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Observer Comments

09:22 Fri Feb 12, 2016

8 Days in February: Some of my favorite thingsā€¦

The conversation around the dinner table is full of laughter. What a great crew! My husband and I are both former science teachers, and the nerdy topics, the ideas bouncing around the table, make this the very best place to be. Just last night Dennis and I were telling them about all sorts of science “magic” tricks that we used to perform for our students. Some requiring special equipment or chemicals, but some using ordinary things. I suddenly realized we could do one simple trick involving orange peels and….Mike Dorfman was already getting the orange out and lighting the candle. He knew what I was thinking. We shut off the lights then squeezed the peels, aiming the squirts of orange oil towards the flame and watching it sparkle.

I was personally looking forward to the overnight visit of the Kilted Hikers. They are a long-standing Seek the Peak fundraising team. We shared lots of hiking stories, at least one KH had summited Eisenhower a few days prior. More nerdy talk, this time with a ham radio and radio frequency bent. And, in the cold and wind, these guys went outside in their kilts for a photo op! An unexpected gift was all the ingredients for breakfast (eggs, sausage, hash browns, pancakes) and the desire to cook it. Dennis supervised as the Kilted Hiker cooked breakfast for 16. I was especially appreciative because I got to sleep late that morning.

Dennis loves to cook. So, he is in heaven (well, quite close at 6,288 ft. elevation) cooking dinner and dessert each night. Chicken Parmesan, Meatless Meatballs, Seafood Crepes, Eggplant Tomato Casserole were some of the dinners. I now understand how this works…look through the fridges and freezers and inspiration comes. I saw a bag of sweet potatoes and knew that a case of mushrooms came up with us and thought…Vegetable Posole, a favorite colorful tasty stew. One lonely little turnip in the veggie drawer? Threw that in too.

I am an outdoor person. On good days I’m out hiking or skiing, and when it is too muddy or rainy I still get outside at least for a walk. My first few days on the summit I was frustrated. It was too cold, too windy and with the summit in the clouds I had no real desire to head out. I would bring my camera up to the rotunda each day, looking for a rime-free window to snap photos of the icy rocks, the Nelson Crag Trail sign, and the feathery rime on the window frames. Finally, on Sunday, the sky was clear, the winds were down, and the temps. were easy to handle, even my camera didn’t run out of juice. Out I went with new goggles on my face and sharp spikes on my boots. I was dazzled by everything I saw. The rime ice decorates rocks, buildings, signs, and cables. It is a blazing crystalline wonderland. I headed out a second time for the sunset and then a third time for the aurora. The glittering Milky Way and bright Orion are what I gaze at the most…along with the red-flashing wind farm in the distance. Ryan’s skill with the camera concentrates the aurora colors, so I enjoy his posted photograph more than what I saw with my own eyes.

One of the things I appreciate about volunteering here is the organization. A volunteers’ responsibilities are clear, starting with Kaitlyn giving a rundown on the trips and guest numbers expected during the shift. The Summit Volunteer Manual, Inventory, and the Tuesday All Day Cleanup list guide what we do. The Tuesday list is daunting at first, but we start off in the morning and are finished before 11 AM. Vacuuming, steam cleaning, sanitizing, dusting…. I am not much of a Cinderella myself, but it does feel good to get it all done. Volunteers do a real service for Mount Washington Observatory and we do feel appreciated and we do get a sense of accomplishment, but the chores and cooking are never overwhelming.

Monday I designated as Marty Day. Marty is a very popular summit denizen. Unfortunately, he is also rather aloof. I don’t think I even saw him for the first few days. One Kilted gentleman was particularly eager to see and photograph him, and I looked for Marty with no luck. (It was reported to me that Marty showed up right before the Kilted Hikers departed. I hope he posed!) On Monday, things changed. I was determined to get a photo also, so when he showed up in the kitchen for a quick snack, I tempted him with a treat and picked him up and handed my camera to Dennis to snap a few shots. Later, in the rotunda, Marty showed up in a very affectionate mode. He walked along the windows, gazing out and flicking his tail, but allowing me to scratch him and he purred and purred and purred.

Now we are done. Now we are waiting for the shift change: the unloading and loading of the Snowcat and debriefing with the next volunteers. Then the long bumpy ride down to the valley. It will be nice to get home. But I will look forward to my next volunteer shift. 

Johanna Vienneau, Summit Volunteer

17:23 Tue Feb 09, 2016

How We Vote

Today marks New Hampshire’s presidential primary. Some people have wondered how the summit staff participates. The summit of Mount Washington is located in Sargent’s Purchase. While the summit staff works and lives here every other week over the course of the year, we are not eligible to claim it as our full-time residency. Therefore, where we live in our off weeks would be where we are registered to vote. For those of us living in New Hampshire, if an election date lands during our off time, we just head to our local voting location and participate like the rest of state’s residents. For those of us scheduled to work during an election date, we must fill out and submit an absentee ballot. Since the summit does not have mail service during the winter, we must ensure that we submit our absentee ballots no later than the week prior.

