Observer Comments

13:37 Mon Oct 21, 2019

Comparing October 2018 and 2019

With the month of October already nearing a close I thought I’d take a look back at how this relatively mild start to our fall season compares to right around this time last year. Although we’ve finally recorded our first significant snowfall of the month this past week, we’re still only at a measly 6.6” of snowfall for the month. In reality, the month of October averages 18” of snow and we could end up right around average with another 10 days to go. Still, this feels like it’s way behind compared to last year, and it is, but last year really was exceptional and started an impressively snowy and windy winter season. October often sees dramatic change from the beginning of the month to the end, and there’s still time for this month to end out on a snowy end (more on this later).

 
The view from Cragway Turn (4,800 ft) showing widespread snow cover across Boot Spur and the surrounding terrain on 10-31-2018. This was the first Snowcat trip of the season for our crew, this year we have not even required chains for a shift change yet!

Last year actually started out even more mild than this year, with an impressive 9-day stretch of well above average temperatures with daytime highs in the 50s from the 3rd through 11th. This was due to a large upper-level ridge of high pressure. By the middle of the month, it was almost as if we hit a switch and turned on winter. A series of cold fronts carved out a large-scale trough across the Northeast, resulting in much colder temperatures bottoming out in the single digits above, with 10” of snow falling in just a week’s time by the 20th. Comparing that to this year we’re actually about even, but instead of seeing a thaw out or return to near average conditions a massive snowstorm plunged the summit into winter for good, with 3 feet of snow falling over a four day period from Oct 23rd to 27th 2018. October 2018 ended with 52” of snow for the month, a surplus of nearly 3 feet!

 
GFS Model showing a potentially powerful storm across affecting our part of the country on Halloween Day, 10-31 

Unfortunately for snow lovers there isn’t anything nearly of that magnitude on the immediate horizon, although there’s at least a small chance 10 days out. Our next chance for snowfall of at least an inch will occur this weekend, when the models have routinely had a weak wave of low pressure crossing New England with just enough cold air in place for snow across the higher elevations. Right around Halloween a much more robust storm system has been in the models for several runs now. Unfortunately, the storm intensifies well to our west across the Great Lakes, resulting in heavy rainfall at the onset of the storm. On the backside of the storm, there may be a period of heavy snow if things line up properly with the track, and precipitation doesn’t end too early. But again, this is 10 days out so we’ll have to wait several days before taking this too seriously. Check back in around this time next week, perhaps we’ll be gearing up for another round of 100 mph winds, heavy snow, and the all-around weather Mount Washington is famous for!

 
Fresh snowfall across the northern Presidentials 10-19-2019 


Thomas Padham, Weather Observer/Education Specialist
  

13:03 Sat Oct 19, 2019

Recapping Our First Major Storm of the Fall

The past few days have the seen the first real winter-like conditions here on the summit in this month of October. Our return to winter (for now) is due in part to an impressive coastal storm that my co-worker Jay posted a great blog leading up to. The storm was notable in my mind for its very strong easterly winds, extremely low pressure, and also some pretty horrendous icing conditions on our tower!

The strongest winds were on the front end of the storm, where a low level jet maximum was located. Mount Washington seemed to just miss out on the core of these winds, which remained a bit further south and east of the area. Despite this, winds were still quite impressive for the time of year, peaking at 128 mph around 5:30 AM Thursday morning. During the several hours leading up to the peak gust freezing rain, fog, and 100+ mph winds led to 1-2 feet of solid glaze ice on our tower. This ice was very difficult to remove due to the wind direction, and once it was dislodged we had to be very careful to make sure no one was downwind where that ice was now quickly heading!

 
Intern Laura Kee holds a large block of rime ice on top of the tower after clearing the morning of 10-19. Ice of this size or larger was being knocked off the tower each hour yesterday! 

The majority of the day Thursday the center of the powerful storm stalled near Lake Winnipesaukee, with winds decreasing as the storm slowly filled in and weakened. Temperatures climbed just above freezing and stalled there for most of the day, thankfully bringing an end to the freezing rain and switching things over to plain rain. By the early evening the system began drifting offshore very slowly, allowing for colder air to move back in and light rain showers to change to light snow showers. The warm side of the storm had now passed, and our first real taste of winter was about to begin.

By the time I had awoken Friday morning around 5:30 AM it felt like we did a fast forward to January, with the familiar hum (to me at least) of hurricane force winds outside and the clinking of night observer Ryan de-icing the top of the tower. This morning temperatures were well below freezing at 24°F, with heavy riming conditions and snow falling instead of the freezing rain from the day before. Winds were already gusting over 100 mph by the time I began my observations, but increased further by 7 AM with the peak gust of 114 mph from the NW occurring shortly after 7:30 AM. The riming conditions during the morning were right up there with some of the worst I’ve ever seen in my 7 years on the summit, at one point accumulating at a rate of nearly 6 inches of ice in a single hour.

