06:44 Mon May 29, 2017
My Introduction to Mount Washington
Hello! My name is Elizabeth Perry and I am excited to be an intern at the Mount Washington Observatory this summer. I grew up in New Canaan, Connecticut and I am a rising senior at Hamilton College in Central New York where I double major in Geoscience and French. A week before starting my internship, I had just returned from spending a semester in Paris, France on a language immersion program. I managed to combine my experience in Paris with my passion for geology, as I collected observations for my senior thesis which will be a guidebook to paleontologic sites in Paris. I plan on including discussions of the collections of their renowned Museum of Natural History as well as the plentiful visible invertebrate fossils in the calcareous Parisian building stone in older parts of the city.
It is through this multi-dimensional lens that I have truly loved studying and experiencing the environment since I was very young. During the summers of 2013, 2014, and 2015, I worked for a not-for-profit water quality monitoring program in Fairfield County that tested the biological integrity of the Long Island Sound and its watershed. Through my first experiences with environmental research, I became highly passionate about the health of the waterways near where I live through hours of data collection and laboratory work. The organization was able to identify approximately five point sources of sewage runoff from houses into the Long Island Sound via illegal connection to a storm drain line each summer. I particularly enjoyed seeing my laboratory and field work see success in terms of environmental protection.
Elizabeth Perry, Summit Intern
Last summer, I participated in research projects with my college’s Geoscience department that were concerned with mapping the flow of contaminated groundwater toward municipal drinking wells in Central New York and geochemical analysis of igneous rocks in the Penobscot Bay of coastal Maine with geology professors from my college.
I’m a three season varsity runner at Hamilton and I also love spending all my free time in the outdoors running, hiking, biking and skiing, so Mount Washington was an appealing place for me to spend the summer before my senior year of college. Although I have been enthralled with weather and the New England environment my whole life, it was only since this past fall that I was introduced to meteorological science, so it has been beyond thrilling to be surrounded by experienced, specialized and passionate meteorologists. I am also looking forward to working on my project researching the relationship between elevation and temperature over time at Mount Washington and Mt Mansfield (the location of the Stowe ski mountain) in Vermont, since environmental research has been one of my passions.
17:43 Sat May 27, 2017
Living in the Clouds
Hello all! My name is Julia Moreland, and I am truly humbled and ecstatic to be one of the summer interns here at Mount Washington Observatory. I grew up in the small town of Marlborough, Connecticut, and developed a passion for atmospheric science through the diverse and ever-changing weather of New England. Through Nor’easters with blizzard conditions, bitter cold snaps and heat waves, and even hurricanes riding up the coast, there was so much that I appreciated and loved about the intense impacts that weather could have on everyday life.
I pursued this passion by attending Plymouth State University, where I am currently in my junior year working toward a bachelor’s degree in meteorology and minor in physics and mathematics. In order to stay as involved with weather as possible, I immediately applied for and received a work-study job in our Judd Gregg Meteorology Institute, where I and another student take daily CoCoRaHS rain measurements from the rooftop, as well as snow albedo measurements in the winter months. Last summer I was fortunate enough to receive an REU at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, where I completed a study on long distance lake-effect snow. I was later able to present this research at the AMS Student Conference in Seattle, Washington, as well as the Northeastern Storm Conference in Saratoga Springs, New York.
In my free time, I enjoy hiking, skiing, as well as running on the streets and on any trails I can find. As a true challenge, I recently completed the Walt Disney World Marathon with Christopher Hohman back in January.
Though I have only been here a short time, I am incredulous at the beauty that this place holds. We have spent much of my first week in the clouds, but in the moments that the fog has broken or become completely clear, the view goes on for miles. Our first night, we were treated to an exceptional sunset beyond anything I had ever seen. The silence was deafening, and the mountains so clear and perfect that I couldn’t help but want to touch them like they were paintings. I have always loved being in the presence of mountains like this, as it makes us as small and human as we could ever be. How humbling it is to be the tallest in all of White Mountains.
A few days ago, I saw my first hurricane force winds, gusting over 80 miles per hour. Of course, I geared up and went out onto the deck to experience it! The rain was heavy and the fog very thick, but the wind was strong enough to hold me up without using any of my own strength. This is a feeling I will never forget.
