18:09 Tue May 22, 2018
These Were A Few of My Favorite Things
This past week I was asked: what has been my favorite experience with the Observatory? At the time I answered with my highest wind experienced. But when I started reflecting on it, I started second guessing myself and couldn’t narrow it down to any one experience. With a dozen or so years on the summit, I have had my fair share of great experiences up here. In fact, new experiences happen all the time up here and that is why I enjoy it so much and partly why I have been here as long as I have. Sure, not every experience has been great but such is life; you have to have the good with the bad. But for every one bad experience there are hundreds of good experiences that fill my list.
There were all the weather firsts like my first foggy day. My first clear day. My first calm day. My first day of experiencing hurricane force gusts. My first day with 100+ mph gusts. My first experience trying to walk in 100+ mph winds which then turned into my first 100+ mph slide in 100+ mph winds which then turned into my first time being completely terrified of weather. There was the first time I experienced 30F below and 35F below, and 40F below. There was my first summer where I learned that 40F above is considered “shorts weather” for the summit.
Measuring 40F Below Zero
There are the night shift experiences like the various Northern Lights. The total and partial Lunar Eclipses. There are the various meteor showers. There was the time a high powered telescope was brought up and I got to see Venus, Mars, and Jupiter (for those new to this blog, we are a weather Observatory, so we don’t examine space of even have a telescope up here). There are the countless sunrises and sunsets. There is the summit shadow. The moonlit vistas and the Milky Way for when the moon sets.
There are the countless people I have met over the years that I associate with various experiences. There are the handful times I have met famous actors, authors, and pro athletes. There are the various EduTrip participants I have met and led up here. There are the volunteers I meet each summer and greet once again when they return in the winter. There are the interns and coworkers I have met, shared experiences with, who then move on to great things later. There are the various people I have met that are involved in the mountain community and with whom I have shared experiences with.
Sunrise with interns and volunteers
There were all the spare time experiences like when my coworkers and I brought up some watermelons and made them explode with rubber bands. There was the time we played volleyball with the Lakes of the Clouds Croo. There was the time we played flashlight tag. There are the countless games of “fog chicken.” There are the times where I learned with enough wind, skiing and sledding on a horizontal surface can be done without exerting any effort. There were the times I learned that playing catch, it is always best to be on the side with the wind at your back. There were the times we did Kite Aerial Photography.
Watermelons and rubberbands
But looking back, I think my favorite experience with the Observatory actually happened before I physically arrived at the Observatory. When I reflect back on everything, I think my favorite experience is the moment I checked my mailbox and got my intern hire letter from the Observatory. It put something solid in my hand that would alter the course of my life and has led me to all the countless experiences I have had since then.
Ryan Knapp, Weather Observer/Staff Meteorologist
15:54 Mon May 21, 2018
All About Data
This past fall, the Mount Washington Observatory celebrated its 85th Anniversary, which, in terms of mountaintop weather stations, is kind of a big deal! And while the faces representing the Observatory have come and gone over the years, one thing that hasn’t changed is our efforts to collect and maintain a continuous series of weather observations, documenting the volatile weather conditions atop this storied mount.
Figure 1. Mt. Washington Stage Office, Original Site of Mt. Washington Observatory
On the summit proper, we collect a variety of data at each of our hourly weather observations, consisting of temperature, wind speed, precipitation, pressure, cloud heights and types, just to name a few variables. Off of the direct summit, we also maintain a mesonet system of 20 remote weather stations that are spread out though the White Mountains. All of this data is not only used in-house to produce our twice-daily higher summits forecast, but also sent in to the National Weather Service for incorporation into global forecasting models. In addition to providing the higher summits forecast on our website, an audio version is disseminated through local radio programs twice daily, as well as through White Mountain TV on weekends. For those interested in research, our high resolution data is available through data requests submitted to our webpage at mountwashington.org. We also maintain a current conditions page on our website where hikers and weather enthusiasts of all kinds can check out what is happening in real-time on the summit!
