Roller Coaster No 2 & the Traditional Early December Mild Spell

After opening weekend it’s back to the weather Roller Coaster this week as the Atlantic really roars in to life unleashing a bought of zonality that comes with one of those dreaded full on South Westerly assaults on Tuesday.

Whether our recently formed early season base is either consolidated or robust enough for the top at CairnGorm to come through remains to be seen, we will just have to wait and see.

However don’t be too despondent to have had a base at all is actually quite good for this stage of the game as early season turns are often on baseless snow and the early part of December is traditionally a mild, wet and often stormy time.

Graphs of the average 850hpa (approx 4500ft) temperature actually show a rising trend for early December as we climb out of a marked November dip, before average temps start to drop off again later in the month as the decline towards thermal mid-winter in the second part of February begins. (see below)

GFS ensemble 850hpa Temperature Chart

Tuesday looks to be the worst day with winds exceeding 100mph in stronger gusts on the tops and Munro Level temperatures nudging painfully close to double figures for a time.

There will however be some snow preceding and following the warm sectors this week, much will depend on timing and exact tracks of the storms. The further North they track unfortunately the wider the mild sector we’re exposed to.

It doesn’t provide much comfort to skiers and boarders but it’s not uncommon to see the Scottish Mountains stripped completely in the first half of December, indeed even in bumper winters like 2001 the big snows of November 2000 were almost completely obliterated in the mild, wet and stormy first half of December. On the Gorm anyway only limited snow in the Top Basin and where it had been packed down by funicular construction traffic on the Traverse held out.

It’s also contrary to increasingly popular belief not a new phenomenon. V A Firsoff wrote in his 1949 book ‘The Cairngorms on foot and ski': “In November and December there may be considerable precipitation at higher levels, as a rule accompanied by high winds, but Old Yule is more often black than white and the heavy snows do not come till the second half of January, sometimes not even then.”

That was very true of the 2001 season as well, January was cold, but largely dry, surface conditions were often decent, but the runs were very narrow, it wasn’t till the tail end of the month and first days of February that the first big snow storms since late November arrived.

Any sliding done in Scotland before Hogmanay is a bonus, snow often comes between Christmas and New Years Day, but even January historically is still early season in Scotland. Spring is King and the best snows often don’t come till March or even into early April. So please don’t put the toys back in the loft at Christmas!