I have always believed that learning by example is one of the best ways to gain knowledge, and this has proven to be true through this past week. Being in the presence of and being able to watch the observers at work is something of great value; completely different from learning in a classroom. There is so much knowledge, skill and intellect within the office, and I am truly lucky to be able to learn from professionals at this level.
As is part of being an intern, I have been learning to give tours of the observatory, producing forecasts for a completely different location than I am used to, reading these forecasts to the surrounding huts in the White Mountains, and conducting my own research under the guide of Dr. Eric Kelsey. I’m sure that the diversity of my learning experiences will prove to be invaluable when I complete my internship, as I will have gained a wealth of knowledge and skill. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the summer holds!
Julia Moreland, Summit Intern
05:34 Sat May 27, 2017
What To Know Before You Go
Many consider this weekend as the unofficial start of summer. And with summer planning on people's minds, we have started to get several questions via phone, email, and our various social media pages about the operating schedules for the various entities on and around Mount Washington. While I know I can’t cover every question people might have, I can at least direct people towards the information that come from our most common inquiries.
Mount Washington Observatory:
Our Weather Discovery Center in North Conway is open daily from 10am to 5pm. Live From the Rockpile runs at 11am and 2pm daily. Additional information can be found HERE
Weather Station Tours - available when the Mt. Washington State Park Sherman Adams Visitor Center is open to the public (see below). Additional information and registration available HERE
Extreme Mount Washington (summit museum) is located inside the Mt. Washington State Park Sherman Adams Visitor Center; it is open whenever the NH State Park Visitor Center is open to the public (see below). Additional information available HERE
Mount Washington State Park:
Mt. Washington State Park, Sherman Adams Summit Building, Concession, Tip Top Historic Site operating hours are available halfway down their website HERE
. Hours are subject to change, so please check their page and/or contact them directly (information at the top of their page) for the most current information.
Mt Washington Auto Road:
Information for the Mt Washington Auto Road can be found on their website HERE
and their schedule of operations is available HERE
. Hours of operation are subject to change, so please check their page, their social media pages, and/or contact them directly for their most current information.
The Mount Washington Cog Railway:
Information for the Mount Washington Cog Railway can be found on their website HERE
and their schedule of operations is available HERE
. Hours of operation are subject to change, so please check their page, their social media pages, and/or contact them directly for the most current information.
White Mountain Huts of New Hampshire:
Information about the AMC network of high mountain huts is available HERE
. Information about the RMC high mountain huts is available HERE
Trail and Tuckerman Ravine conditions:
Trail conditions can be found HERE
or by reading the forums available HERE
. Tuckerman Ravine conditions can be found on the Mount Washington Avalanche Center page HERE
Current weather conditions for the summit can be found HERE
. Current conditions from our mesonet can be found here HERE
. Historical data can be found HERE
(useful to figure out what’s “typical” for a given time period). Our 48 hour Higher Summits Forecast is updated daily by 5 am and 5 pm and is available HERE
. Note: we do not provide extended or personalized forecasts; so please bookmark the forecast page and check back as your hike approaches. For a second opinion or for additional points around the state, the National Weather Service provides a 24-36 hour recreational forecasts available HERE
. You will likely notice the NWS and MWO forecasts rarely agree due to the areas we are forecasting for. NWS forecasts the entirety of the White Mountains while MWO focuses more on the summit of Mt Washington and surrounding peaks closer to 5000 feet. Both forecasts are good to examine with the mindset that NWS will be the best case scenario you will encounter and MWO will be the worst case scenario. If you prepare for both, you will rarely be caught be off guard.
Morning light on southern peaks as foliage returns to the WMNF
Ryan Knapp, Weather Observer/Staff Meteorologist
16:56 Fri May 26, 2017
On Top of the World!
Hello! I’m Margaret Jividen, and I am extremely excited to be one of the summer interns here at Mount Washington Observatory for 2017. I was born just outside of Buffalo, NY, known for its severe lake effect snow events. Prior to moving in for my internship, I had only been to the summit once, at age 7. Even at such a young age, I knew I wanted to be a meteorologist, and someday live in New Hampshire. It goes without saying that this internship was my idea of a perfect way to spend my summer!