Figure 2. Map Displaying Several Mesonet Sites
I mentioned briefly a summary of the data that we collect, but you might be wondering, why is all this data important? Well for one (and I don’t think I’m too biased here…) the summit of Mount Washington is an extremely interesting place! We are the only weather station in the northeastern United States providing continuous weather data at this elevation…think of us as a stationary weather balloon continuously sampling the atmosphere! With weather data going back to 1932, we have the longest standing climate record of any high elevation site in the United States, which provides an immense library of past events to study. On a serious note, Mount Washington is one of the most dangerous small mountains on Earth. Its proximity to several large cities and comparatively unassuming elevation make it a frequently visited peak. Our forecast information is vital to the safety and well-being of the roughly 350,000 visitors the summit sees each year.
Figure 3. Stairs to the Summit with Sunrise
All of this data is collected and maintained by the staff of the Mount Washington Observatory, an independent non-profit organization dedicated to maintaining a comprehensive data record of the weather atop the tallest peak in the northeast. If you would like to support the organization in any way, consider becoming a member!
Taylor Regan, Weather Observer
12:22 Sat May 19, 2018
My First Experiences on the Summit
Hello I’m Simon Wachholz, and I’m eager to begin my experience as one of the summer interns here at Mount Washington! I’m from Eastern Pennsylvania and I’m a rising senior at Penn State University majoring in Meteorology. Ever since I first visited Mount Washington in 2014, I’ve been dying to come back, and I’m so grateful to finally be returning as an intern. I have loved extreme weather for as long as I can remember, so there’s no place I’d rather work than at the home of the world’s worst weather.
Although Mount Washington is known for its extreme weather, this week has been fairly tranquil so far. The weather was beautiful on my way up to the summit on Wednesday. It was nice being able to see the surrounding White Mountains clearly to get my bearings, and of course, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to get countless pictures of the remaining snow drifts on Mount Washington and the surrounding Presidential Range.
The underside of a snowdrift melts, creating a unique snow tunnel
Clouds returned on Thursday dropping visibility down to zero at times, but yesterday and this morning were both in the clear again which was great for hiking and taking in the stunning views of the entire Northeast.
View looking southwest from Mount Washington
As peaceful as this weather has been, I’m excited to witness some of the weather that makes Mount Washington famous. The highest wind gust I’ve ever experienced was probably around 70mph during Hurricane Sandy, and I can’t wait to exceed that with 85 mph wind gusts possible tonight! In the coming weeks I’m looking forward to experiencing more of Mount Washington’s extreme weather, gaining knowledge of forecasting at such a unique location, and taking thousands of pictures of the remarkable weather conditions and landscapes visible at the summit of Mount Washington.
Simon Wachholz, Summit Intern
14:44 Fri May 18, 2018
My First Days on the Summit
Sarah Thunberg reporting to you from Mount Washington! I was welcomed to the summit under sunny skies and a light breeze on Wednesday, much like my visits to the White Mountains growing up. The past few years I have spent most of my time studying atmospheric sciences in Illinois and little time in New Hampshire, so I am excited to be spending my summer back home experiencing the extreme weather conditions only seen while living on the summit. One of my side interests is astronomy so I hope to see an aurora this summer and maybe bring a small telescope up to do some observing if weather permits. If nothing else, the stars and clouds will be enough to make me in awe of the sky.
I believe the atmosphere was on its best behavior for my first day, trying not to scare me away. I was treated to a beautiful sunset my first night, but when I woke up the next morning the summit was hiding in the clouds for the whole day.
The fair weather curse continued Friday with crystal clear skies in the morning under the building high pressure. I explored around the summit in the morning and could just see out to New York and the Atlantic. It was a chilly morning but the winds were fairly calm, later this weekend I will hopefully experience some near hurricane force winds as rainstorms move in with the falling pressure this weekend.
The past couple days I have been learning the layout of the observatory and what my duties are for the summer. In the next day or so I will be starting my intern research project on temperature and humidity variability at the summit. I’m excited to learn everything I can about real time weather observation and general atmospheric processes while at the observatory.
