Is the Mountain Weather Information Service (MWIS) closing down ? 

Last night I got several messages from friends saying that the MWIS may be ending . There is lots of speculation and if this happens it will be a sad day . 

When I began mountaineering the weather forecast were very basic and many times we got caught out in wild weather!  I was lucky in the early 80,s that I never went deep into the Cairngorms to climb on Hells Lum! My pal was tired after a Thursday night shift and we climbed on the local Craig Dubh on an icefall and missed the storm! 

That day a huge storm  came in that was not forecast in and killed 5 people that weekend. One was a good pal Paul Rodgers a hugely experienced mountaineer who was caught out on the plateau! I have wrote about this on my blog in the past ! 
Nowadays we take the new technology for granted and the specific weather forecasts for the outdoors are essential. 

In the RAF  Mountain Rescue we relied on our own Met people for our forecasts and though they were good they were mainly for aircraft and this was the basis of there information ! It was all done by HF radio and pretty basic and could be complicated to copy on a crackly radio ! The days training or course started with a weather briefing as a great tool for planning your day.

Modern forecast pioneered by the MWIS were for specific mountain areas and were in my mind a huge step forward! They started very simply and became a great advance in Mountain weather reporting!  They were eventually in most outdoor pubs and cafes giving a 3 day written brief for the area you were in. In Scotland the government through Sports Scotland sponsored it and the man behind it Geoff Monk became the weather guru through hard work! He spoke at Mountain Rescue Conferences and other Mountain events spreading the word that a good safety briefing including a weather forecast is essential in planning your day out. I would imagine that this service has helped so many in the Outdoors have a safer day! 

I am sure when it started you had to pay for them via the phone call? Nowadays it is all so easy on the Internet and there are other weather providers available. Things have moved on. 

If anyone has any information it would be interesting to hear?
From Allan Kimbet – Geoff Monk and MWIS are being taken offline from 31 Dec 2016 as far as I can see and the decision by Sport Scotland, MCoS and the Scottish Government has already been made, behind closed doors. Cost saving could be at the heart of this, so I hope that whoever takes over mountain forecasts in the UK can also help save lives in the way that Geoff Monk and MWIS has over many years. Anyone who has listened to Geoff Monk will know how knowledgeable, enthusiastic and committed he is to forging links with mountaineers. Personally I don’t think he can be replaced and If you feel able to pass on this bad news within the mountain community, it may help to show how much Geoff Monk is held in high regard. Have any of you been asked for an opinion on which mountain forecast is best for mountaineers? Have any of you been asked if MWIS is fit for purpose? Try lobbying your local MSP and MCoS. Please also share this post to as many folk as you can, especially the Met Office. They will struggle to follow Geoff Monk   

This was from my blog in 2012

.”We are very lucky to have such good weather forecasting, which advised us of what was to come yesterday. The country battoned down and has seemed to cope with some of the worst winds for many years. The winds were recorded at the summit of Cairngorm were 165 mph. It was bad enough in Burghead at sea level where a bit of decorative wood from the top of my Bay window blew off. If it had hit someone it would have killed them thank God, it just missed me as I walked out of the house. The winds were not that bad with us but still very wild.

This weather took me back to 20 Jan 1984, the weather forecasts were very basic and I had the Friday off and along with a young friend Pam Ayres we had decided to walk in that day to Hells Lum Crag in the Cairngorms, we had planned to snow hole for the night, and climb the Classic Deep Cut Chimney. Pam was on the night shift on the Thursday but had to work late on an aircraft and was so tired when I picked him up, he slept all the way to the Cairngorms. The weather was superb and as we sorted out huge bags Pam said he was not up to it, he was really tired and had the start of flu. This was very unusual as he was a very driven young man, we had climbed some great routes that winter and I was just back from Canada, It was bitter cold so rather than waste the day we had a coffee and went and climbed a great wee waterfall at Creagh Dubh called “Wee Wee!” This change of plan I think saved our lives. During the climb the weather changed as we came of it was a blizzard and we decided to meet and stay with the RAF Kinloss Rescue Team that were staying in Newtonmore for the weekend. It took the Kinloss Team 4 Hours to get to Newtonmore such was the weather, Newtonmore was a blizzard when they arrived and the winds were wild.

Next day we dug the wagons out and heard the forecast winds were crazy, we mostly drove to the Cairngorms to try to go for a walk but were stopped at Glenmore as the road was blocked. We all took refuge in the Glenmore cafe and all we could see about 500 feet above was a wall of spindrift an incredible sight. We then got told by the Police that 3 students were missing in Corrie Lochan one had made it down to the Car Park and said his friends had got tried to make it to Jeans hut an hour walk from the car park when they were caught in the weather, they tried to bivouac but had no chance the winds were recorded at over 100 mph. They all tried to get back and only one made it and went for help. The police got the road cleared and Cairngorm Kinloss/ Leuchars and Glenmore Lodge found the three all dead about 15 minutes from the car park. I was there when we recovered them three young people killed so near home what a tragedy. I kept thinking if me and Pam had been in Hell’s Lum deep in Loch Avon would we have survived?

It was an awful start to a crazy weekend and a huge shock to us all! We then heard that there were over 30 others missing, including a good friend Paul Rogers who was an instructor at the Joint Services Mountaineering Centre at Ballahullish in Glencoe. He was missing with another companion who was on a course. As the day developed all the missing turned up so many had epics all over the mountains but Paul was still missing with his companion. Paul was a very accomplished mountaineer and we were sure they would be okay. After three days of searching some of it in terrible weather, though one day was superb yet we never found anything. The search was called of on the fourth day. The next day Paul and his partner were found by their friends from the Outdoor centre near the top of the Goat Track so near from safety, unfortunately they were both dead. It was huge shock to us all that a man of Paul’s capabilities had been caught out, he was one of the strongest mountaineers about. No one could have survived in that weather, we were checking out snow holes on the plateau which were covered by 20 – 30 foot drifts in places, incredible. I was on the plateau digging into snow holes some covered by 20 feet of snow and had an epic when the roof collapsed. There were over 50 -60 searchers from the RAF teams, 30 – 40 from Cairngorm , Glenmore, Lochaber three helicopters and 6 rescue dogs. Add to the JMTC staff and member’s of the SAS who knew Paul plus mmany more of hills pals from all over. Teams spent over 2000 hours looking for Paul and his companion a huge operation all in vain. We even lost a search dog Rocky which spent all night just below the Cornice after being blown of the ridge, he survived and was found by Jimmy Simpson his relived handler, hungry but okay. Teams got avalanched on the search and we were very lucky we all got away with searching in such weather with no Mountain Rescue casualties. It was a huge learning curb for me and one that taught me so much. How small the Mountain world was and how many came to help from all over to look for Paul and his partner. I regularly take friends to visit Paul’s grave, it is a huge reminder how the hard the mountains can be.”

About heavywhalley.MBE

After dinner speaker Lecturer and Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 36 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 4 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer and loves the wild places.
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