 
Intern Laura stands next to several feet of rime ice for scale, and enthusiasm! 

After clearing out of the clouds early this morning, we’ve finally been able to take in the scenery and also snap some photos now that the winds are lessening. The summit picked up an impressive amount of ice along with 4.3” of new snow, making it look much more like the winter season than October. With temperatures expected to warm into the 30s today and even 40s by Sunday this snow and ice will likely be gone by the end of the weekend. For now, it’s a beautiful reminder of the winter season to come!



Thomas Padham, Weather Observer/Education Specialist
  

06:51 Tue Oct 15, 2019

First Big Storm Of The Season And It's Looking To Be A Doozy

Wednesday night into Thursday there will be two areas of low pressure that will merge and potentially undergo explosive development or bombogenesis, meaning that it will likely fall 24 mbars in pressure within 24 hours. The forecasting challenge with these types of setups is that one of the areas of low pressure will likely rapidly develop off the coast of New Jersey and race up along the coast within 24 hours of developing. As of 00z on Tuesday, this developing Low won’t form into a closed Low for another 48 hours (overnight Wednesday). Once it develops, forecasters will have a much better idea of what will happen, as far as local effects are concerned.  As for the summit of Mount Washington, it will depend on where the two systems merge and how close the center of the merged Low is relative to the White Mountains. If it forms to the southwest over CT and Mass then the summits will likely see sustained wind speeds of 100+ mph with gusts of 130+ and potentially even higher! This scenario would prove to be most exciting for us, and you, if you tune in. If the newly merged center forms at all to the east of the Whites then we will still see some initial high winds but not as impressive. The highest winds for the latter scenario would occur on the backside of the system as it heads out into the Gulf of Maine. Either way, it will be an impressive storm producing a significant icing event with several types of precipitation, high winds, and exciting moments for sure. In the meantime, let’s look at a handful model runs to see what is causing this powerful storm to develop and intensify.

The area of low pressure that will develop and rapidly intensify off the coast of New Jersey is caused by a whole mess of factors, but a few really stick out to me which I have researched and found to be large contributing factors. I’m going to let the diagrams and pretty colors do most of the describing here so I don’t turn this into a case study and get carried away. Below, is the Thursday 00z 850 mbar Geopotential Height and Cyclonic Vorticity (localized rotation of the air). Where there is strong cyclonic vorticity advection, meaning the localized area of rotation is stretching to the surface, there is a deepening in the surface low.  This is seen in the deep red color just off the coast of New Jersey.  This is where the surface low will develop and ultimately intensify into quite the storm.

GFS 850 mbar Geopotential Height (dam) and Cyclonic Vorticity (10-5 s1) 00z Thursday

 

What is causing this area of vorticity?   Well, there is air entering the base of the trough and that air is relatively warmer and more humid than its surrounding environment.  You can see the wind direction by looking at the wind barbs in either the Geopotential Height plot above or the 10-meter wind plot below.  I'll show you in the next two plots of 2-meter temperatures and 10-meter winds for the same time of Thursday 00Z that these two differing air masses are colliding with each other and producing a fascinating phenomena.
 
GFS 2-m temperature (F) at 00z Thursday
 
 
GFS 10-m Wind Speeds (knots) at 00z Thursday
 
For the 10- meter wind speed plot you can not only see a southern air mass entering the trough from the south, but where the green elevated wind speeds are, westerly flow is converging with southerly flow.  If we refer back to the 2-meter temperature plot, the westerly flow is much cooler than the southerly flow and is undercutting the warm southerly flow.  This is a good example of a Cold Conveyor Belt in which cold temperatures help to lift the humid warm air aloft.  The southerly warm flow is called the Warm Conveyor Belt. 
 
Okay, now lets pull it all together.  One of my favorite plots to use in Northeastern Extra-Tropical Cyclones is a Theta-E plot or Equivalent Potential Temperature.  Think of it as an indicator of latent heat release which will be described in detail in the next Windswept, if you are a member!  Sorry for the promotion, but it was a good time to plug it in.  I digress, latent heat release is essentially the stored heat as water changes phases between vapor to liquid to snow or ice.  That heat is released into the atmosphere, which then furthers the uplift, advects the cyclonic vorticity towards the surface, and in turn deepens the surface low, while providing plenty of moisture for it snow!!!
 
GFS Theta-E (K) at 00z Thursday
 
Isn't it great how all of this lines up perfectly?!  Stay tuned for the most recent forecast at the Observatory's Higher Summits Forecast Page!
 
Shout out to https://tropicaltidbits.com, https://weathermodels.com, and https://weather.cod.edu/forecast/ for their wonderful plots.