Sarah Thunberg, Summit Intern
12:48 Tue May 15, 2018
Cursed to be Blessed
Hearing that the previous shift had saw some especially exciting events, including aurora borealis and 130+ mph winds, I was extremely excited to start my first shift on the summit. However, when I arrived last Wednesday, I received a very warm welcome, with cotton candy clouds, sunny skies, and a comfortable breeze. This warm and clear weather has continued throughout most of my 8-day shift, giving me a misleading introduction to what living on the summit is typically like.
Adam Gill, experienced meteorologist and observer, agrees that the odd weather is probably my fault, and likely due to some kind of “good weather” curse. This is a true disappointment to all the extreme weather fanatics on my shift. Despite the curse, Mt. Washington still did its best to show me some cool meteorological phenomena. Last Friday, I awoke to a nice riming, a chilly event that will probably become rarer as the summit warms up this summer. Winds picked up a bit, and I got to wrestle a few hurricane force gusts out on the observation deck.
A photo of the light riming on the observation deck, taken behind the safety of the tower which blocks a majority of the wind from the west.
While most of the rime melted away during the afternoon, a bit was able to hang on throughout the day and into Saturday.
I am a mechanical engineering student from Atlanta, Georgia, so you could say that I’m a bit out of my element up here. I’ve always enjoyed the colder weather, and I’d say I’m getting the hang of things pretty quickly. While the Observatory has regular intern responsibilities like scanning papers and updating archives, I’m also learning quite a lot about the weather, and I’ll get to work on a research project throughout the summer.
I haven’t actually been assigned a research project yet, so I’ve had some extra time to explore and learn about Mt. Washington. One thing I’ve been looking into during my spare time is a small-scale wind turbine for power generation on the summit. A typical turbine would not be realistic here, due to its impact and the intensity of the weather. A small-scale, easily removable turbine solely for summer use is much more plausible. Combined with a battery array, a turbine could be used to offset power usage almost anywhere in the Observatory. Using random supplies I found in the Observatory, I fashioned a very crude turbine generator to help actualize this idea.
I’ve always been terrible at documenting a build process, but here’s a pic of the near-complete “trash turbine.”
The trash turbine in action, producing a whole 72.1 mV in 15 mph wind.
While the trash turbine (an affectionate name of course) produced less than impressive results, I’m still proud though, knowing that it came from a tin can, a couple shelf brackets, and whatever other hardware I could find. The motor used was definitely not ideal for power generation, nor was the fan assembly which would have been torn apart in high winds due to imbalance. Unfortunately, the trash turbine isn’t an immediate solution to gathering free wind energy on the summit, nor will it be powering the Sherman Adams building anytime soon. It did, however, highlight a lot of features and tolerances that would be necessary if a real design was to be developed.
Taking advantage of the cursed good weather last night, I left dinner early to try to summit the nearby Mt. Clay. Let’s just say it looks much closer from the weather room of the Observatory. Hurrying through most of the trek in order to get back before nightfall, I thoroughly exhausted myself. I’m very excited to explore more of the trails around Mt. Washington as summer progresses.
Enjoy the following picture of me about to sneeze on the summit of Mt. Clay.
Ben Seleb, Summer Intern
Doctor: “Do you have any allergies?” Me: “Yeah, a good view really gets to me.”
00:08 Tue May 15, 2018
Big Bubble, No Trouble
Pleasant weather has plagued the summit this week with visibilities stretching beyond 100 miles, too much sunlight, not enough wind, and far too few trips to the precipitation can. While we are on the summit experiencing this awful stretch of perfect weather, a stalled frontal boundary south of the region has provided strong thunderstorms and frequent rain showers that have failed to make their way to us. The good news is that the Auto Road opened up and many visitors were able to make their way here to the summit over the past few days.
The culprit is stubborn high pressure that has kept the frontal boundary suppressed to the south, and coincidentally uneventfully beautiful weather over much of New England. If you like this sort of weather, the phrase “big bubble, no trouble” may be a relatable one as it pertains to a bubble of high pressure that keeps nice weather in the forecast.