I am currently an undergraduate student at SUNY Brockport in Western New York, where I will be a senior meteorology major in the fall. Besides attending classes, I am secretary of the Earth Science Club, a sports forecaster for Golden Eagle Sports Forecasting, a calculus tutor, and I have worked at the campus radio station as a forecaster. I also love yoga, reading, kayaking, going to concerts, and traveling. Despite being from dreadfully flat land, I adore hiking and mountain views. Last summer I was a naturalist intern at Allegany State Park, New York’s largest state park.
It may only be my third day here on the summit, but these three days have already been filled with new experiences and beauty! The ride up to the summit gave impressive views, and we stopped at 4000’ to see some rare alpine flowers, a first for me. I have written and recorded forecasts, which has been extremely fulfilling. The summit has been in the clouds most of the time, but I did get to enjoy one summit sunset, which was a perfect way to end a day filled with lots of numbers and training. However, the highlight so far definitely has to have been going out in hurricane force winds yesterday—I’d love to tell seven year old me how that felt!
Margaret Jividen, Summit Intern
15:20 Thu May 25, 2017
Spring is Coming
After seeing over 30" of new snow on our last shift two weeks ago, it's become much more apparent that spring is just around the corner across the high peaks of New England this week. On our way up the road on Wednesday, the very first alpine flowers of the season were starting to bloom near treeline at 4,000 feet. This is about the lowest point that we see these alpine flowers, which grow generally above 4,000 feet in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and then are found in much more abundance across the arctic and subarctic nearly 1,000 miles to our north in Canada.
These flowers are a vestige from the last Ice Age, when arctic tundra extended just south of the ice caps that covered much of New England. As the ice began to melt out and retreat north, so too did the arctic vegetation. Because of this the alpine flowers here give us a window into the climate of the arctic and also our past much closer to home.
These rare flowers only bloom for a few short weeks here in the Presidential Range, and will likely be at their peak through about mid-June. The Alpine Garden, located just to the east of the summit on a plateau at 5,000 feet is especially beautiful this time of year. With the summit buildings now open to the public daily, now is a great time to plan your visit to Mount Washington!
Tom Padham, Weather Observer/Education Specialist
07:01 Sun May 21, 2017
Volatile Weather Atop the Rockpile
This past week has brought quite the myriad of different weather conditions atop the Rockpile.
May 13th – May 15th: Coastal low pressure developed and moved into the Gulf of Maine staying nearly stationary while dropping a grand total of 33.3” of snow on the summit while falling continuously for 38 straight hours! As Tom stated in a previous blog post, this was the largest snowstorm ever recorded in our 85 years of data during the month of May. Simply because the storm felt like breaking as many May records as possible, it also broke the record for 24-hour accumulation in May at 22.9”! After this snowfall, our total snow accumulation so far this year (July 2016 – present) is at a monstrous 395.8”! This lands as the eighth snowiest winter since the beginning of our records, and if the summit receives another inch, it will take over as the seventh snowiest.
May 16th – Well… Nothing special really happened on this day, but the northeast started heating up! High pressure centered over Bermuda, and a low approaching along the international border led to the perfect set up for record warmth. With high pressure rotating clockwise over Bermuda, a warm southern air mass pushed north along the eastern seaboard. To further aid the building warmth, the area of low pressure rotating counter clockwise was also helping to bring southern air into the northeast, with New England landing in the low’s warm sector. This setup was a perfect conveyor belt for warm air to advect into New England during the days to come.
Surface Weather Map from Wednesday, May 17th with red lines to show where the warm air mass originated. Warm sector is the area between the cold front (Blue line with shaded blue triangles) and the warm front (red line with shaded red semicircles).
May 17th- Shift change! Also, the mercury began to soar. Generally, when I transition from Burlington VT weather to Mount Washington weather my body gets extra confused with the switch in temperatures. On Wednesday, this was not necessarily the case as the mercury soared to 54F, breaking the daily record high of 52F!
May 18th – Heading into Thursday, we were expecting the temperatures to rise once again to near the daily record, but it was a more impressive number that was going to be tough to beat. Turns out that was an amateur record as the high jumped up to 64F, surpassing the daily record by two degrees. This record only fell two degrees short of the all-time record high in May of 66F!