Jay Broccolo, Weather Observer/Meteorologist
  

17:29 Fri Oct 11, 2019

Founder's Day 2019!

Founders Day for the Observatory is just around the corner; Tuesday, October 15th! On that day, 87 years ago, Alex McKenzie, Robert Scott Monahan, Salvatore Pagliuca, Joe Dodge and Tikky the Cat picked up where the U.S. Signal Corps had left off, braved the intense weather conditions and started a weather record that has stood the test of time. With their trusty Sling Psychrometers and their Mercury Barometers set just right, they laid out a legacy that we have proudly continued to this day!

 

Conditions on the summit and in the early Observatory were a bit different than they are now, especially considering what the first Observatory was set in. Now known as the Stage Office, this relatively small wooden structure was (and still is) held down to the summit by heavy metal chains. Anchored in and holding on to the summit for dear life, this sturdy structure withstood some intense weather. It even held (mostly) during the incredible 231 mph “Big Wind” event in April of 1934.
 

Inside the Observatory, space was at a premium with a fully stocked supply of food, coal and other provisions, along with tools and instrumentation to last through the long winter. Dinner was family-style (and still is today), held by oil lamp light (not so much today) with what pleasant conversation could be had amidst the roaring winds. With plenty of observations to take and projects to work on, it was a lot of good, hard work for these early Citizen Scientists! And all of that work became the foundation for what the Observatory has evolved into today!
 

We have grown quite a bit over the last 87 years, and have been here to witness some very impressive storms! We posted a listing of some of our biggest landmark events of our history a few years back, and I decided to update it for this year! Check this out!

1934: A wind speed of 231 MPH was recorded on April 12th by the Mount Washington Observatory, the fastest surface wind speed ever recorded up until 1996

1947: Our lowest ever temperature was recorded at -47°F

1954: Hurricane Carol made landfall in southern New England and passed very close to Mount Washington, producing a wind gust of 142 MPH and nearly 4" of rain.

1957: Our record snowfall total for the month of July was recorded at 1.1"

1968-1969: Our snowiest winter season, with a grand total of 566.4"

1975: In August, our warmest temperature of 72°F was recorded for the first time.

2003: In June, our warmest temperature of 72°F was recorded for the second time.

2006: A wind speed of 158 MPH was recorded, one of the highest gusts of the 21st century.

2011: The remnants of Hurricane Irene passed directly over the summit, dropping 6.66" of rain and producing wind speeds in excess of 120 MPH.

2012: Hurricane Sandy's landfall in NJ produced its highest gust over 400 miles away on the summit of Mount Washington, at 140 MPH

2015: The President’s Day Storm produced sustained winds around 140 MPH, temperatures as low as -35º F, and wind chills at a bone chilling -90ºF.

2019: An incredible low pressure system advanced along the St. Lawrence River and blasted the summit with a 171 MPH gust, the strongest winds recorded in the last 35 years.

And over these crazy 87 years, we’ve improved quite a bit! We’ve enhanced our measurement methods and research practices, product tested and incorporated new technology (like the GE Pitot and the soon-to-be-constructed-and-updated Weather Wall), and have shared our observations and knowledge with the world through Edutrips, Streamable Learning Programs and Tours. However, even with all the change and growth you’ll still find our hardy Observers on the deck, every hour, trusty Sling Psychrometer in hand and Mercury Barometer set to go, taking the observation just like our Founders did all those years ago…

You can celebrate our Founders Day with us! We have plenty of fun activities going on both here on the summit and down in the valley on Monday, October 14th! Here at the Obs, you can sign up for a tour down in our Extreme Mount Washington Museum to get a behind-the-scenes look at life and work here on the top of New England! With juice and baked good as well! And down in the valley at the Weather Discovery Center, there will be free admission into the museum from 10:00 am until 3:00 pm! There will even be free Live from the Rockpile connections at 11:00 am, 12:00 pm and 2:00 pm where you can connect live up here to the summit with me, and I’ll show you the ropes regarding all of our important work! Don’t worry, as they’ll have juice and cookies too!

It's going to be a wonderful day of celebrating the Observatory and all of the hard work that’s been done over the last 87 years. Thank you to everyone who has stood with us all along this journey, supporting the Observatory through membership, fundraising and countless hours of volunteer work. Your dedication has been an incredible help that has been truly instrumental in our success. And with your continued passion and commitment, we’ll be able to press on and keep working hard for many years to come!

 

I hope that you’ll join us to celebrate on Tuesday, and we’ll be looking forward to seeing you soon!