But, why?! The simple answer is that high pressure is associated with sinking air, while low pressure is associated with rising air. When air sinks, it becomes drier and warmer whereas rising air cools and moistens. Because the air cools as it rises, it can cause water vapor in the air to condense into liquid water droplets in the form of clouds and precipitation. The reason that high pressure is associated with sinking air while low pressure is associated with rising air has to do with the way that air flows around each pressure center. Another important note is that air flows from high pressure to low pressure. Around a high pressure center, airflow is directed outward and away from the center whereas the airflow with low pressure is directed inward and towards the center. As air flows away from the high pressure center, air must take the place at the surface and as a result the air above sinks (surface divergence). The opposite occurs with low pressure systems where the airflow directed inward is moving towards the center where it collides (convergence) and is forced upward (can’t go into the ground!).
THIS is why the weather has been so beautiful throughout the White Mountains Region for the majority of the shift for us, as high pressure has been in control. I joke about how we do not like the nice weather up here and are always hoping for the worst of the worst. In reality, it is extremely rewarding up here to have stretches like these where we can truly appreciate the amazing views, sunrises and sunsets. It also allows us to go for hikes and really take advantage of living atop New England’s highest peak.
Sunset from May 12th! High clouds shown here are the result of upper level moisture streaming northward from the southern frontal boundary.
Caleb Meute, Weather Observer / Meteorologist
11:50 Fri May 11, 2018
A Dream Fulfilled
“She believed she could, so she did.” – R.S. Grey, Scoring Wilder
It has been a dream of mine to work on Mount Washington ever since I got a weather station tour back in the summer of 2011. Seeing all of the tools that are used up here to forecast weather, learning all about the extreme weather that can be seen up here, and meeting some of the observers made me realize that this is something that I want to do. Six years later, I was offered the Summer 2017 Internship! I was beyond excited for this opportunity. After that internship ended, I wanted to try for the Winter 2018 Internship to experience the full power of Mount Washington. I was excited when I was accepted for that as well! My dream came true…twice!
Figure 1. A selfie I took in front of the summit sign.
Jillian Reynolds, Summit Intern
Through both of these internships, everyone in my shift was so helpful in teaching me the ways of working atop the “Home of the World’s Worst Weather”. They taught me many things such as how to code weather observations, better ways to create a weather forecast, how to measure precipitation, what tools they use to measure weather up here, and how a real meteorological team works. Each skill that I have learned has helped me grow as a meteorologist and grow as a person. I will be forever grateful for that.
Figure 2. Hays chart showing 131 mph winds on April 16th. The highest wind speed I have seen on Mount Washington!
Although my internship is at its end, I will never forget all of the fun and experience I have had up here. Mount Washington will remain in my heart forever!
Figure 3. My shift and I in front of a sunrise on March 7th.
14:58 Tue May 08, 2018
Make Way for Summer
Well, it’s that time of year again, spring! For weeks it was elusive, even as we closed out April as the 7th snowiest on record, with an average temperature 4.9 degrees below normal (9th coldest on record), we had all but written it off. But then, May arrived, and with it temperatures soared well above average, providing a significant melt-out of the snows of April (and of the rest of winter). Slowly, the sedge grasses worked their way free of most of the lingering ice patches, eagerly seeking to soak up some sunshine. This isn’t to say that the summit won’t see snow again, but with stronger sunshine this time of year and longer days, any snow that does accumulate will melt much faster than it would mid-January.
Figure 1. A snowy April.
A few sure signs of spring and the coming summer months have already been observed up here on the summit within the past week. First, it was the Cragway drift. This section of the Auto Road is typically where some of the most significant snow accumulation occurs over the winter months, and is therefore one of the most difficult sections of road to clear. Nevertheless, the auto road has been hard at work, and by shift change this past Wednesday, it was passable by van instead of snowcat!
Figure 2. Cragway drift.
The next indicator of the coming summer season was the ability to open the sub door. This (literal) submarine door is located at the base of our observation tower, and is frozen shut through the winter months, buried by rime and ice. A sure sign of spring is the ability to open this door, which provides us easy access to the outdoors from our subterranean living quarters.
Figure 3. Open subdoor.