As the temperatures rose on Thursday, the atmosphere became increasingly unstable and lines of severe thunderstorms developed and barreled into the White Mountains. Typically when thunderstorms roll through, the summit is in the clouds and the view is occasional flashes that turn the gray fog a shade lighter. For the storms Thursday we were in the clear and able to see countless bolts of lightning stream across the sky that lit the Presidential Range up as if it were daytime. During those storms, the temperature dropped 10 degrees as colder air aloft was pulled down to summit level, winds ramped up to 80 mph, and ¼” hail fell.
After the days of record snowfall and record warmth, conditions have returned to more seasonable norm’s, just in time for the Mount Washington Auto Road to open up from base to summit! With that being said - a system currently over the Midwest has its eyes set on New England and will spread precipitation in overnight. We are expecting temperatures to fall tonight, and warm air aloft over a very dry layer beneath will lead to evaporational cooling that will send the mercury below freezing. As this happens, freezing rain will be the likely result, which could lead to significant glaze ice accrual before the temperatures climb back above freezing Monday morning and transition the freezing rain to plain rain.
This mountain sure keeps us Weather Observer’s on our toes!
Caleb Meute, Weather Observer / Meteorologist
12:39 Tue May 16, 2017
A Farewell to the Summit
It’s been a little over two years since I first stepped foot on Mount Washington for the first time. It was early April of 2015 that I arrived in New Hampshire for my interview for the internship program that following summer. A rather snowy late winter and early spring in New England had left the White Mountains and surrounding valleys in a blanket of snow. When I returned a month or so later, the warmer weather won out, and other than a few specks of snow above tree line it was all gone. Over the course of that summer, I never saw the snow return.
Most people would probably be okay with that, but during the summer, visitors and even fellow staff had winter on the brain from time to time, and with obvious reason. It’s the season that makes Mount Washington famous, and after falling in love with the Whites that summer, I knew at some point I needed to make it back for a winter. Luckily, less than two years later that opportunity arose and I took it. As beautiful as summer is on the summit, winter in no way disappointed me.
On top of the weather, the overall atmosphere of the summit is very different during the cold months. Thousands upon thousands of visitors make it to the summit one way or another to get their picture with the summit sign and beat the summer heat. Other than overnight trips and an occasional hiker on the nicer days, the summit cone is pretty much completely deserted other than those who work here in the dead of winter. The role of working in the gift shop and conducting multiple tours per day is replaced with shoveling, deicing the tower and keeping the instruments operational.
Many aspects of life and work at the summit do not change in the winter, such as daily forecasts. However, forecasting wind gusts beyond 100 mph was something I had never done before and probably never will anywhere else. Getting outside and experiencing winds of this magnitude is also something that is hard to come by at any other location and is truly a once in a lifetime experience for most people. Possessing the ability to do both has certainly honed my forecasting skills and garnered my respect for the power of Mother Nature.
Having been here for both seasons, I’ve gotten the opportunity to tackle a variety of tasks as wide as the variety of weather I’ve witnessed. I can’t think of a better way to begin my career than working alongside the dedicated staff of the Mount Washington Observatory.
If you have a deep interest in Meteorology or Atmospheric Science and are captivated by the mountain’s extremes as much as I am, I’d suggest sending in an internship application. Fall applications are now being accepted through mid-July on the “Careers and Internships” section of the website. You won’t regret it; you’ll broaden your skillset, make incredible memories, and maybe come out of it with pictures similar to these.
Nathan Flinchbaugh, Summit Intern
17:41 Mon May 15, 2017
April Showers Bring...Record Snowstorms!?
May is generally a month when we start to think about the warmer days of summer and maybe even spending time at the beach, but on Mount Washington Mother Nature often has different things in mind. After an overall mild April with above average temperatures and our snow cover completely melting out, May threw us one heck of a curveball!
Temperatures had been running 6°F below average for the first half of the month, with snow showers adding up to 8.9” through the 13th. May only averages 12” of snowfall on the summit, and we were already well on our way to surpassing that total. Instead of seeing the snow let up towards the tail end of winter, quite to our surprise we’ve just recorded our biggest single-storm snowfall since October 2005! Snow fell continuously for 38 hours straight from Saturday evening on the 13th through Monday morning on the 15th, with a grand total of 33.3” of accumulation. This was the largest snowstorm ever recorded in our 85 years in May, and also broke the record for 24-hour accumulation in May at 22.9”.
