Bet­ter climber safety is fore­cast on Ever­est

New weather sta­tions will help those try­ing to sum­mit the Hi­malayan peak, says Dan Stretch

The Scotsman - - TRAVEL & OUTDOORS -

Climb­ing Mt Ever­est is dan­ger­ous. At 29,029 feet (8,848 me­tres), it’s the tallest peak on Earth. The peak pen­e­trates the strato­sphere where tem­per­a­tures can dip to mi­nus 76 de­grees Fahren­heit (-60 C) with wind gusts up to 175 miles per hour. But if the weather co­op­er­ates on the sum­mit dur­ing climb­ing sea­son in May then the tem­per­a­tures can warm up to mi­nus 4 de­grees (-20 C) with winds be­tween 15-25 miles per hour – sim­i­lar to a brisk win­ter morn­ing in Edinburgh.

The weather win­dow to sum­mit Mt Ever­est varies, some years it’s just a few days and other times it’s nearly two weeks. Fore­cast­ing sum­mit weather con­di­tions is tricky, if not out­right spec­u­la­tive.

Jet stream pat­terns, at­mo­spheric pres­sure changes, pre­cip­i­ta­tion lev­els, cloud ac­cu­mu­la­tions, and hu­mid­ity read­ings each con­trib­ute es­sen­tial in­gre­di­ents for me­te­o­rol­o­gists, climbers, guides, and sup­port teams to an­a­lyse. Their cal­cu­la­tions de­ter­mine when to stay put and rest, and when to be­gin a fi­nal push up the moun­tain to reach the sum­mit, and safely re­turn.

Up un­til late last year, the near­est weather sta­tion to the Ever­est sum­mit was at Lobuche at an el­e­va­tion of 16,663 feet. To­day, there are four new sta­tions at higher el­e­va­tions. One at Pu­mori Bench (el­e­va­tion 17,437 feet); an­other near Base Camp 2 (el­e­va­tion 21,207 feet); a third at South Col on the Lhotse Face (el­e­va­tion 26,066 feet); and the high­est weather sta­tion in the world on the Bal­cony (el­e­va­tion 27,657 feet).

Na­tional Ge­o­graphic So­ci­ety led the ef­fort to send sci­en­tists to plant the weather sta­tions on Mt Ever­est to eval­u­ate weather in the death zone, the al­ti­tude above 26,000 feet where oxy­gen lev­els are “in­suf­fi­cient to sus­tain hu­man life”. Will the new weather sta­tions mean in­creased safety for climbers? Prob­a­bly. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port in Science Mag­a­zine, a five-day fore­cast to­day is as ac­cu­rate as a one-day fore­cast 40 years ago. The new weather sta­tions will likely help im­prove and quicken fore­cast ac­cu­racy that may iden­tify po­ten­tially life-threat­en­ing weather changes.

Ac­cord­ing to Alan Ar­nette, a keen moun­taineer who reached the Ever­est peak in 2011, “the [new] sta­tions will help pro­vide a bet­ter pic­ture but by no means sub­sti­tute qual­ity, hu­man-cre­ated fore­casts.” Any im­prove­ment would be wel­come if only to avoid in­ci­dents like the one in 1996 when a sud­den, deadly bliz­zard on Mt Ever­est claimed eight climbers’ lives.

Mt Ever­est passes through the largely mys­te­ri­ous sub-trop­i­cal jet stream – a slim, er­ratic band of pow­er­ful air cur­rents en­com­pass­ing the world sev­eral miles above sea level, ma­nip­u­lat­ing storm tracks, agri­cul­ture grow­ing sea­sons, and much more. The new weather sta­tions mea­sure tem­per­a­ture, wind speed, at­mo­spheric pres­sure, and hu­mid­ity in the strato­sphere pro­vid­ing cli­mate sci­en­tists a new tool to gather data about it. ■

Dan Stretch is a Global Res­cue Op­er­a­tions Man­ager and is based in Nepal dur­ing the Mt Ever­est climb­ing sea­sons. He has a BSC in Paramedic Science and has co­or­di­nated hun­dreds of evac­u­a­tions and crisis re­sponse op­er­a­tions.

View of Ever­est, above; climbers head­ing for the sum­mit, in­set

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