Ryan Knapp, Weather Observer/Staff Meteorologist

00:35 Sat Feb 06, 2016

Wintry Weather Ahead!

It’s been a warm but also stormy start to the month of February across the high peaks of New England, with three out of the first four days of the month seeing above freezing temperatures. We also saw winds gust up to 125 mph on the 1st, with sustained wind speeds of over 100 mph for over an hour.

Wednesday was an especially interesting weather scenario for Mount Washington, with a strong warm front causing temperatures to surge to near-record territory in the mid-30s overnight after starting out only in the lower teens during the morning. Very strong and gusty southerly winds along with thick fog quickly made a big dent in the snowpack, with plenty of standing water and slush on my way out to grab the precipitation can at midnight.

Despite the forecast of Mr. Phil the groundhog, colder air looks to make an extended stay across northern New England for much of the next week ahead, with a few chances for snowfall. Saturday night and into Sunday morning a cold front will cross from the northwest, with upslope snow showers and the summits likely picking up 1-3 inches of snowfall. Monday looks to be the one completely dry day across the White Mountains, with weak high pressure allowing for fog free conditions and at least some sunshine.

Tuesday a more significant storm system is possible, with low pressure moving through the Ohio River valley before redeveloping off the Mid-Atlantic coast. Although the storm is several days away and things could change, temperatures will be cold enough for all snow in New Hampshire. Not every model has a significant storm for New England, however, and for now we’ll just have to wait and see how the models handle the development of the storm across the western U.S in the next few days. Either way, much more winter like conditions are returning to the mountains of New England, and I’m hoping for plenty of snow!

Tom Padham, Weather Observer/Meteorologist

16:06 Thu Feb 04, 2016

My Volunteer Trip #3

As I look back on my third week on the summit, by comparison to my previous visits, it has been a mild week. We did manage to get a peak gust of 125 mph Monday, and the rime ice formations and clouds on the horizon are always spectacular. The opportunity to make it to the century club was close at hand, but safety precautions had to be respected on this occasion. Last year I was with the team when the winter storm went through that caused the Boston Logan Airport to shut down, and caused our trip departure from the summit to be delayed by one day! Regardless, the time spent as a summit volunteer at the at Mount Washington Observatory is always worth every moment!

The visits here are a break away from the normal every day, and an opportunity to volunteer for a wonderful organization. To be in an environment where I can enjoy the silence of the mountain which allows time for escape and relaxation, and also be inside heavy weather events as they happen, offering one of a kind experiences that only those who seek this summit can fully appreciate. Within this framework of relaxation and sudden weather changes, my co-volunteer Jan Berriochoa and I have the responsibility to create meals for the summit team, summit edutrips, overnight guided hikes, and ourselves. Furnished with a well stocked set of freezers, and spices from A to Z, we are able to be creative with food offerings! The dinners are family style, and offers great down time to review the day's events, and to hear about the observers and interns interests in weather.

I was fortunate to meet Tom Guilmette, the videographer behind the production of Extreme Mount Washington videos. He was working on an upcoming project for MWOBS. In addition, I met the leader of this week's MWOBS EduTrip Joe Lentini, who is a professional guide and Vice President of The New Hampshire Mountain Service. Both of these men presented interesting insights into the mountain.

Thank you Mount Washington Observatory team: Mike Carmon, Tom Padham, Mike Wessler, Adam Gill, Will Broussard, and Snowcat Operators: Slim Bryant and Elissa Gramling for another great week on the summit.

I look forward to next January's volunteer week!

Summit Volunteer Jeff Swanson on observation deck

Jeff Swanson, Summit Volunteer

13:23 Mon Feb 01, 2016

A Taste of Spring

This El Niño-influenced winter we're currently in the midst of continues to throw a plethora of monkey wrenches and curveballs our way. The seemingly constant oscillation of warm-up to cool-down has been quite intriguing to witness from the perspective of the Northeast's highest peak. No matter how many cold and snowy days are thrown at us, we continue to harbor that feeling that it won’t last long, and another warm-up is not far down the road.

After a fairly-average shift with respect to temperature, last night harbored a remarkable warm-up as the mercury soared to 34 degrees F. Temperatures remained above freezing for approx. 12 hours, which resulted in a brief yet significant thaw around the summit station. Brief thaws such as this are not unusual in the winter months on Mount Washington, but it's nevertheless interesting to observe and record.


In the wake of that warm-up, a cold front came charging through earlier today, ramping winds up to a peak of 125 MPH on the summit! With colder air rushing in behind the front, temperatures will be back down into the single digits by tonight.

But we're not getting comfortable there! Yet another shot of milder air is headed our way on Wednesday, which could harbor more above-freezing temperatures and even plain rain at 6288'!

Mike Carmon, Co-Director of Summit Operations


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