Mountain accidents associated with winter northern flows in the Mediterranean Pyrenees

DOI: 10.3369/tethys.2010.7.04

Tethys no. 7 pp.: 41 - 55


The Mediterranean Pyrenees, at the eastern end of the range, is a very popular area. Its highest peak is at 2900 m a.s.l. and there are numerous peaks above 2000 m, with rounded relief and sparse vegetation on the latter height. One of its significant winter climatic features is the sudden entrance of cold air with violent northern winds, drop in temperatures and very low wind chill values. Such advections are established after the passage of a snowy cold front and, consequently, there is abundant transport of both new and existing snow that reduces horizontal visibility. The post-frontal conditions at high altitudes represent a serious threat to humans. The review done shows that the hikers immersed in an environment of low visibility, strong winds and very low temperatures can quickly become disoriented, suffer frostbite and hypothermia and slip on the ice. The characterization of a series of accidents occurred in this geographical area, identified in the press, shows in this paper that the phenomena associated with northern winter advections is an element of danger to be considered in the evaluation of natural hazards in that area. In addition, the multiple character of many of the events suggests that there is high vulnerability to such dangers. The climatological analysis presented suggests that such weather conditions are not uncommon in the winter, although the most serious accidents have been registered under especially strong and cold flows. The conclusions recommend that the weather conditions described, locally called torb, should be known by the visitors to these mountains in the winter, and its appearance should be announced in weather reports, which in turn must be sufficiently disseminated in the areas of greater abundance of tourists and hikers.


