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Observer Comments

22:07 Mon Jan 16, 2017

Trip Season!

Well it has been a while since I have been on shift during trip season and I can honestly say that I am pumped for it to have started back up! This past shift we had two climbing trips hike up to the summit and stay overnight with us. These trips are awesome for anyone interested in learning how to hike in these extreme conditions in a safe manner. I personally do not have experience with this type of winter hiking, so I think it is something that I should consider at some point. I rely on our Snowcat to get up to the summit, which is likely the reason I have no experience. The Snowcat requires a lot less energy on my part though so I think I am okay with that for now. When the climbing trips arrive at the summit, we welcome them inside and after a brief period of settling in we all gather for delicious appetizers cooked by our volunteers. After about an hour of socializing and eating, we move on to the kitchen for a home cooked meal once again prepared by our wonderful volunteers. This has gotten me into some trouble this week with eating too much food. As the night observer, I wake up usually just before they arrive at the summit and I always feel the need to eat a little breakfast. After breakfast, it is time for the appetizers and then once I am about full, it is dinnertime. This has made for some uncomfortable nights for me this past week but the food is too good to pass up. After dinner is over, the guests receive a tour of our weather station and then generally hang out for a bit before going to bed. When they wake up, breakfast is waiting for them, once again prepared by our volunteers. Unfortunately, I miss this part because I am already asleep, but if I do not want to gain 10 pounds per shift this is probably a good thing. After breakfast, the group then begins their hike down to finish out an eventful couple of days. The first group this week woke up to winds gusting over 100 mph. Luckily they quickly weakened into the 50-70 mph range… Not a big deal right? This is when guides really come in handy!

Today a day trip made the trek up to the summit in our Snowcat. I would most likely take this route if I were being honest. I would go into detail with these trips but I am asleep for the entirety of them, so for any personal accounts, a day observer should take the helm.

These are great ways to experience the extreme conditions up here on the summit! The volunteer program is a benefit for our awesome members and they come up here for the whole shift with us. It can get busy, especially during the winter but it gives anyone the opportunity to experience the extreme climate for a week straight! If you don’t want to be up here for a full week, check out our Educational Overnight Trips, Summer or Winter Day Trips or Partner-led Climbing Trips at: https://www.mountwashington.org/experience-the-weather/summit-adventures/

Caleb Meute, Weather Observer / Meteorologist

14:05 Sat Jan 14, 2017

Under the Weather on the Summit

When living and working on the summit for a week at a time, you are bound to get sick at least once or twice a year while at the Observatory. I always hope that I will catch that cold while in the valley on my off week so I can relax and recover without having to worry about work at all. This off week I did fall ill and unfortunately it was on Tuesday, the day before heading up for this shift. Luckily the Tuesday was the worst day and I was able to relax and recover a bit so I would be able to show up and make it up the mountain for my shift.

We do have the option to miss shift change if we are feeling to bad and can get a ride up later in the week with State Park or on one of the road plowing trips we do to help keep up with the snow. I felt good enough by the morning to be able to get up because with the weather forecast it looks like the next trip up the mountain would not have been until today (Saturday) and that is a long time to leave my co-workers with all the summit duties. I did end up taking much of the day on Thursday off to rest up and recover fully.

There are other times where you are already on the summit when the cold or flu strikes. When this happens, the observers who are not sick will take most or all of that persons daily duties so they can recover faster by resting. If the illness is too bad, we can get the snow cat to come up and retrieve the person. Though due to the tight living quarters, once one person gets sick, more of the staff on the summit will get sick over the following days!

Adam Gill, Weather Observer/IT Specialist

10:13 Thu Jan 12, 2017

Plowing Through Shift Change Challenges

There are a host of operational challenges of the Mount Washington Observatory's summit weather station, as one can imagine! One of the trickiest parts of our jobs is the weekly commute to work. Shift changes in the winter time, which traditionally take place on Wednesdays, can be a breeze, with the Snow Cat cruising to the summit in an hour or so.

However, this is Mount Washington. The place where simple-sounding tasks become complex feats of ingenuity as snow, fog, and wind produce a distinctively complicated environment to traverse. Yesterday's weekly shift change was no exception to this.

The summit picked up 4.5 inches of snowfall with the storm system that moved through New England on Tuesday night. Doesn't sound like much, right? Well, when you add hurricane force winds to the equation, it only takes 3-4 inches of snowfall to yield some massive snow drifts. Unfortunately for my crew yesterday, those drifts decided to plant themselves on one section of our normal path to the summit, impeding our ability to get through via Snow Cat.

 Note the blowing snow coming off the summit near the top-right of the image. Despite the bluebird day, blowing snow was the culprit yesterday!

It’s a funny story, as the skies were relatively clear, with sun shining, and temperatures on the decidedly warmer side (20-30°F) coming up yesterday. However, the 5-6 foot drifts (bigger in some cases) were enough to make our ride decidedly complicated. Thanks to some work by our talented Snow Cat operators for both the Observatory and the Mt. Washington State Park, we were able to get through to the summit in the fading light of the evening.

 The summit visible in the distance.
All in all, it took us a grand total of 6 hours to get from base to summit yesterday, ultimately arriving on at our summit station right around 5PM as the sun set on a challenging Mount Washington day.

After yesterday's trials and tribulations, we're all crossing our fingers for a bout of high pressure next Wednesday! But again—this is Mount Washington.

And this is why we're all here.

The fading light of Wednesday as we near the summit station!