We were just as shocked as many people across New Hampshire with the snowfall, although most people were shocked to just see snow, while we were impressed much more so by the amount. We also seemed to be in just about the perfect location for this storm, with a maximum, or "bull's-eye" for overall liquid equivalent precipitation from Mount Washington north and east. At no point did this feel “normal” for May, even by our standards, and the snow just kept falling and pilling up. It was an incredible experience for the staff on the summit, one that we won’t soon forget!
Tom Padham, Weather Observer/Education Specialist
14:32 Thu May 11, 2017
What is a Cutoff Low?
It certainly has been a rather damp, dreary and cool start to the month of May over nearly the entire Northeast this year. The abundant rainfall has played a major role in helping the flowers bloom and the trees green up, and more than likely has resulted in the first grass cutting(s) of the warm season. But most people are growing tired of what seems to be an almost endless pattern of gray skies and cool temperatures. What’s been causing this long stretch of limited sunshine and unsettled weather?
The answer is a cutoff low. These unique systems have been plaguing forecasters forever, dubbing the phrase “cutoff low, weatherman’s woe.” Unfortunately, these are pretty common during springtime in New England, so you’ve probably at one point or another heard this term dropped. It more than likely also coincides with a time you were extremely annoyed with the weather.
Here in the westerlies, air that does not get interrupted by the friction from the land flows in a current from west to east. Inevitably, wrinkles in this west to east current develop, resulting in sharp troughs within the flow. Embedded in these troughs are areas of low pressure, responsible for foul weather. Occasionally, if a trough deepens enough, it will separate completely from the jet stream, forming a closed or cutoff low. This area of closed circulation becomes stationary and lonesome for potentially days on end, before eventually getting picked up by the jet stream again, and kicked out of its stationary position. Those unlucky enough to be under the influence of the cutoff low will experience cloudy, cool and damp weather for several days, until it gets returned back to the main flow. Those in New England were the unlucky ones this past week.
In order to pick these features out, meteorologists typically use “500 millibar charts.” This is an analysis of weather at approximately 18,000 feet in altitude, high enough in the atmosphere that the flow pattern is not affected by friction from the Earth’s surface.
It all started with a deep trough over the Eastern Ohio Valley and a fast southerly flow in the upper levels above New England on Saturday morning (May 6).
By Monday morning (May 8), the trough had been pushed east and the low had cut off from the main flow and was centered over the Northeast.
As of Wednesday morning (May 10), the cutoff low is still visible over much of New England.
Finally, as of Thursday morning (May 11), the cutoff low is still present, and had shifted east ever so slightly. This has resulted in some clearing across parts of Vermont, but thick cloud cover and a few showers remain over much of Maine.
Luckily, the cutoff low is expected to be swept back up in the main flow Friday, allowing one day of pleasant weather in New England. However, a coastal storm system is expected to develop right on its heels, resulting in unfortunately, more damp weather in time for Mother’s Day weekend.
Nathan Flinchbaugh, Summit Intern
23:24 Mon May 08, 2017
From One Extreme to Another
Summertime preparations have begun here at the Observatory, as highlighted by Mike and Adam earlier this shift. We are preparing for the warmer months, but that certainly does not mean we are out of Winter’s icy grasp quite yet atop the Rockpile. Snow showers have fallen on and off since Sunday night which has led to just shy of 3 inches of accumulated snow. Sunday morning, there were only a few patches of snow remaining on the summit, but now there are just a few patches of rocks visible... Temperatures have also been falling since last night with tonight’s lows expected to drop through the teens. These temperatures are below seasonable for this time of the year, falling well below the daily average for the beginning of May in the lower 30s.
A broad upper level low pressure system centered over New England is the culprit for the below seasonable temperatures and persistent snow showers. The center will be moving over the White Mountains Region late tonight and then remain stationary through most of tomorrow. As a result, winds across the higher summits will likely become light and variable which is certainly atypical when we discuss wintry conditions on Mount Washington. Despite light and variable winds in the forecast tomorrow, winds will pick back up overnight and then stay gusty through Wednesday keeping wind chills in the single digits above zero.