  • - Arasti, E., 2001: Estudio de la galerna típica del Cantábrico, INM. Ministerio de Medio Ambiente, nota Técnica del CMT en Cantabria y Asturias.
  • - Ayala-Carcedo, F. J. and Olcina, J., 2002: Riesgos naturales, Ariel, Barcelona.
  • - Bougeault, P., Jansà, A., Attie, J., Bean, I., Benech, B., Benoit, R., Bessemoulin, P., Caccia, J., Campins, J., Carissimo, B., Champeaux, J., Crochet, M., Druilhet, A., Durand, P., Elkhalfi, A., Flamant, P., Genovés, A., Georgelin, M., Hoinka, K., Klaus, V., Koffi, E., Kotroni, V., Mazaudier, C., Pelon, J., Petitdidier, M., Pointin, Y., Puech, D., Richard, E., Satomura, T., Stein, J., and Tannhauser, D., 1993: The atmospheric momentum budget over a major mountain range: first results of the PYREX field program, Ann Geophys, 11, 395–418.
  • - Campins, J., Calvo, J., and Jansà, A., 1997: The tramontane wind: Dynamic diagnosis and Hirlam Simulations, INM/WMO International Symposium on cyclones and hazardous weather in the Mediterranean, Palma de Mallorca, 14-19/IV/1997.
  • - Campins, J., Aran, M., Genovés, A., and Jansà, A., 2007: High impact weather and cyclones simultaneity in Catalonia, Advances in Geosciences, 12, 115–120, doi: 10.5194/adgeo-12-115-2007.
  • - Esteban, P., Jones, P. D., Martín-Vide, J., and Mases, M., 2005: Atmospheric circulation patterns related to heavy snowfall days in Andorra, Pyrenees, Int J Climatol, 25, 319–329, doi: 10.1002/joc.1103.
  • - Esteban, P., Martín-Vide, J., and Mases, M., 2006: Daily atmospheric circulation catalogue for Western Europe using multivariate techniques, Int J Climatol, 26, 1501–1515, doi: 10.1002/joc.1391.
  • - Esteban, P., Martí, G., García, C., Aran, M., Gavaldà, J., and Moner, I., 2007: Heavy Snowfalls and avalanche activity over eastern Pyrenees: a study of two extreme cases, Proceedings Alpine SnowWorkshop, Forschungsbericht, 44-48, Munich (Alemania), 5-6/X/2006.
  • - Fransí, F., 1999: Client a la força, Funció Pública, 20, 19–20.
  • - Fuster, J. and Elizalde, B., 1995: Riesgo y actividades físicas en el medio natural: un enfoque multidimensional, Apunts. Educación Física y Deportes, 41, 94–107.
  • - García, C. and Salvador, F., 1994: Snowfall analysis in the Eastern Pyrenees, Annalen der Meteorologie, 23rd Internacional Conference on Alpine Meteorology (Lindau), 30, 303-306.
  • - García, C. and Vilar, F., 2006: La montaña. Manual de Meteorología, Alpina, Granollers.
  • - García, C., Martí, M., García-Manuel, A., Muntán, E., Oller, P., and Esteban, P., 2007: Weather and snow pack conditions of major avalanches in the Catalan Pyrenees, Proceedings Alpine Snow Workshop, Forschungsbericht, 49-56, Munich (Alemania), 5-6/X/2006.
  • - García, C., Martí, G., Oller, P., Gavaldà, J., Martínez, P., and Peña, J. C., 2008: Atmospheric patterns leading major avalanche episodes in the eastern Pyrenees and estimating occurrence, International Snow Science Workshop, Whistler (Canadà), 21-27/IX/2008.
  • - George, D. J., 1993: Weather and mountain activities, Weather, 48, 404–410.
  • - Jansà, A., 1997: A general view about mediterranean meteorology: cyclones and hazardous weather, INM/WMO International Symposium on cyclones and hazardous weather in the Mediterranean, Palma de Mallorca, 14-19/IV/1997.
  • - Pascual, R., 2001: La situació meteorològica del 30 de desembre de 2000 al Pirineu Oriental, Penell, 9.
  • - Pascual, R., 2005: El efecto Föhn en el Pirineo Catalán. Carácterísticas generales y un caso de estudio, Boletín de la AME, 10, 20–24.
  • - Pascual, R., 2008: Accidentes en montaña y condiciones meteorológicas, Agencia Estatal de Meteorología. Ministerio de Medio Ambiente, Medio Rural y Marino, Madrid.
  • - Pascual, R., 2009: Episodio de vientos muy fuertes en el Pirineo y Prepirineo Oriental en un contexto regional y local, Agencia Estatal de Meteorología. Ministerio de Medio Ambiente, Medio Rural y Marino, Madrid.
  • - Perelló, J. and Reñé, J., 1953: Los accidentes en nuestras montañas, Montaña, 23, 245–252.
  • - Pons, J., 2008: Tiempo y clima en montaña. Manual práctico de meteorología, Desnivel, Madrid.
  • - Rasilla, D. F., 2003: Aplicación de un método de clasificación sinóptica a la península Ibérica, Investigaciones Geográficas, 30, 27–45.
  • - Rasilla, D. F., García, J. C., and Garmendia, C., 2002: Los temporales de viento: propuesta metodológica para el análisis de un fenómeno infravalorado, En Cuadrat, J. M., Vicente, S. M., Saz, M. A., edits.: La información climática como herramienta de gestión ambiental, Universidad de Zaragoza, 129-136.
  • - Rodés, P., 1999: Análisis de los accidentes por aludes de nieve en España. Una aproximación a la revisión histórica, Ergon, Madrid.
  • - Sacasas, J., 1999: Meteorologia del Pirineu Català, Publicacions de l’Abadia de Montserrat, Barcelona.
  • - Uppala, S. M., Kallberg, P. W., Simmons, A. J., Andrae, U., Bechtold, V. D., Fiorino, M., Gibson, J. K., Haseler, J., Hernandez, A., Kelly, G. A., Li, X., Onogi, K., Saarinen, S., Sokka, N., Allan, R. P., Andersson, E., Arpe, K., Balmaseda, M. A., Veljaars, A. C. M., Van De Berg, L., Bidlot, J., Bormann, N., Caires, S., Chevallier, F., Dethof, A., Dragosavac, M., Fisher, M., Fuentes, M., Hagemann, S., Holm, E., Hoskins, B. J., Isaksen, L., Janssen, P. A. E. M., Jenne, R., McNally, A. P., Mahfouf, J. F., Morcrette, J. J., Rayner, N. A., Saunders, R. W., Simon, P., Sterl, A., Trenberth, K. E., Untch, A., Vasiljevic, D., Viterbo, P., and Woollen, J., 2005: The ERA-40 re-analysis, Q J R Meteorol Soc, 131, 2961–3012, doi: 10.1256/qj.04.176.
  • - Vilà, J. M., 2001: El torb, un vent que mata, VII Jornades de Meteorologia Eduard Fontserè, Barcelona, 23-25/XI/2001.
  • - Zaragoza, A., 2008: Temporal de neu i vent en muntanya (febrer 2005), Treball final inèdit. Màster en Meteorologia, Universitat de Barcelona.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License

Indexed in Scopus, Thomson-Reuters Emerging Sources Citation Index (ESCI), Scientific Commons, Latindex, Google Scholar, DOAJ, ICYT (CSIC)

Partially funded through grants CGL2007-29820-E/CLI, CGL2008-02804-E/, CGL2009-07417-E and CGL2011-14046-E of the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation