Geography Mountain Meteorology
Brandon Vogt
  • LAST MODIFIED: 20 February 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0213


Meteorology is the science that examines the configuration of fundamental weather elements in Earth’s atmosphere: pressure, temperature, humidity, wind, precipitation, and clouds. Weather defines the arrangement of these elements over short periods (minutes to days) and climate defines the average weather at a location over longer periods (months to centuries). Mountains cover roughly 25 percent of the Earth’s land surface and are home to about 12 percent of the world’s population. With innumerable topographic configurations, mountains disrupt airflow in the troposphere from the valley scale in the mountains themselves to hundreds of kilometers beyond their foothills. Atmospheric motion interacts with mountains via thermal and mechanical forces. Thermally, diurnal heating and cooling differences in complex terrain create circulating motions that reverse direction, day and night. Examples include fine-scale mountain and valley winds and more broad-scale anabatic and katabatic winds. Mechanically, disturbances and waves in atmospheric motion are forced upstream, downstream, above, and adjacent to mountains. Examples include blocking, upslope flow, downslope winds, gravity waves, boundary-layer turbulence, and lee cyclogenesis. Given the right atmospheric conditions, orographic processes generate extreme, damaging, and costly weather events such as strong Chinook/Föhn winds, heavy upslope snow events, steep terrain forcing in monsoon or atmospheric river flows, long-duration frigid valley temperature inversions, invisible lee rotors, and local zones of convergence that initiate strong convective thunderstorms. Finally, mountains create distinctive and often photographed clouds that include caps, lenticulars, and corrugations of standing waves. While the focus of this bibliography is weather, some atmosphere/landscape interactions, such as windward vs. leeward orographic effects, fall largely within climate science literature. Other more fine-scale interactions between the atmosphere and mountains, such as local shade effects and valley temperature inversions, are captured in planetary surface boundary layer topoclimate/microclimate literature. These near-surface processes influence the weather-making troposphere, and as such, are seamlessly tied to mountain meteorology. To build a robust context into this bibliography, select multiscalar climate-themed sources are identified. To glaciologists, atmospheric scientists (including forecasters), climatologists, ecologists, agricultural scientists, hydrologists, and others whose specializations operate in and adjacent to mountainous terrain, understanding the unique influences of mountains is essential. This article identifies key literature and other relevant sources that explore how mountains influence and modify weather, and to a lesser degree, climate. Together, these resources provide a rich set of teaching materials and a platform for more in-depth studies into mountain meteorology set in the context of geography.

General Overviews

Two seminal review papers convey the broad impacts of mountains in atmospheric circulations: Smith 1979 and Reiter 1982. Smith 1979 reviews earlier works that connect theory to the limited observations available at that time. A strength of the article is the all-scale (geographic) treatment of mountain meteorology: paper is organized according to the “length scale” of various wind processes and discusses how these scales are tied together. Reiter 1982 provides context and perspective to students and researchers on where the discipline stood in the early 1980s. The paper presents basic mountain meteorology concepts (including issues important in geography— scale and teleconnections) in an easy to follow format. Barry 2008 brings a broad range of perspectives to mountain meteorology. Roger Barry was a leading author in mountain meteorology. The book outlines and defines the basic principles of mountain meteorology, is not highly technical, covers physical geographic elements, and emphasizes orographic circulations. Barry 2008 could serve as a textbook for an undergraduate course in mountain weather. A pair of more in-depth overviews, each outstanding in different ways, are Whiteman 2000 and Blumen 1990. Whiteman 2000 contains detailed descriptions of applications of mountain meteorology (fire weather, smoke and pollution dispersion, and aerial spraying). Chapter authors in Blumen 1990 are topical experts, each of whom conveys a topic surrounding the complexities of wind systems in mountains. Mathematical equations characterize this scholarly book. Sources not entirely focused on mountain meteorology but that contain compelling in-depth overviews of the topic are Warner 2004 and Bluestein 1992. Barry and Blanken 2016 is the definitive source for insight into microclimate (and micrometeorology) in complex terrain. The book introduces the elements of microclimate and micrometeorology and describes the tools and methods (in detail) used to measure these elements. Geiger, et al. 2009 offers an excellent overview and provides dozens of examples of microclimates set in the context of the biosphere.

  • Barry, Roger G. Mountain Weather and Climate. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511754753

    Begins with a historical perspective of mountains, covers the fundamental elements of weather, and then moves into climate and weather specific to mountain environments. Includes case studies of mountain weather impacts in different regions (e.g., equatorial mountains) and considers the impacts of mountain environments on humans living in mountains (including a look at acclimatization processes). The book is ideal for students seeking concise information about mountain weather. Each chapter includes a hefty bibliography: integral when reviewing literature in mountain meteorology.

  • Barry, Roger G., and Peter D. Blanken. Microclimate and Local Climate. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2016.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781316535981

    Reviews the ways in which landscape roughness (e.g., slope, aspect, landcover type) controls the weather at and near the ground surface. Reveals how near-surface atmospheric processes contribute to a more thorough, multiscale (in space and in time) understanding of climate in variegated, complex landscapes. Book is written for university-level courses in soils, ecology, and biology. For the consumption of geographers and climatologists, urban microclimates and climate change at the micro-scale are included.

  • Bluestein, Howard. Synoptic-Dynamic Meteorology in Midlatitudes: Principles of Kinematics and Dynamics. Vol. 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.

    Covers synoptic meteorology focusing on the active (and partially mountain covered) mid-latitudes. Relationships between mountains and synoptic-scale systems distinguish the book. Woven in are sections exploring friction, orography, lee cyclogenesis, gravity waves in the United States and Europe, and more broadly, terrestrial interactions with cyclones and anticyclones.

  • Blumen, William. Atmospheric Processes Over Complex Terrain. American Meteorological Society Meteorological Monographs 23.45. Boston: American Meteorological Society, 1990.

    An American Meteorological Society (AMS) book published in the AMS’ Meteorological Monographs series that carries tremendous depth in mountain meteorology theory, modeling, and application.

  • Geiger, Rudolf, Robert H. Aron, and Paul Todhunter. The Climate near the Ground. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009.

    The book is distinguished by its comprehensive and systematic discussion of Earth’s surface energy budget. The authors cover dozens of case studies related to microclimate research, and the book is replete with figures, diagrams, maps, tables, and photos. With a focus on the biosphere, where organisms spend their entire lives, the book covers microclimates associated with rivers, lakes, oceans, meadows, gardens, forests, caves, urban areas, human and animal dwellings, and even discusses individual animals, including humans and sheep. The book also discusses how temperature, moisture, and other environmental factors affect the speed of sound.

  • Reiter, E. R. “Where We Are and Where We Are Going in Mountain Meteorology.” Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 63 (1982): 1114–1122.

    DOI: 10.1175/1520-0477(1982)063<1114:WWAAWW>2.0.CO;2

    Explores different elements of the progress made in understanding complexities of mountain meteorology. Distinguishes thermal from barrier effects of mountains, introduces the connections between different scales of orography, and describes teleconnections between sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies and pressure anomalies over mountain ranges in the northern hemisphere.

  • Smith, R. B. “The Influence of Mountains on the Atmosphere.” Advances in Geophysics 21 (1979): 87–230.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0065-2687(08)60262-9

    The case is made that this scaled approach provides a framework for other researchers to follow. The framework enables others to see where their work fits in the broader context of mountain meteorology and elucidates the connectivity of flow over small hills up to the planetary wave scale. Boasts a vast bibliography and, in some cases, outlines previous works in tabular form. Contains excellent figures, a few photographs of clouds, and incorporates equations into each section.

  • Warner, Thomas. Desert Meteorology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511535789

    Focusing on desert meteorology, Warner writes about meteorological interactions with “rough” landscapes and emphasizes thermally forced circulations, boundary-layer physics, and microclimate physics. The book follows a textbook format in that it contains chapter-end questions and review problems. Warner is an excellent resource for those desiring an understanding of the meteorological and climatological processes that characterize semiarid or arid mountain regions.

  • Whiteman, Charles. Mountain Meteorology: Fundamentals and Applications. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

    DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195132717.001.0001

    Designed more as a textbook in that it is largely devoid of in-text citations and features copious color figures and illustrations. This book overlaps somewhat with Barry 2008 in its comprehensive treatment of mountain weather topics.

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