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Observer Comments

15:48 Fri Mar 24, 2017

The Trip of a Lifetime

Have you been contemplating a visit to the top of the Northeast's highest peak amidst its most exciting season? If the thought's been in the back of your mind, but you haven't (for one reason or another) jumped on the opportunity, there is one last shot for the winter of 2016-2017! A few spots have just opened up on two trips scheduled to embark to Mount Washington’s summit via Mount Washington Observatory’s Snow Cat next week.

The first opportunity is on Thursday, March 30th, which consists of a Day Trip to our summit weather station. There are three spots available on this 1-day excursion to the top of Mount Washington, which includes a ride up and down the mountain in our Snow Cat, a tour of the legendary weather station, some time exploring the outdoors in some of the most extreme weather on the planet, and a home cooked lunch! In addition, you'll have the opportunity to chat with the summit staff who call the summit weather station work and home! To register for this adventure, visit fareharbor.com/mountwashington

 

The second opportunity, for the heartier souls, is for Friday, March 31st-Saturday, April 1st. This trip is an overnight "EduTrip" excursion to the summit of Mount Washington covering the topic of "Life, Work, and the Environment Atop Mount Washington". During this exciting adventure, you'll ascend the summit on Friday and experience firsthand what the summit staff's commute is like every week in the Observatory Snow Cat. Upon arrival, you'll learn more intimately about life and work at the summit weather station from the observers themselves through tours, presentations, a social hour, and even a family-style dinner! You'll then spend the night atop New England in our newly-renovated living quarters, with maybe even a glimpse of the night mountain sky (weather permitting, of course). After a sunrise and breakfast the next morning, you'll visit our interactive summit museum before heading back down to lower elevations in our Snow Cat. There's four spots available on this trip, so hurry up and claim yours today at fareharbor.com/mountwashington

 

If you've been hesitant in the past, or your schedule hasn't allowed it, now's the time to take advantage of this last-minute offer and sign up for this once-in-a-lifetime trip to the largest Alpine Zone in the eastern United States. We hope to see you next week!



Mike Carmon, Senior Weather Observer & Education Specialist
  

12:59 Tue Mar 21, 2017

Another Record Low Coming?

If you’ve been in the Northeast this month, you don’t need a meteorologist to tell you it’s been cold. It almost seems as if February and March have traded their weather to one another. The summit of Mount Washington has been no exception. Even though March is still very much a wintry time, with 45 inches of snow falling on average, the summit staff is continuing to keep tabs on a March not seen for a long time.

Despite the fact that we still have over a week to go in the month, the statistics compiled so far for March indicate an abnormally cold start to meteorological spring. Up to this point, the summit has recorded 6 days this month in which the mercury did not top zero. Back on the 11th, the summit dipped to 35 degrees below zero, shattering the previous record of -26 set all the way back in 1933, the second year of the Observatory’s existence. Tallying all of the days up thus far, March has been almost 10 whole degrees below average. And now, it looks like we may draw close to yet another record low Wednesday and/or Thursday. Both record lows for these two dates, -25 and -26 respectively, have stood since 1934, only the third year the Observatory was operational.

As of Tuesday morning, the cold air waiting in the wings was centered under an area of high pressure over the Canadian Plains.

 

Temperatures over Central Canada as of 10am EDT Tuesday.

A cold front will pass through the region Tuesday, followed by a more potent Arctic front Tuesday night. This will allow the extremely cold air currently locked in Canada to spill southeastward as the high drifts towards us during the day Wednesday. This will result in a temperature freefall for mid-week, with temperatures bottoming out sometime early Thursday morning.

 

Wednesday evening, according to the GFS model. The yellow arrow indicates the clockwise rotation of high pressure, sending extremely cold air from Canada into New England Wednesday night.

The bottoming out of our temperature is what the staff will be watching. Will there be enough cold air to filter in to bring another record low to Mount Washington?

In addition to the extreme cold, with high pressure building in rapidly behind the departing arctic front, the pressure gradient will steepen, elevating our winds over hurricane force just in time for the cold to arrive. Therefore, Wind Chill Warnings have been posted for the higher peaks from Wednesday morning, through the first half of Thursday. Even though the calendar says spring, it’s still the dead of winter on Mount Washington, at least this week. As always, be sure to check our higher summits forecast page, and be prepared for anything if you plan on venturing into the White Mountains.



