Extraordinary Mountain clouds Part 3: The Matterhorn on fire

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The legendary Matterhorn; it’s the final destination on your Chamonix to Zermatt Haute Route and its characteristic shape makes it one of the most beautiful mountains of the Alps.

And as if this iconic shaped peak isn’t already stunning enough by itself, it regularly creates a banner shaped cloud on one side of its summit, causing the mountain to appear to be on fire. When this banner cloud appears, the Matterhorn looks like a smoking volcano that could erupt any minute.

How this cloud is formed

The Matterhorn is a pointed, isolated peak with high, steep cliffs and it’s exactly this iconic shape that creates its banner shaped cloud on the side of the famous mountain. It’s formed when a strong wind blows around the rugged mountain. As soon as air flows around the Matterhorn with great speed, it causes air vortex on the leeward side of the mountain which forces the airflow upwards. When the air gets pushed upwards, it cools down and condensates, forming a “cloud of smoke” on the leeward side.


If the wind continuously comes from the same direction, the Matterhorn’s banner cloud can remain stationary in the same place for hours. Although the cloud seems to be stationary in the same place, the air creating the cloud continues to flow; as long as the wind blows from the same direction at the same speed, containing the same amount of moisture, the cloud will stay visible in exactly the same spot.

Another peak on fire

Another mountain on the Chamonix to Zermatt Haute Route creating this particular cloud phenomenon, is the Aiguille Verte (4122 m) in the Chamonix valley. Also this mountain regularly “smokes”. 

The Aiguille Verte has a pointed, isolated peak with high and steep cliffs, just like the Matterhorn, and as explained above it’s this combination than can make it look like a smoking volcano.

Good news

When the Matterhorn is on fire, there is a very good chance the sun will be shining tomorrow!

Simone van Velzen

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