Ian Bailey, Weather Observer/Education Specialist
  

05:43 Mon Oct 07, 2019

Testing Webcam Live-Streaming
When I started working here back in late 2005, we had four webcams available to view - our Observation Deck cam, our North View cam, our West View cam, and our Ravines cam (now known as the Wildcat cam). The Observation Deck webcam was mounted in a heated box up in our instrument tower and looked out toward our east over the New Hampshire State Park Sherman Adams Building observation deck and points beyond. Our North View cam is located in a heated box in a room adjacent to our weather office and looks out over the northern summits of the Presidential Range. Our West View cam is in a non-heated box in our weather office and looks out towards Mt Lafayette, Bretton Woods, and points beyond. And our Ravines cam was mounted in the old gondola building which once resided on the summit of Wildcat Mountain.
 
MWO Webcam Page December 2005MWO Webcam Page When I started in 2005
 
When I started, these cameras captured and posted an image every 15 minutes or so when our network and internet connection to the valley was working. Images were adequate at the time but by today's standards, they would be considered low-resolution. And even though three of them were in heated enclosures, there were times when the windows or domes they were looking out would rime up and the view would just be a wall of white. And since all of these were mounted well above ground-level, we were unable to reach them to remove ice, so it would be up to Mother Nature to clear things off for us.
 
As technology evolved and became more affordable, we were able to expand to additional off-summit sites installing one on Bretton Woods providing a view of the mountain from the west. We then had a fundraising effort to expand to two additional views - one from Attitash Mountain Resort which provided a view of the mountain from the south and one in Jackson, NH providing a view from the southeast. And the most recent addition was a cam attached to the Mt Washington State Park Sherman Adams building providing a view of our Observation tower as well as the summit sign (must be a member to view).
 
screenshot of available webcams available at MWOWecam Views From/Of Mount Washington
 
Through various donations along with technology evolving and becoming more affordable, we have been able to purchase and upgrade the cameras which also allowed us to add additional features for members of our Organization to enjoy. When we upgraded a few of them we gained the ability to zoom in on features, so we started to add zoomed in images of popular summits and ravines. A more reliable connection and faster transfer rates allowed us to update the images more frequently. We added the ability for sunrise and sunset timelapses first on the summit cameras then expanded them out to be included to all webcams. We then added full-day timelapse video capabilities to all our cameras. A few of them have been upgraded to High Definition quality with a couple having good low-light capabilities allowing us to capture upwards of an hour before sunrise and an hour after sunset. And our Wildcat camera gained a high quality zooming camera allowing even better zoomed in views of popular locations on our east side. And now we are in beta testing our newest feature - live streaming webcams.
 
The two webcams that we are testing live-streaming with are our Wildcat cam and our Observation Deck cam. Live-stream testing at the moment is open to the public and is being utilized to work out any bugs or glitches, gauge interest, and assess the costs of supplying real time live views of our cameras. Both of them are a temporary feature during our testing phase and both have additional information to review below the live-streams. And while we are testing, your feedback is important! You can CLICK HERE to use the “Contact Us” to let us know what you think (this page is also linked at the top of each of the webcam pages). So, please enjoy the views and we hope to hear your feedback so we can offer this as a perk to our members in the not so distant future.
 
Looking across Pinkham Notch at sunrise on Oct 6, 2019Looking Across Pinkham Notch At Our Wildcat Cam At Sunrise Oct 6th


Ryan Knapp, Weather Observer/Staff Meteorologist
  

14:14 Sun Oct 06, 2019

First Rime of the Season

Already in my first week and a half on the summit, I have been lucky enough to experience a wide range of exciting weather phenomena, which has given me a great taste of what is yet to come as fall transitions into winter. The most recent one of which included experiencing rime ice for the first time! This is something I had heard about (and seen lots of pictures of) but seeing it for yourself is quite amazing. When I stepped outside onto the observation deck in the morning, the sun was shining on the snow and ice that encased the summit and it made me feel as though I had stepped into a winter wonderland. I was finally able to see my first glimpse of rime ice!

When clouds envelope the summit and temperatures on the surface are below freezing, rime ice is able to form. When liquid water droplets come in contact with an object, they freeze and form this beautiful, feather-like type of ice that can build up along any surface (on rocks, the sides of buildings and along railings). Rime ice is typically opaque rather than clear due to the fact that the water droplets are freezing instantaneously upon contact (in spheres that trap little air bubbles). As those individual droplets collide with different surfaces, the ice builds up in the direction that the wind is coming from, so it makes for a very picturesque scene.

 

Rime ice covers the railings as the sun sets over the summit.

From preliminary data, it looks like the occurrence of rime ice this year (on October 5th) was the latest that the summit had experienced its first riming of the season. De-icing the instruments on the top of the tower became necessary as the temperature dropped to 15°F, which was the coldest of the season so far. I’m really glad to have gotten the chance to experience the first rime ice event!



Laura Kee, Summit Intern
  
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