Mike Carmon, Senior Weather Observer & Education Specialist

05:37 Tue Jan 10, 2017

What is a Cloud?

The summit of Mount Washington spends, on average, 60% of its time in the fog, sometimes meaning that the only cloud in the sky is hovering right at the summit. So, you could say we see our fair share of clouds, and maybe more. But what is a cloud? And how and why do they occur?

Clouds are made up of tiny droplets of water that condense around particles in the air, such as dust or pollen, and are small enough to stay suspended in the atmosphere. Because the droplets are so tiny, they are able to remain liquid down to very cold temperatures, as much as -22F below zero. In fact, only in the highest clouds do the water droplets turn to ice.

Water vapor is present to some degree in all air. When the air cools or expands to a certain degree, it allows the water vapor to condense into small droplets of liquid water. These droplets “stick” to small particles in the air, which is the start of a cloud. Eventually, bigger and bigger droplets form and the cloud begins to take a more pronounced shape.

For the water vapor to condense the air needs to be saturated, this means that it cannot hold any more water vapor. Air can become saturated by a few different means. Firstly, the amount of water vapor in the air could be increased. This could be through evaporation for example, from Earth’s surface. Another way for the air to become saturated is by cooling it to its dew point, which is the point at which condensation occurs.

Different types of clouds form as a result of different initiating factors and weather conditions. In 1803, Luke Howard published a book entitled “The Modifications of Clouds” in which he attempted to classify clouds based on common themes. The World Meteorological Organization adopted the system, and has since added to it, resulting in ten major cloud groups, called genera, divided into three levels (low, medium, and high) depending on their typical location in the atmosphere. Clouds are then further classified by species. Location and shape are two major features used to classify clouds.

 Depiction of cloud types with their associated heights

Taylor Regan, Weather Observer

17:24 Thu Jan 05, 2017

A Great Opportunity!

My name is Meghan and I am a junior meteorology major at Plymouth State University. I have the wonderful opportunity of interning at the Mount Washington Observatory in the middle of January. I believe it is every meteorologists dream to experience extreme weather but it doesn’t necessarily happen when you’re studying in classrooms every day. I will be living on the summit for two weeks where I get to work alongside the observers as they take observations and make forecasts. The observatory is a great place to learn and it allows me to get real world experience. During my second day at the summit there was an average sustained wind speed of about 70 mph with a peak gust of 101mph. That’s pretty strong! It was fun trying to walk and run around with such a strong force pushing against me. An experience I would recommend to everyone.

            During my time on the summit I will be working on a research project involving the dry adiabatic lapse rate. In regards to climatology, it was observed that the summit of Mt Washington is warming at a slower rate than other areas in the region. It is hypothesized that this phenomena is a result of the location of the boundary layer. It is common for the observatory to be in the clouds above the boundary layer. My research project will include calculating the lapse rates between different stations located on the mountain. I will plot the data sets (monthly, seasonally, etc.) and take note of any trends that appear. My research will help meteorologists better understand the atmosphere on Mt Washington.

Looking up to the summit from Jackson, NH

Meghan Wells, PSU Research Intern

21:19 Sun Jan 01, 2017

Second Snowiest December on Record!

Well December 2016 was a bit snowier than December 2015 and just about every other December since our establishment in 1932 for that matter. 93.6 inches of snow fell on the summit this past month which falls 10.1 inches short of the snowiest December on record which was in 1968 when 103.7 inches fell. That makes this past December the second snowiest on record! 1968 actually marked the snowiest winter on record with 566 inches falling. I know that up here on the summit, we observers are certainly hoping that this winter rivals that of 1968. I think all of the New England ski resorts would also be okay with that, unless they don’t like money, or people, or keeping the trails groomed.  

I have really been enjoying this winter so far up here, especially considering I took a break from working for the Observatory and returned to Pennsylvania for a year. While I was back in Pennsylvania, we did get a remarkable snowstorm, but it really fails in comparison to any big snow events we receive here on the summit. I will take this past Nor’easter as an example. The track that the center of the low ended up taking was a bit further east than initially forecasted which affected our snowfall totals. While we did end up receiving over 20 inches of snow, the real story and what made this event truly intense was the high winds combined with thick fog and blowing snow. While the storm was lashing out on New England, the winds began to pick up on the summit overnight at an astounding rate. I was feeling rather underwhelmed by the storm for the hours leading up to my overnight precipitation can collection, but that would quickly change. Winds swiftly accelerated prior to me venturing to the can, becoming sustained just shy of hurricane force with higher gusts. I have heard the other observers talking about how intense and disorienting it can be during these types of storms, but this was my first true exposure. With falling snow combined with thick fog and blowing snow, the visibility at times can fall so low that it is hard to tell what direction you are even walking. I paid careful attention to walk in a straight line to the can, but with the winds whipping and snowdrifts up to my waist it became so difficult to focus on everything. Your brain can so quickly become confused and overwhelmed. Fortunately, there are some lights around the Sherman Adams Building that I could dimly make out and was able to keep in my peripheral sight. When I thought I was about at the edge of the building and had 100 feet or so to reach the front door, I suddenly realized I was actually at the front door and about to walk right past it…

We are certainly hoping that this active weather pattern continues through January so we can keep piling onto the already significant snowpack across the White Mountains. A potent storm system will move through New England Tuesday afternoon and into Wednesday. Unfortunately, the likely scenario with this system will be for precipitation to fall as a mixed batch with an increasing chance for significant ice accumulations Tuesday night as warmer air looks to accompany the storm.

Caleb Meute, Weather Observer / Meteorologist


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