We’ve all heard sayings that predict (with varying degrees of accuracy) what the weather’s about to do. For example, it’s said on the plains that when swallows fly low, bad weather won’t be far behind them, or if a warm wind blows over an Alpine lake, choppy waters are on their way.

But what about in the mountains? What folk wisdom can budding meteorologists (or more accurately, skiing meteorologists) use to impress their friends?

A few telling signs have been passed down from generation to generation… let’s unveil a few of our ancestors’ secrets!

If there’s a hat on Peclet, stay in the chalet!

Also known as “the headdress” or “the dunce’s cap”, this phenomenon is characterised by a cloud shaped like an upside-down saucer settling on the highest mountain summits. If you see such a cloud steadily drop down and envelop the mountain, there’s a high chance that bad weather won’t be far behind it!
When humidity rises, the Peclet summit is usually the first to be topped with such a ‘hat’. It’s also a sign of stormy winds at high altitude.

Did you know?
A few kilometres away, in Chamonix Valley, our ancestors continued this observation with the saying “If it doesn’t reach Verte, Mont Blanc won’t be disturbed” (“Si Verte ne veut, mont-Blanc ne peut”). That means that if the ‘hat’ doesn’t drop as low as Aiguille Verte (4,122 metres), the warnings of bad weather on mont-Blanc (4,810m) will have been a false alert.

The ‘dunce’s cap’ on Mont-Blanc        

The ‘hat’ has just enveloped Peclet summit

Lenticular clouds on show, strong winds will blow.

Slightly different to a ‘hat’, lenticular clouds (or if you want to impress people at a dinner party, “altocumulus lenticularis”) mean high winds at the summits.
In order to form, these unusual clouds require two air masses to collide with each other, high winds, and a mountain setting. In our regions, the lenticular shape is sometimes not as pronounced, but it is nevertheless the same phenomenon.

Did you know?
For a number of years, these strange shapes above the mountains have sparked local imagination. Some have even seen them as a sign of extra-terrestrial activity indicating the presence of flying saucers!

Lenticular clouds in the Haute Maurienne from the Col summit

Accumulation of lenticular clouds on Mt Fuji (JPN)

A sea of clouds means sunshine abounds!

Imagine waking up in the morning and seeing a sea of clouds stretch out before you! As well as snatching up your camera to immortalise such an extraordinary landscape, we also recommend that you quickly get your skis out and apply sun cream…plenty of sun cream.
This characteristic mountain valley phenomenon happens due to a thermic inversion. The cold, “heavier” air drops down from the mountains and accumulates in the valley. The winter sun, which is too weak to heat up this mass of air, doesn’t allow the valley’s humidity to evaporate, so it condenses and forms a sea of clouds.

Did you know?
During this phenomenon, it’s generally colder in the valley than at altitude where the temperatures are much more pleasant.

Sea of clouds from La Piste de Col

Belleville Valley under the clouds

If the mountain smokes today, then sunshine is on its way!

Observable throughout the Alps, this phenomenon is particularly impressive on isolated mountains. It appears as though smoke made from clouds is coming out of one side of a mountain. What causes it? No, not the awakening of an ancient volcano but a mini-depression due to wind blowing over the wake of the crest, which refreezes the air then causing a saturation in humidity.
But rest assured, this phenomenon means that sunnier weather is on the way (but you should stay prepared all the same, mountain weather isn’t an exact science).

Did you know?
Particularly widespread around the Matterhorn (Switzerland) and Mont Blanc’s Aiguilles, the locals have given a number of nicknames to this phenomenon. In the Chamonix Valley, we say that “la Verte is smoking” when clouds form on one of the faces of the Aiguille Verte.

The Matterhorn (Switzerland) is smoking

When there’s pink in the sky, sunny days are nigh!

If the night sky is completely pink and there are no clouds, then you can get your sun cream ready and sleep safe in the knowledge that tomorrow… good weather is on its way.
However, pay attention, the reverse is also true, if the night sky is yellow or blue, there’s a high chance that an atmospheric disturbance will happen during the night.

Did you know?
In the 1800s, certain proverbs said that a pink sky meant that a volcano had erupted in the south of Europe… tales such as this are still told around the fireside of an evening!

A pink sky in Val Thorens

However, you should stay alert; the weather changes very quickly in the mountains, and it is always important to get your information from professionals.
You can also take a look at the weather forecast to find out about the weather conditions at your favourite resort in more detail!

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