Nathan Flinchbaugh, Summit Intern
  

09:21 Mon Mar 20, 2017

Welcome Spring!

Today, March 20th, is a glorious day. Let me tell you why. It is the first day of spring! Or, to be more specific, it is the Vernal Equinox, and generally regarded as the first day of spring by most (meteorologists excluded).

The March Equinox heralds spring in the Northern Hemisphere, and fall in the Southern Hemisphere, and is the point where day and night are just about equal in most time zones around the world. The Equinox is celebrated at the same time across the globe, regardless of time zone, and is reflective of the point at which the Sun crosses the celestial equator. At that point in time, the Earth is neither tilted towards nor away from the sun.

This year, the Equinox occured today, on March 20th, at 10:29 UTC, or 6:29 am EDT at Mt. Washington. It is interesting to note that the exact date of the Spring Equinox can vary between March 19, 20, or 21.

For the Northern Hemisphere, spring lasts from the Vernal Equinox until the June Solstice, which marks astronomical summer. Meteorologists, like those up here on the summit, consider the 1st of March as the beginning of Spring, with the season lasting until May 31. This is partially to keep records consistent, by avoiding the year-to-year variation of the Spring Equinox date.

March equinox celebrations occur all around the world, and the day is generally regarded as beginning a season of new life. One superstition holds that you can balance an egg on its end on the equinox. Many ancient monuments were built as astrological calendars, mapping the sun movement over the course of the year.

Fun Fact: Looking to the sky today, you might see the moon in the daylight sky prior to it setting at 11:32 am. Maybe you have wondered in the past why the moon, when visible in daylight, almost appears translucent. Why is this? Referring back to my earlier comment on the colors of sunrise and sunset, Rayleigh scattering is largely responsible for this phenomenon. What you are seeing as you look towards the moon in the blue of the sky as it is scattered from the sunlight. This reflected blue light is in between you and the moon, as a result you are seeing the parts of the moon that are reflecting the sun brightly enough, but the rest that appears translucent is lost through the scattered blue light, making it appear that these parts blend in to the sky.

What does the Vernal Equinox mean for the summit here? Well, you’ve maybe heard the expression, “in like a lion, out like a lamb” regarding March’s weather, hinting that March starts fiercely in the throes of winter, and exits in the calm and rebirth of spring. Well, up on the summit here, winter’s fury has a tendency to linger well into spring (and even sometimes summer, for that matter). But by taking a look at some of our weather stats from the beginning of this month, you can bet the summit staff is ready for a little reprieve!

 

Throwback image of sunrise on the first astrological day of spring, March 20, 2016

As it stands currently, the summit’s average temp for the month of March is a frigid 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit, that’s a whopping 11 degrees below average! Not only have we seen a cold start to the month, but also a windy one. Our average wind speed for the month to date is 49.3 mph, which is almost 10 mph above average (of 40.3 mph). Our snowfall, though we are only about halfway through the month, is just about at our monthly average, (43.7 inches and 45.1 inches, respectively), and our liquid equivalent is just about average for this time of the month at 3.73 inches out of the 7.67 inch monthly average.



Taylor Regan, Weather Observer
  

09:24 Wed Mar 15, 2017

A Storm to Remember

The winds on the morning of Tuesday, March 14th were feeble at best—at least by the standard of a mountain renowned for its regularly high wind speeds. Winds of 10-25 mph out of the southwest brought an eerie lull to the start of a day that promised to be a tempestuous one. Thick clouds obscured any promise of morning sunlight from above, and the clouds with tops below the level of the summit brought that familiar sense of isolation to the summit staff—perhaps an eerie omen that whatever came this day, we were on our own to endure it.

The all-too-familiar fog rolled in to the highest peak in the Northeast around 6:30AM, and the commencement of the snow followed promptly thereafter. Almost on cue, the winds began to pick up as they shifted around to the southeast—the wind direction that prompted our former-world record gust of 231 mph back in April of 1934. Although we were not expecting to match this impressive feat, the seldom-seen wind direction certainly had us contemplating the possibilities.

