Scots mountaintops’ record snow patches - survey

RECORD numbers of snow patches have remained on Scottish mountains this year despite warm summer temperatures and the impact of global warming, a new survey has revealed.

Survey organiser Iain Cameron visits one of the many mountain sites still covered in snow in Scotland. Picture: Iain Cameron/Flickr
Survey organiser Iain Cameron visits one of the many mountain sites still covered in snow in Scotland. Picture: Iain Cameron/Flickr

The annual study, carried out every August by a team of volunteers and published by the Royal Meteorological Society, showed nearly 300 remnants of last winter’s snowfall have failed to melt.

This is the highest number since a Scottish national snow survey began seven years ago, and a dramatic increase on the 24 to 81 patches recorded in previous seasons.

The leftover patches were also found to be larger and deeper than usual.

Survey organiser and lead author of the study Iain Cameron said it was likely some patches could last until this winter.

He described the latest survey as “an ordeal” after massive snowfalls between December and March resulted in an unusually high amount lasting through summer.

He said: “We count every single patch of snow that exists in the Highlands.

“There are normally around 30, 40 or 50 patches and they tend to be in the same areas year after year.

“But this year has been a bit of an ordeal because there was an extraordinary amount of snow last winter and despite the warm summer there are still a large number of snow patches.”

Several factors dictate whether patches of snow will persist year-round, according to Mr Cameron, a keen hillwalker and self-confessed snow enthusiast.

These include altitude, the direction it faces and the ‘fetch’ of the ground - on exposed areas of flattish ground, snow is blown across and clumps in gullies or beneath overhangs.

The Cairngorms and Lochaber mountains are notorious for harbouring long-lying snow patches.

A summit observatory that operated on Ben Nevis from 1883 to 1904 reported that snow survived on the north-east cliffs through more years than it vanished.

But there are only about four patches that could be described as “semi-permanent”, Mr Cameron said.

As well as on Britain’s tallest mountain, enduring areas can be found on neighbouring Aonach Beag and in the Cairngorms at Braeriach and Garbh Choire Mor, the snowiest place in the UK.

Data shows snow persists longest and in most areas in the Cairngorms range, which contains five of Scotland’s highest mountains.

Some 25 volunteers were involved in the survey this year, counting, measuring and photographing a total of 265 snow patches that survived the summer.

They found 42 on Ben Nevis and 24 on Aonach Beag, where the biggest was nearly 500ft long.

There were 21 patches on Cairn Gorm and the Ben Macdui plateau, while six remained on Meall a’Bhuiridh - home to the Glencoe ski area. One of these measured 150ft.

The increase in remnants follows a winter of heavy snowfalls that saw Scotland experience one of its best ski seasons.

The massive snow dumps also caused chaos, forcing some ski slopes to close and posing an extra hazard to mountaineers.

Rescue teams were called out repeatedly to aid people hit by avalanches.

This coming winter could be another white one on high ground after the first snow flurries of the season arrived much earlier than usual.

Walkers on Ben Macdui reported making snowballs over a week ago, on 19 August, and flakes have since been spotted falling on Ben Nevis.