The spring months across the higher summits of the White Mountains Region can become quite treacherous when these types of conditions occur and catch hikers by surprise. It is extremely important to consult the higher summits forecast when attempting to venture above treeline during these transitional months. If you take a quick look at the valley forecast, you may think it will be the perfect day to hike above treeline. That is not always the case! In order to relay this information to those who rely on our forecasting, we used the following wording throughout this past weekend: A combination of rain, persistent fog, and temperatures in the 40s will lead to very chilly and wet conditions across the White Mountains through the duration of the weekend. Although the calendar reads May, these sorts of conditions can still result in cold weather maladies such as hypothermia if you are unprepared. With the weather taking a decidedly more wintry turn on Sunday, this danger will be enhanced even further with snow and even colder temperatures added to the mix. Expect to be met with borderline-wintertime conditions if venturing above treeline anywhere in the White Mountains at any point through the course of the upcoming weekend, and be prepared for wet and cold conditions, winds gusting near hurricane force at times, and even snow and ice late Saturday night into Sunday.
As part of our valley forecasts today, we included this wording: It should be noted that more wintry conditions are expected across the higher terrain of the White Mountains, resulting in a very different forecast than valley locations. If you plan to venture into the higher elevations, utilize the Higher Summits Forecast for planning purposes.
This type of strong wording that we occasionally include in our forecasts is by no means meant to dissuade people from hiking! If the necessary precautions are taken, and individuals are properly experienced with hiking in these wintertime conditions, they can be rewarded with beautiful wintry landscapes and a challenging, but rewarding hike.
Caleb Meute, Weather Observer / Meteorologist
17:47 Sat May 06, 2017
Summer Time Approaches
This week we are getting close to finishing much of our summer preparations. With the one day of nice weather that we had on Thursday, we were able to get the bulletproof windows out. It is always a sad time of year because the frequency of strong wind storms and big snowstorms has mostly passed, with more “quiet” weather for the next 4-5 months. Other things that have gone on was making sure the exhibits down in the museum are in working order, luckily most of them were, but a few needed some miner tweaks or new monitors. I am sad to see that the snow has mostly melted here on the summit but look forward to Thunderstorm season! One thing I am going to need to keep track of is how long into summer the snow in Tuckerman’s Ravine is going to last, I am hoping until August! Below is a picture of the windows from the weather room.
I also brought up some plants a few weeks ago during one of the warm spells we had because it is nice to have some greenery in the barren and foggy landscape that the summit is for much of the year. I have had a hobby of growing carnivorous plants for many years and have some at where I live in the off weeks. They need to stay in a terrarium too keep the humidity higher as well as keep Marty from destroying the plants! I like to think of it as extreme plants an extreme weather! The image below is of the tropical pitcher plant that is growing very well.
Lastly, our shift has created a Seek the Peak team called “No CAPE without CIN”. CAPE is convective available potential energy and CIN is the convective inhibition number. CAPE is the amount of energy that a thunderstorm could produce and in order to get CAPE to develop, you need a bit of CIN. If there was no CIN, the atmosphere would keep over turning and never get enough energy to produce thunderstorms! Below is a skew-t diagram of what CIN and CAPE look like in an upper air sounding. You can check out the team here!
Adam Gill, Weather Observer/IT Specialist
17:14 Thu May 04, 2017
Wintertime is finally winding down here at 6,288 feet, and the summer season is knocking at our door. Before long, cars will line the Mount Washington Auto Road, the Sherman Adams building will unlock its doors, and the mercury will break into the 60s F at the crux of New England. This winter was quite a harrowing one in many ways, so a lot of us are looking forward to the arrival of the more tame summertime weather conditions. The preparation for summer is more than simply digging and thawing out from the winter snows--in fact, the warmer weather takes care of a lot of that for us. There are plenty of other tasks to tackle though, and with the sunny and calm conditions that embraced the White Mountains today, our shift took advantage and got to work on making those preparations.