 
 
By noontime, winds were pushing 50 mph, much sooner than we were anticipating. As the monster Nor'easter rapidly intensified off the eastern seaboard, light snow quickly became heavy snow, blowing sideways as it fell across the rocky summit, making time spent outside ever more challenging.

As heavier bouts of snow began to move in during the early afternoon, we estimated snowfall rates in excess of 5-6" per hour at times. Much to our disappointment, however, catching all of this light powdery fluff was becoming near-impossible by this time as winds concurrently ramped up as they shifted around to the east, quickly becoming sustained over hurricane force by about 2:30PM, with gusts approaching the always-coveted century mark.

Every passing moment we believed the situation could not get any more thrilling, the falling snow would intensify, and the easterly winds would strengthen even further, sending a seemingly-perpetual wall of snow careening over the summit at speeds akin to a Category 4 Hurricane. Our attention became firmly fixed on our Hays Wind Chart, and with each new peak wind gust, we eagerly became spoiled hoping for another, more impressive maximum. Snow and cold air was forced into the cracks in our tower door, turning the interior of our instrumentation tower into a white winter wonderland. Ventures outdoors were short and violent, as the rare easterly wind direction combined with awe-inspiringly dense blowing snow became a challenge to endure, even for the most seasoned of the summit staff.

 

I was lucky enough to be gazing at the Hays Chart when the needle shot over a reading of 9" of water—the highest reading I've ever personally witnessed while on the summit. This calculated to a value of 138 MPH, which would be our peak gust of the event, and our new maximum of the Winter of 2016-2017!

 

The snow continued to fall into the evening, and the winds remained intense, although began to slowly ease up on our hallowed mountain as midnight approached. Seemingly just as quickly as the storm arrived, the deafening roar of the high winds subsided, and the heavy snow eased to a lighter, more delicate descent.

 
By 2AM on Wednesday morning, winds had died off to almost dead calm, a return to the eerie conditions of the night before. Only this time, the damage had been done. 138 MPH and nearly two feet of snow—almost all of which is certainly down in the Ammonoosuc Ravine by now.


Mike Carmon, Senior Weather Observer & Education Specialist
  

19:40 Sat Mar 11, 2017

Viral Video and Impending Nor'easter

Thank goodness I have been taking my Vitamin C up here because we went viral. Weather Observer Adam Gill and IT Director Keith Garrett decided to have a little fun on Thursday and ventured onto the deck to play around in winds sustained near 100 mph with gusts exceeding 110 mph. Keith filmed Adam holding the hurricane flag and struggling to make forward progress while walking across the deck. The footage they captured shows the true power that winds of that magnitude exert on one’s body. After the video was posted on our social media pages and YouTube, it took off immediately and has now reached nearly 2 million people. The video was shared by several major news stations including CNN, FOX News, ABC News, USA Today and The Weather Channel. The attention received by Adam and Keith’s video also drew up some interesting comments/questions. I will quickly address some of my favorites. We love going outside in all elements except for thunderstorms because lightning hurts. Keith is not a bully, in fact while he was filming his hands were very cold while Adam was nice and warm. We would appreciate it if those who pray for the winds to die down up here, instead pray for the winds to ramp up even more (254 mph would be nice). We do need college degrees for this job, and also gear provided by Eastern Mountain Sports to keep us nice and warm. In all seriousness, thanks to everyone who reached out to us in reference to this video! We love interacting with everyone and answering your questions, because we are all truly passionate for this extreme climate.

Our attention is now turning to the potential for a major storm next week. All major forecasting models are showing a Nor’easter that will likely impact New England Tuesday and Wednesday. Each model has a slightly different track, however each one will still drop a significant amount of snowfall across the higher summits here in the White Mountain Region. The GFS (Global Forecasting Model) is currently showing the most snowfall for us on Mount Washington, with 2 feet of snow in the realm of possibility. With this track, the heaviest snowfall would be inland as opposed to along the coastline which is shown by some of the other models. Be sure to monitor the higher summits forecast between now and then to get the latest information!

