Observer Comments

14:41 Mon Apr 12, 2021

Big Wind Day 2021
In years past, this annual blog post has taken a scientific approach and described the overall weather pattern of the system that brought several 220+ mph and two 231 mph wind gusts out of the SE, which is a relatively uncommon flow pattern. Each, from a slightly different perspective, which over time, has built quite a robust history of the event on our Blog. There are three, in particular, that stand out to me written in recent years, and after these brief synopsis', I encourage you to go back and read them as well. There is a lot to appreciate about that day, now 87 years ago, and I found this to be an opportunity to appreciate more than just one or two aspects of what occurred then.
 
The first written last year, the 86th Anniversary of the “Big Wind”, Dr. Eric Kelsey. I found this post to be of interest to me because it makes the connection between the instruments, the effort involved with maintaining the instruments during such an event, the calibration, and the process of verification of this world-breaking wind gust record. The article begins with a synopsis of the weather event and how it evolved, which is not dissimilar to how some systems continue to form to this day, but each system is unique and this one packed one heck of a wallop to the summit of Mount Washington (figure 1). The skies just two days before were crystal clear and the winds were unusually light. Around sunset offered the first harbinger of the storm to come: reddish cirrus clouds to the west and a pair of sundogs. Those cirrus clouds were advancing eastward from an extratropical cyclone of moderate intensity tracking eastward through the Great Lakes. On 11 April, it moved into southern Canada while a stronger secondary low developed off the mid-Atlantic coast. Concurrently, a high pressure center retreating northeastward from Maine into the Canadian Maritimes also strengthened and became stationary over Labrador, which increased the pressure gradient between the coastal low and the high.
 
Figure 1: Sea-level pressure analysis valid 9:00 a.m. EST on 12 April 1934 just hours before the 231 mph gust. A low pressure system centered just south of New England intensified and tracked slowly northwestward during the day. From the U.S. Weather Bureau (now the National Weather Service).
 
A third feature became involved and may have been the critical disturbance to intensify the summit winds to over 200 mph. A weak low pressure system just northwest of Bermuda tracked northwestward and was absorbed by the developing coastal cyclone south of New England. The merging of these two cyclones increased the strength of its circulation and the southeast winds to its north across New England. With the blocking high pressure over Labrador preventing the typical northeast advancement of the cyclone, the pressure gradient tightened across New England and produced over 24 hours of winds over 100 mph at the summit Mount Washington.”
 
Another feature of this system is the length of flow from the southeast to northwest, and the slight dip towards the southwest in the lines of equal pressure, isobars (figure 1). Flow generally moves along these lines. Given the distance and described temperatures changes in the next article, these winds had ample time and energy to build as energy was absorbed from the water of the spring time warming Atlantic. Then, there appears to be a dip and tightening of the isobars above northern New England, which would likely nudge them even higher.
 
Following the weather synopsis, the article goes on to explain the happenings of the events, and what actually went into the recording of the 231-mph wind gust. De-icing the Heated Number 2 anemometer (figure 2) in winds over 150 mph, prior to the record wind gust, I find it hard to imagine, even as one of the current observers on the summit. The difficulties Sal Pagliuca, Alex McKenzie, and Wendell Stephenson (“Steve”) must have dealt with astound and also motivate me.
 
Figure 2: MWO Observers Alexander McKenzie (left) and Sal Pagliuca (right) check the tension of the guy wires on the Heated Number 2 anemometer.
 
The second blog post I’d like to bring your attention to was written in 2018, “Big Wind Day” by past Weather Observer, Taylor Regan. This article, I appreciate because it delves into the depths of the daily weather maps of the time period and quoted some of the observations made from around the eastern US. The following from Washington, D.C., Thursday, April 12, 1934 – 8 A.M. (E.S.T.); “A disturbance of great intensity is central this morning over Connecticut, New Haven, 29.26 inches. Pressure is high from the Rocky Mountain region eastward to the Mississippi Valley, Rapid City, S. Dak., 30.54 inches.” Regan also took snippets from the observer log book and quoted Sal Pagliuca "I dropped all other activities and concentrated on observations. Everyone in the house was ‘mobilized’ as during a war attack and assigned a job. The instruments were watched continuously so that they may give a continuous and accurate record of the various meteorological elements at work. The anemometer was particularly watched. A full tank of gasoline made us feel good." -Log Book entry, Sal Pagliuca. The intent and conciseness of the above quote really describes the seriousness of the day. Another quote stands out to me due to its caring nature for the integrity of data and I extrapolate to character as well; "Will they believe it?' was our first thought. I felt then the full responsibility of that startling measurement. Was my timing correct? Was the method OK? Was the calibration curve right? Was the stopwatch accurate?" -Log Book entry, Sal Pagliuca. Questioning yourself after such an event, I believe, to a natural thing to do when you truly care about the integrity of your work.
 
The last article I want to bring your attention to is not the least important one, but just the one I read last in this set of three as I went through the years. "Will They Believe It?": The Story of Big Wind Day - past Weather Observer, Mike Carmon brought the previous two full circle and back to the present day, which I found to be a fascinating experience. It made me think about the more intricate and personal experiences of the Observers, two friends of Sal’s and three cats with a litter of 5 kittens less than a week old.
 