Removal of the storm windows
Wintertime's heavy icing along with high winds can often lead to a catapulting of large ice chunks through the air at hurricane force speeds. As one can imagine, these hurtling ice formations can do a fair bit of damage on many structures, which includes windows. Bulletproof glass windows are affixed on the outer face of all windows in the Observatory's exposed office space during the winter to effectively deflect this ice. When it's time to remove these sturdy windows, however, it's a sure sign that the more placid summertime conditions are on the horizon!
Opening of submarine door
Our submarine door (actually from a destroyer) located at the lowest level of our instrumentation tower becomes entombed in snow and ice during the long, snowy winter. With the spring melt-out, as well as a little help from observer shovels and ice picks, the snow pack retreats to the point where opening of this hatch becomes possible once more.
Unsealing of windows
Not all windows necessitate the placement of bulletproof glass between them and the winter tempest, however the extreme arctic cold finds any crack, crevice, nook and cranny to infiltrate our heated living and office space. Silicone sealing of all of the windows throughout our office space and living space is required in the winter, but summer season allows us to break those seals and allow the fresh and warmer mountain air to come flooding into the confines of our building once again.
Installation of summertime instrumentation
Not much equipment can survive the harshest winter conditions of Mount Washington's summit, so only a few lone (but hearty) weather instruments line our instrumentation tower in the winter. With the more settled summer conditions comes the redeployment of a much more wide array of instrumentation outdoors.
Mike Carmon, Senior Weather Observer & Education Specialist
16:39 Tue May 02, 2017
Severe Weather Awareness Week
The week of May 1-5 has been declared Severe Weather Awareness Week in the state of New Hampshire by the National Weather Service. This is certainly an appropriate week to discuss this topic since severe weather has been making national news headlines with the rounds of heavy rain and tornadoes in the nation’s midsection. Luckily, events like these are extremely rare in New England, as most of the hazards facing New Hampshire have to do with snow and ice storms, along with spring flooding from a soaking rain and rapid snow melt. These situations are much easier to project several days in advance, allowing those affected to budget time to prepare. That being said, New Hampshire is also no stranger to summertime thunderstorms, occasional flash floods and hail, and even the rare tornado. These weather events are for the most part driven by convection, meaning they can develop on relatively short notice. Therefore, it is always good to have some sort of plan mapped out now rather than later, especially if you plan on venturing into the White Mountains this summer. If threatening weather approaches, you’ll need to take immediate action.
On top of monitoring the higher summits forecast page on the Observatory website, you’ll want to also familiarize yourself with National Weather Service products. It is this entity that will issue up to the minute watches and warnings relating to severe weather concerns. Certain risks will be enhanced if you’re above treeline or at the summit, so your response priorities may change depending on location. The following are two of the most common alerts that will surely be issued at some point this summer.
Severe Thunderstorm Watch:
Severe Thunderstorm Watch definition from the National Weather Service
A Severe Thunderstorm Watch will likely be issued relatively early in the day. The goal of this alert is to inform the public that atmospheric conditions are favorable for the development of severe thunderstorms.
What You Should Do: Consider postponing any hiking until the Watch expires. If you do decide to venture out, keep a keen eye out for any developing weather that could be threatening. Stay within a short distance of a safe shelter during the Watch period. Do not rely on a mobile device to monitor the weather as cell service is spotty at best in the White Mountains.
If you are at the summit, you can go about your business as usual, however keep an eye to the sky for any impending weather. Stay alert and listen to any instructions given by summit staff.
Severe Thunderstorm Warning:
Severe Thunderstorm Warning definition from the National Weather Service
A Severe Thunderstorm Warning will be issued if a thunderstorm with severe characteristics has developed. Because of this, time to prepare and act now becomes limited.
What You Should Do: Move to the closest shelter if possible immediately. If you find yourself too far from any shelter, move to a lower area away from water. If you cannot get below treeline, seek the lowest possible area, preferably with large boulders. Put on your raingear and remove your pack. Place your pack and any poles you have at least 100 feet away from your body. Huddle in place and cover your ears to protect yourself from intense noise until the storm passes.
If you are at the summit, move indoors immediately. Staff will make an announcement over the P.A. system with instructions. Since Mount Washington is the highest peak in the Northeast with several towers, the chances of a direct strike somewhere on the summit will become extremely likely. Do not return outside until summit staff or New Hampshire State Park employees gives the okay.