 

This screenshot is what the GFS model is currently showing for total snowfall by Thursday morning with the White Mountain Region falling in the swath of heaviest accumulations.



Caleb Meute, Weather Observer / Meteorologist
  

16:32 Thu Mar 09, 2017

Winter has Returned! For now

Today we have winds that have well exceeded the century mark with a peak gust of 119 mph! For a short period of time, we were even sustained over 100 mph for about 8 minutes but it was far too gusty to try the century club. Winds have since been breezy, sustained around hurricane force with frequent gusts into the 90s. The peak gust of 119 exceeded my forecasted peak gusts of 100 mph yesterday afternoon. Shortly after submitting the forecast I saw reports of gusts to as high as 80 mph in Rochester NY so I figured I may be a bit low. Luckily our Night Observer forecasted winds gusting over 110 mph for this mornings forecast!

Looking ahead to this weekend it is looking more and more likely that there will be a substantial cool down. Temperatures are expected at this time to plunge to around record low territory on Saturday and Sunday. There has been consistency in the models that 850mb height will fall to 1320 meters (~4300 ft) with temperatures nearing -25°F! Lifting that air to summit level that could cool another 5-10°F putting us in the 30°F below range! Winds will also be ramping up with hurricane force creating very dangerous wind chills. Below is the forecasted 850mb temperatures for early Saturday morning, a bone chilling -31°C right over Mt. Washington!

 

Now I don’t normally trust computer models beyond 5 days due to how much error will be present but there has been a significant Nor’easter consistent for the past couple of days now. This event will not take place until early next week but definitely something snow lovers can keep an eye on! This storm is present in most of the major global forecasting models and the storm tracks are all similar which means there will likely be some sort of strong storm in the vicinity of New England! I am wish casting 2 feet of snow for the summit but that is going to depend greatly on the intensity and path it will end up taking!

 


Adam Gill, Weather Observer/IT Specialist
  

04:49 Tue Mar 07, 2017

Mt Washington Backcountry Ski Festival
If you are in the Mount Washington Valley this coming weekend, March 11-12, 2017, our friend Mark Synnott of Synnott Mountain Guides will be hosting the First Annual Mt Washington Backcountry Ski Festival presented by The North Face. Experienced guides will be leading skiers in sessions geared for a variety of different interests and skill levels. Some topics include: Intro to Backcountry Skiing; Steep & Deep Ski Techniques; Avalanche Awareness; and Huntington Ravine Gully Skiing. Festival participants can also ski on their own, enjoying the beautiful terrain of the White Mountains and utilizing free gear demos. And if staying over the weekend, there is even an Apr's Ski Party Saturday evening with a live band, raffle & auction, food/beverages, and presentations from backcountry ski pros.
 
Observatory staff will be participating on Saturday, March 11th with a booth at Ragged Mountain Equipment in Intervale, NH. If you stop by our table, we will show you how to best utilize the MWO weather pages before heading into the backcountry; including the Higher Summits Forecast. Additionally, we will be providing a LIVE video feed to the summit at 9 am & 5 pm. The video feed will show participants current summit conditions, provide information on how we take weather measurements, and we will conclude both sessions with a Q&A session with one of our Meteorologists. It is shaping up to be a great event and we look forward to seeing you there! 


The Observatory Staff, Mount Washington Observatory
  

10:31 Mon Mar 06, 2017

Mount Washington-Home of the Country’s Least Sunshine?

If you’re lucky enough, you’ve had the opportunity to stand on the summit and experience the amazing view that stretches 130 miles, offering views of the Atlantic and nearby Canada. And if you’re at all familiar with the weather on Mount Washington, you know that you’re lucky, as these days are few and far between. The summit spends a good portion of the year in the clouds, which can quickly suffocate your view from 130 miles, to barely able to see your own feet in a short period of time. With these inherent conditions, you’re not likely to see much in the way of sunshine at the summit either, which begs the question…Is Mount Washington the home of the country’s least sunshine?