It is hard to imagine what a 231-mph wind gust sounds and feels like. I imagine it from my own perspective, which is from the inside of a building constructed around 45+ years later, at a different location on the summit. The Mount Washington Observatory leases space on the NW end of the New Hampshire Mount Washington State Park, Sherman Adams Building. My own experience with high winds is from this perspective; a more modern (40-year-old building with a complete heating system, re-enforced concrete walls, and windows that should be able to withstand 300-mph winds. Having said that, it's not like high winds don’t have an effect on the Sherman Adams Building. High winds have multiple impacts on the buildings and structures on the summit and what I find so interesting are the different effects that wind direction has.
 
The predominant flow regime over the summit of Mount Washington is from the W, with the second most common flow regime from the NW. The current instrument tower is positioned in the NW quadrant as the most northwestern structure on the summit. The positioning of the Observatory and the instrument tower is thought to be the most accurate position to record the predominant flow over the summit. Back on April 12th, 1934, the day the infamous 231-mph Big Wind occurred, the Observatory was positioned on the SE quadrant of the summit with obstacles such as a hotel to the west and southwest of the Observatory. It was an A-Frame style roof, constructed of beams with wood shingles as the exterior. The small structure (figure 3), was the kitchen, their sleeping and dining quarters, their work station (figure 4), their maintenance workspace, their heating space, drying space. Everything was done in the building below. The Sherman Adams Building gets pretty cold in high winds and cold temperatures. During some events, it can be difficult for the weather room, and the rest of the building to maintain heat. I can only imagine how difficult it was to maintain the heat in the early 1930s structure with winds in excess of 200 mph pulling the heat right out. Or any of the tasks that current observers complete today, but 87 years ago.
 
Figure 3: Unknown observers tending to their duties in the original Observatory building.
 
Figure 4: Data being recorded into a logbook at a workstation inside.
 
All three of the blog posts discussed in this years “Big Wind” celebration blog post, exhibit varying aspects pertaining to the storm system, the instruments and grueling work involved in their maintenance, the integrity and quality of the data through its verification process, and what those fabled three observers went through and felt throughout April 12th, 1934. I hope I helped to encompass all of these qualities in this year’s “Big Wind” blog post. To this day, the 231-mph wind gust stands as the fastest wind speed that has ever been observed and recorded by humans.


Jay Broccolo, Weather Observer/Meteorologist
  

08:39 Thu Apr 08, 2021

How Will You Seek Your Peak During Seek the Peak?

Seek the Peak is ramping up and the event, this year and in the future, will be much more of a Mount Washington Adventure Expo featuring many human-powered sports. Seek the Peak, is the Mount Washington Observatory’s largest and grandest annual fundraising event and has, in the past 20 years, been about getting out and hiking in support of the Observatory. It is through this important event and member support that critical funds are raised to enable the non-profit Mount Washington Observatory to provide a range of forecasts that adventure seekers in the region use to make informed decisions on any kind of recreation in the White Mountains. We are keen on enhancing the experience that is Seek the Peak and want to bring everyone who shares this passion together in support of the White Mountains and the Mount Washington Observatory. This year's event will showcase what Mount Washington Valley has to offer, and will provide resources to encourage safe and responsible use of our natural resources. Supporters of the event reach far and wide, from our member and volunteer base, to many partners such as the Mt. Washington Auto Road, the Mt. Washington State Park, the Cog Railway, Oboz Footwear, Eastern Mountain Sports, and many more recreational organizations, nonprofits and businesses that make up the Mount Washington Valley, at the core of these organizations, is a passion for our community and the outdoors.

The Mission of Seek Your Peak is to cultivate and sustain connection to and stewardship of the nonprofit Mount Washington Observatory and White Mountains Region. These goals will be achieved by utilizing our natural spaces in a responsible manner in order to create a wide-range of adventures on our trails, cliffs, and waterways. By leveraging our community’s passion for discovery and exploration we will simultaneously build capacity in support of the critical mission of the observatory. Whether you are a new explorer or a seasoned trailblazer we want you to join us in the outdoors in our amazing playground encapsulated in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. To support this initiative, my coworker Charlie and I are working with others to develop a well-rounded archive of destinations, guide services, vendors and gear shops; a guide book of sorts on how to plan your adventure. In the guide book you will find a range of activities and destinations from hiking and climbing to paddling and biking. Fancy some fishing? Then check out the guide for some fishing spots and where to get the gear and what permits may be required. The guide will be full of some of the Observatory’s staff’s favorite destinations as well! All really exciting stuff and we hope you all think so as well. One of Seek the Peak’s volunteers and fundraisers from last year, Christina, sure seems to think so.

 
Christina Cozzens, volunteer and fund raiser, enjoying her hike during Seek the Peak in 2019.
 
Seek Your Peak – Mount Washington's Adventure Expo will set up base camp at the Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center in Gorham where participants and others can come and hear from the experts, learn all about available guide services, and see the latest and greatest gear from Eastern Mountain Sports, Oboz Footwear, and many others, all in support of the White Mountains and the Mount Washington Observatory. I hope to see you there! Be sure to register for the Adventure Expo and find the latest information on Seek Your Peak, follow here at https://secure.qgiv.com/event/stp2021/. Until July, enjoy the warming conditions and if you are heading out before the event, always check the weather prior to starting your adventure at https://www.mountwashington.org/experience-the-weather/higher-summit-forecast.aspx.


Jay Broccolo, Weather Observer/Meteorologist
  
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