During her undergraduate studies, Sarah Long knew she loved weather. The direction her career would take was less certain. One of only a few women studying meteorology at UMass Lowell in the late 1990s, she knew she'd be a minority in the weather research and forecasting field.
Her internships with the FAA and private forecasting firms, and a project researching airplane wake turbulence using weather balloons in Memphis, improved Long's confidence in research. Then, between her junior and senior years, she interned with Mount Washington Observatory.
“It was really the first time seeing the things I was studying in motion,” she said, describing the Observatory as “a weather fishbowl” that brought her meteorology, chemistry, physics, and calculus studies to life.
Long met Weather Observer Lynn Host and other women working at the summit weather station. She loved the lifestyle of being immersed 24/7 in forecasting and recording extreme weather on Mount Washington alongside her crewmates, while giving tours to help students and the public understand the White Mountains' unique relationship with the atmosphere.
As soon as she returned to school, Long started planning how to get back to the Observatory. She completed her degree program a semester early and led EduTrips on the mountain over holiday break, with her sights always set on a job at the summit.
In 1997, she started her meteorology career as a weather observer on Mount Washington. She became chief meteorologist after a couple years and was soon promoted to lead the Observatory’s weather station team as summit manager.
When sitting at the dinner table in the living quarters, overnight guests would often ask if she was an intern.
“I learned to enjoy the opportunity to challenge people’s perception of what a scientist looks like, and what a manager of a mountaintop observatory looks like,” she said.
Four years at the Observatory built her experience in several aspects of meteorology. Weather research, observation, education, and communications were all part of the job that ultimately led her to a career in broadcasting. Long enjoyed putting her forecast together and relaying that weather story to the public.
Now a member of Maine’s Total Weather team at WMTW News 8 in Portland, ME, Long describes her experience at the Observatory as her “meteorology street cred.” She still makes frequent use of the forecasting skills learned while living and breathing weather on Mount Washington. And she continues to watch the Observatory’s Current Summit Conditions
and Higher Summits Forecast
– information that’s helpful when predicting mixed precipitation in northern New England.
“I know I’m not alone” among meteorologists using these resources, she said. “The hourly weather observations that are sent (by the Observatory) to the National Weather Service are extremely useful. Having the mountain weather station there is like having a permanent balloon right in the path of weather systems that come through. It’s such a useful tool for giving us the data we need.”
Long is highly focused on giving back. This includes improving representation for women in science, something that was a struggle to find while growing up near Boston. She has served on the American Meteorological Society’s Board for Representation, Accessibility, Inclusivity, and Diversity, and as a Mount Washington Observatory trustee.
“Getting up in front of students, talking about science and 100-mph winds, and helping to make science exciting to them has always been important to me,” she said. Aspiring meteorologists often email her with questions about the difficulty of math and science courses in college. Long likes to paint a picture, helping students think outside of the box and let their passion for weather and climate lead them through challenging course loads.
When she started on-air in Portland, she received a letter from a fourth-grade student who liked drawing forecasts on paper, asking if he could be a weather spotter. Long helped him do this work for a decade before he enrolled at Lyndon State University to study meteorology. He eventually joined WMTW working in digital media, and many years after he first wrote that letter to Sarah, they became on-air colleagues at the station.
Looking back at her time at the Observatory, one of the things she enjoyed most involved giving tours of the weather station to middle school kids. Climbing the instrument tower, stepping onto the parapet, and feeling the wind accelerating over the summit “helps kids forget to be cool or shy,” she said.
“Everybody’s pretenses just drop off. This laboratory that can get people excited about weather is one of most valuable things the Observatory has.”
Sarah Long, right, enjoys a moment with Weather Observer Lynn Host, a mentor in the late 1990s at Mount Washington Observatory.
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