In short, the answer is no…but almost. One less known part of our hourly weather observations is the variable “sunshine minutes.” Each hour, along with other vital information we collect, such as temperature and wind speed, the number of minutes we see the sun each day is also carefully recorded. And just like temperature and wind, this information gets sent hourly to the National Weather Service, and eventually to the National Climatic Data Center (or NCDC for short). The NCDC takes our carefully recorded “sunshine minutes” and converts them to a variable called “percent of possible sunshine.” This measurement is the percentage of time that sunshine reached the earth when it was possible (sunrise to sunset).

 

The 5 least sunny locations in the United States, courtesy of NCDC.

NCDC’s results from this calculation indicate that Mount Washington is actually tied for 2nd with Quillayute, WA for the least amount of sunshine in the nation. During the time the sun is up, it is only strong enough to cast a shadow a whopping 33% of the time. Juneau, Alaska takes home the gold medal with merely 30% of possible sunshine. Coming in at the opposite end of the list is Yuma, Arizona, with 90%, making it the sunniest location in the United States.

 

The top 5 sunniest locations in the United States, courtesy of NCDC.

For comparison, below is a graph showing percent of possible sunshine by month for the summit, as well as a few other New England locations.

 

Percent of possible sunshine by month for Mount Washington, and four other New England locations.

At least when it comes to these locations, Boston takes the cake as New England’s sunniest, coming in at an annual average of 58%. Mount Washington obviously lags very far behind, receiving really only half of the sun Boston sees. While areas below tree line receive the most sun during the summer, the peak of Mount Washington actually sees its highest percentage of sun during the shoulder seasons. This is mainly due in part to convective clouds that pass over the summit during the summer, some of which contain thunderstorms; these are not as frequent in the spring or fall. All locations see a drop off in sun during the late fall and early winter, however the drop is much sharper away from the coast.

As we head deeper into meteorological spring, the days will become longer, and hopefully we’ll start to record some more of those sunshine minutes along with the rest of New England. Until then, if you ever find yourself yearning for more sunlight, know that it’s coming, and it could always be worse. Unless you happen to be reading this from Juneau, Alaska!



Nathan Flinchbaugh, Summit Intern
  

15:00 Sun Mar 05, 2017

Why is Sunrise So Colorful?

Have you ever wondered why we see such color in the sky at sunrise or sunset? Or perhaps why we perceive the sky as blue through the majority of the day? The answers to these questions have to do with how visible light reacts in and with our atmosphere.

 

First, let’s take a look at visible light. What is it made of? And why is it white? Visible light, just like radio waves or microwaves, is a form of electromagnetic radiation, and electromagnetic radiation is a form of energy. The sun emits energy, partly in the form of light waves that reach the earth as sunlight. These light waves are emitted in a range of frequencies, which together combine to form the “visible light” portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. Visible light is really a blend of several different frequencies, each of which is perceived as a different color by the human eye, and when combined, appear as white light.

Isaac Newton, in 1666, was the first person to realize that white light was actually a combination of the colors of the rainbow. He demonstrated this by passing a beam of sunlight through a prism to break up the light into its color components. Each of the components of visible light travels along at different wavelengths; as such they are bent differently when passing through a prism, accounting for the spreading out of visible light into a rainbow of color. The image below shows the colors that make up the visible light spectrum, along with the wavelengths of each color. Notice how the colors violet and indigo (at the top) have much shorter wavelengths than red and orange (at the bottom). This is a key factor in why we are able to perceive different colors in the sky at different times of the day.

 

 

Visible light travels in a straight line unless it is reflected, bent or scattered; this is where the atmosphere comes into play. The air around us is made up of many small molecules such as oxygen and nitrogen. These molecules are very small compared to the wavelength of the colors which combine to form visible light. As sunlight reaches the atmosphere, the smaller wavelengths are more effectively scattered over the atmosphere. For example, blue and violet light travels along shorter wavelengths, and are more effectively scattered than red or orange. However, if scattering was the pure driver in color, then humans would actually see the sky as violet. Interestingly, not only is there less violet emitted than blue, but human sight is less sensitive to violet than it is blue. This is because humans have three main color receptors, blue, green, and red, named for the colors they most strongly respond to. As the color receptors are stimulated to different extents, they indicate the variety of colors we see. The image below is an example of a clear sky during the day, in which the deep blue sky is clearly visible above the summit. This is the result of the blue component of sunlight being scattered across the atmosphere.