As stated earlier, a good place to start when planning your trip is the Observatory’s higher summits forecast page. There may even be a thunderstorm potential in the near term!
Distant showers from an approaching thunderstorm last summer
Nathan Flinchbaugh, Summit Intern
13:11 Mon May 01, 2017
Making a Home in the Alpine Zone
If you’ve done any hiking in the Northern Presidentials, or visited Mt. Washington by train or car and explored the summit a bit, chances are you’ve seen signs warning you to prepare for the harsh weather, as well as to respect the fragile alpine zone. The signs invite you to “enjoy the fragile beauty” of the Alpine Zone while simultaneously admonishing you that “the area ahead has the worst weather in America; many have died there from exposure, even in summer.” The warnings are terse and bleak, and paint a picture of the rocky and treeless summits that spend a majority of their time in the clouds pummeled by fierce winds and driving precipitation.
The warnings may seem counterintuitive when paired together; how can an area that is infamous for its extreme weather also be home to delicate plant life? It is true: the alpine zone is both an area of fragile beauty and of relentless exposure. Believe it or not, a few plants have actually been able to adapt to the harsh climate, and make their home in the Alpine zone.
Let’s start from the bottom, and work our way into the Alpine zone, exploring the terrain as we go. Only roughly 3/4 of a vertical mile separates the lodge in Pinkham Notch from the summit of Mount Washington, and yet you’ll find four distinct ecological zones as you ascend the mountain.
The most prominent thing you may observe is that the trees change! This doesn’t happen all at once, but gradually the trees around you begin to change. The valley floor is home to the (Mixed) Northern Hardwood forest, which is comprised mainly of deciduous trees. These include sugar maple, red maple, red oak, birch, and white pine. Shrubs and several types of ferns can also be found in this zone, which typically ranges up to 2500-3000 ft. As early as 2000 ft however, you may notice indications that you are moving into a new “zone” as spruce and fir trees begin to more prominently feature in your surroundings. The image below was featured on NASA’s Earth Observatory page. Taken in fall, the image clearly shows the changes in tree-type with height as you ascend the Northern Presidentials.
Figure 2. Transition from deciduous to evergreen to alpine zones. Image from earthobservatory.nasa.gov
As depicted in the above image, after leaving the northern hardwood forest zone, the next ecological zone you enter is the spruce-fir forest zone, known as the Boreal forest. As the name suggests, this zone is dominated by evergreens. This zone has a lower yearly average temperature, and a shorter growing season, resulting from its increased elevation. Because of this, evergreens have an advantage over deciduous trees, as they do not need to spend the enormous amount of energy required to put out new leaves each year. Mosses and ferns typically cover the ground. This zone ranges from roughly 2,500 to 4,000 ft of elevation.
After 4,000 ft, the trees become stunted, scraggly, and twisted, often stripped of branches on one side, and growing almost mat-like across the rocks. These conifers, mainly fir, and black spruce, are called krummholz, which is German for bent or twisted wood. These trees persevere even though they are being battered by winds and precipitation, and grow slowly but surely on the mountainsides. Tiny spindly krummholz barely wider than your finger can be hundreds of years old.
Figure 3. Alpine Flowers looking toward the Sherman Adams building
After the Krummholz zone, at roughly 4,400 feet of elevation, you enter the Alpine zone. Here, no trees make their home. For most of the year, this land is shrouded in fog and battered by winds. Temperatures average around or below freezing over the year, and everything, most of the time, looks relatively dormant. But these remarkable plants that make their home clinging tenuously to the Rockpile and its adjacent peaks are alive. And slowly, they collect the energy to bloom. The results are Alpine slopes painted with fleeting color. Many of the plants and flowers found in the Northern Presidential Alpine Zone are endangered, including Dwarf Cinquefoil, which is unique to the Presidentials and Franconia Ridge in NH. Flowers and sedges that bloom and grow on the Alpine slopes have survived for hundreds of years, finely tuned to eek just enough nutrients and daylight out of the unforgiving climate to briefly bloom.
Taylor Regan, Weather Observer
Figure 4. Mountain Cranberry, Diapensia Lapponica, and Lapland Rosebay
Figure 5. Dwarf Cinquefoil