.

Cloud is formed from differences in air, wind, temperature and pressure. Warm air rises above a cold front miles away and creates cloud.

  1. Cirrus cloud, very high light wispy curls are a fair indication that low pressure (a depression) is 12-24 hours away. This doesn’t always mean rain of course.
  2. As Cirrus cloud builds to a thin veil and becomes Cirrostratus you might see a halo around the sun or moon, this is even more reliable in saying the warm front is on its way, and therefore rain in about 6 hours.
  3. Altostratus is a thicker layer of cloud that you will see the sun through but it’s not strong enough to cast a shadow. The chances of the warm front coming are much higher now, as is the chance of rain in about 4 hours.
  4. Streaky grey cloud, broken from the main layer, Pannus, is a great indication of a shower, if not prolonged rain, very soon.
  5. Cumulus is a lovely fluffy cloud, Simpson style, and tell us that it won’t rain today.
  6. When Stratus and Cumulus cloud comes together and form a broken layer of low lying cloud, Stratocumulus cloud, this indicates unchanging weather, possibly for days.
  7. Cows lying down tell us that they have sensed the low pressure and there is unsettled weather on the way. Even dogs sense the low pressure so can get a little agitated, and bees make a beeline for the hive.
  8. If you have long hair you may notice that it gets a little curlier when the humidity is increasing.
  9. Large Cumulonimbus cloud can pile up to 50,000 feet and is full of water, it will rain in the next couple of hours.

Ever wondered where the phrase ‘On cloud 9’ comes from? I’ll cover that in my next weather blog.

Bonus prediction…

Red Sky at Night, Shepherd’s Delight

Red sky at night over Windermere and the Langdale Pikes
Red sky at night over Windermere and the Langdale Pikes

When you see a red sky in the evening it does actually mean that good weather is on it’s way. Dust particles floating on warmer currents to the West scatter more of the blue parts of the sun’s rays. This saying assumes that the weather is coming from the west, as it mostly does. Since you can see the effect from the particles, it means that the high pressure has passed to the east. The warm front will come early morning.

Red sky in the Morning, Shepherd’s Warning

Low lying stratus cloud over Blencathra
Low lying stratus cloud over Blencathra

Using the same logic, if the shorter, blue waves of the sun’s rays are being scattered by floating dust particles in the morning then it means that the warmer front is in the east and the colder front is on it’s way from the west.

Why Not Read…

Fairfield Horseshoe from Heron Pike
Fairfield Horseshoe from Heron Pike

The Fairfield Horseshoe

Now come with me for a wander around the Fairfield Horseshoe. No weather to talk about but gorgeous blue skies but what a hike!

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