 
 

You may have noticed that on occasion, the blue of the daytime sky doesn’t seem quite so blue, or that a sunset seems relatively muted. Purity of color can be impacted due to an excess of particles suspended in the atmosphere. When pollutants and other large particles are trapped near the surface, within the boundary layer, the result is that the colors we see are often “washed out.” The particles are too large to effectively scatter the light into its components. The image below depicts a sunset in which a good deal of haze was present, resulting in the pastel peaches and baby blue tones that are present.

 
 
Because large particulates often impede the ability to see pure tones and vibrant colors of sunrises and sunsets, clear air is helpful in witnessing the most “beautiful” sunrises or sunsets. For this reason, winters are especially noteworthy, particularly in the northeast, with the cold, dry, and clear air that is typically sitting overhead. Often times however, simply rising above the boundary layer allows a clearer line of sight between the observer and the setting sun. As seen from a plane, a not so spectacular sunrise/set can become spectacular as you exit the boundary layer because the air is much clearer.
 
All of this leads us back to our main question, why are sunrises and sunsets often so colorful? As the blue light is scattered out into the atmosphere, what remains are the colors with longer wavelengths, such as orange and red. And as the sun gets lower in the sky, the sunlight must past through an increasing amount of the atmosphere, filtering out more of the blues. The diagram below helps to demonstrate the scattering effect through the atmosphere.
 

Diagram by Stephen F. Corfidi “The Colors of Sunset and Twilight” September 2014 

 
While we naturally see more reds and oranges during sunrises or sunsets, there is another element that helps contribute to the most spectacular events. Clouds, composed of water droplets and/or ice crystals help to further add color to the sky by reflecting the light of the setting sun. The compilation below highlights some of the spectacular colors that can be evoked by the atmostphere and the setting sun, with or without the presence of clouds.
 
 


Taylor Regan, Weather Observer
  

22:01 Wed Mar 01, 2017

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
There are several reasons I enjoy working here - the weather (obviously), the people, the views (when we have them), Marty Kitty, and so on and so forth. But what I really enjoy is seeing everything around me evolve over time. For some things, the change is quick - vistas coming and going in between passing clouds, deep piles of snow one minute being scoured off the next, or rain at the start of a shift then snow ending it a few hours later. For other things, the change takes a bit more time - the phases of the moon lighting up my night shift or casting it in darkness one shift week to the next, snow accumulating and then receding with the changes of seasons, or shorts and t-shirts giving way to men and women completely covered head to toe in several layers. Going further in time, additional changes take place - new interns, new coworkers on the summit and the valley, or a changing of the guard with our feline buddy. No matter if it is short term or long term, life is continually changing.
 
I was reminded about change as we were heading up for shift change this week. When we were coming up last shift on February 14th, I later wrote about digging out our Auto Road Vertical Profile Mesonet site. On that day, we were heading up to the summit after several feet of new snow fell on and around the White Mountains. This resulted in chest to chin deep snow that required a lot of shoveling at each mesonet site. As we headed down on the 22nd, we passed these sites again and all of them experienced the snow compacting and melting making our work the week prior appear less prominent as it took on the characteristics of a wilting Jack-o-Lantern after halloween. After an additional week of warm temperatures, warm fog (a huge snow “eater”), and rain, by the time we came up on the 28th, all of our work was all but a distant memory. With today's warmth, fog, and rain, I am sure the snowpack has shrunk even further. However, there is a coldspell and some snow expected for the remainder of this shift week. So who knows what we will encounter when we eventually head down next week. In all honestly though, I can’t wait to see the changes that lie ahead, this week and beyond. (BTW, you can track those expected changes in our Higher Summits Forecast)
 
ARVP 4300 feet snow comparisionARVP 4300 ft Snow-pack Comparison - Top Row - Before/After on 2/14; Lower Left - 2/22; Lower Right - 2/28


Ryan Knapp, Weather Observer/Staff Meteorologist
  
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