What’s after that, you ask? Well, just this week we removed the second layer of storm windows from our office. In the winter, these storm windows protect our office from large, built up chunks of rime ice that are torn loose from the radio towers and hurled in our general direction by the wind. While it is possible to still have storms deposit rime and glaze any month of the year, we generally see lower winds in the summer months, meaning the likelihood of large chunks of ice being transported from the towers directly into our windows is much less. Therefore, we take the risk of removing the outer windows to be able to open the inner windows for some fresh air!
Soon, it will be June, and with that the fragile alpine flowers that fleetingly dot the landscape will begin to bloom. The sight transforms the view from one so often covered in snow to one of green sedge grasses waving in the breeze, speckled with bursts of white and purple and yellow from the various alpine flowers. It’s truly a sight, I encourage you to head up here and check it out sometime.
Figure 4. Alpine flowers.
Taylor Regan, Weather Observer
11:34 Mon May 07, 2018
When One Door Closes...
When One Door Closes…
…then, well, you can’t get through that door. You’ve tried, but the lock is bolted, and you don’t know the secret knock, and I think Marty might have stolen the key. Luckily, there happens to be a convenient second door to your right that’ll take you to basically the same place, so what was the point of locking the other -
My metaphor is breaking down, and so, coincidentally, is my internship. This is my last week on the summit as a weather observer intern, but I’ve been given a key to a different summit door. I’ve been offered the position of summit museum attendant, which means I’ll be sticking around just a little longer, and I’m so stoked! Experiencing a winter atop Mount Washington has been fantastic, and now I have the chance to see its warmer side.
Before I was accepted for the intern position, I was having difficulty finding a job in my field. I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do, and coupling that with a lack of job-seeking success made the job hunt a very discouraging endeavor. But when I came across the Observatory during my searching, it fit the bill for an opportunity I didn’t want to miss. Research, physical duties, forecasting, public interaction, extreme weather, blog posting, an unfamiliar environment…this was the way to gain experience in many different aspects of a meteorologist’s job. For someone like me, who had begun to lose interest in the field and didn’t know which way to go, this was perfect for testing the waters, giving me a confidence boost and re-igniting my interest in weather.
During my four months as an intern, I’ve seen and done so many firsts that I’d lose your interest if I listed all of them. Just in the past four days alone, I’ve seen my first big thunderstorm and hail event on the mountain, gained a new sitting wind speed record of 130 mph and watched the Aurora Borealis! I even learned a new card game (courtesy of our awesome volunteers). During the more wintry weeks, I’ve climbed a snow drift that was over 10 feet tall, seen an undercast around the peaks and eaten rime ice. I’ve also stood on the tallest point in the Northeastern United States with a crowbar in 70 mph winds and beat ice off of what might be the only pitot tube anemometer of its kind in existence. If that’s not a unique intern task, I don’t know what is!
Living on a mountain peak for a week or so at a time wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable without good people to work with, and I consider myself fortunate to have had the chance to work with some incredible observers. My heartfelt thanks to Tom, Taylor and Ryan for answering my questions (even the dumb ones), teaching me so much about meteorology, mountains and the Northeast in general, and also for putting up with me for four months! Hopefully, you can survive a few more months, as I’ll be returning with the same crew for the museum position. I’ve also loved getting to know the volunteers and the staff at the valley offices, and I’m glad that I don’t have to say goodbye just yet.
Working at the summit has given me new appreciation for the Observatory and its mission. Having come from a relatively flat place outside of New England, I don’t think I fully understood just how important the Observatory is for hikers, weather enthusiasts and recreationalists in the White Mountains. When some of our overnight guests told me about how they’d read my forecasts or heard them over the radio, or read my blog posts, or told me how much they loved weather in general, the importance of the Observatory’s work really began to sink in. It’s great doing work you love, but it’s even better knowing that it helps people.
Summing up such an incredible experience isn’t easy, but I’ll try to wrap things up. My internship door has closed, but the summit museum’s doors will be opening very soon! I’m looking forward to seeing the mountains in the summer, climbing one for Seek the Peek (I’m with the Cirrus Contenders) and getting into the groove of my new job. It’s wonderful to see other people get excited about the weather, the Observatory and everything in between. Thank you to everyone who listens, reads and visits; you make me smile! Come visit us this summer, and stop by the museum to say hi!
Sarah Schulte, Summit Intern
13:25 Sun May 06, 2018
What a Week!
What a week it’s been so far on the summit, with basically all four season’s worth of weather and more! On our way up to the summit last Wednesday we were able to take a photo next to the newly-cleared out wall of snow on the Cragway section of the road. Although we had several big melt outs this winter season, recent heavy snow in April lead to a still impressive 18+ foot wall of snow! Since then warm temperatures and the higher May sun angle have led to plenty of melting, with only patches of snow visible from the summit and the Mount Washington Auto Road should be open for the season within the next few weeks.
Our shift (Sarah, Taylor, Tom, Ryan L-R) at the snow wall last Wednesday
Friday our next exciting event of the week occurred as a powerful storm system tracked through the Saint Lawrence River Valley. Severe thunderstorms during the late afternoon in Vermont and New York eventually made their way to the White Mountains by the evening, with several direct lightning strikes, small hail, and 120 mph winds. As if winds of this strength weren’t enough, shortly after midnight winds reached an even more impressive 130 mph. These are winds rarely observed on the summit in May, with 135 mph winds in May 1994 being the last time we’ve seen winds stronger than this system. By Saturday morning we also had dropped into the lower 20s°F, resulting in some rime ice and a return to a more wintry-looking scene.
Saturday, May 5th Hays Chart showing our peak gust of 130 mph just after midnight
The cherry on top so far for the overall experience this shift was the aurora borealis (northern lights) seen last night. Night observer Ryan Knapp was able to capture some great shots before the clouds rolled in around midnight. It had been roughly 6 months since we’d last observed the northern lights on the summit, and it just so happened to be on a week when so much else was going on.
Taking in last night's aurora
Looking ahead we’ve got a little bit more of a quiet weather pattern for the next few days, which is actually great because we haven’t seen some nice weather since Wednesday. With all of the nice weather, observer Taylor was able to open up the submarine door at the bottom of the tower, which is usually encased in snow and ice all winter. I’m personally looking forward to being able to do some outdoor work the next few days; including some spring cleaning before our summer season starts up in just a few short weeks!
This open door is a sign that summer is just around the corner!
Tom Padham, Weather Observer/Education Specialist
09:36 Wed May 02, 2018
Chaos During the Facebook lives
Being short staffed has not been too big of deal so far since we are in between the summer and winter season so the work load is a bit less. The one thing that is being affected is our Facebook lives that we do on the weekend. If any of you joined us for our Friday Facebook live, you would have noticed that there was a distinct lack of sound. Back when Mike Carmon was on our shift, I did all the behind the scenes controlling and could monitor the video. Now it is much more of a challenge trying to control what is going on as well as being on camera. This Friday, while moving the computer into a position where I could be on the webcam as well as move through all the scenes, the microphone came partially unplugged so from our end, it had power. We did not realize until almost half way through the show that the sound was not actually getting picked up and exported to the video stream.
Saturday luckily went ok without any issues and we were able to go outside without any problems but Sunday the camera decided to disconnect as soon as I went outside. Luckily our intern Jill was able to keep the live going with the forecast discussion as I rushed back inside to get the camera going again. The second time was the charm and what had happened was the connection was lost in the tower. With 2 foot thick steel reinforced concrete walls it makes it difficult to get any sort of signal into the tower! I did not run fast enough up the stairs, guess I will need to get my running shoes on and practice!
The plus side is that for every one of these mistakes, something new is learned. With the sound issue from Friday, I know to test to make sure that the microphone is picking up sound. I was doing that when we first started the lives many months ago but became too overconfident. With the camera issue, I need to set up the camera outside so it is already set up and won’t lose connection. With summer this will not be too hard because it is much warmer outside and will not drain the battery of the camera. We still need to find a better winter solution though!
Adam Gill, Weather Observer/IT Specialist