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Observer Comments

10:15 Sat Mar 17, 2018

What is a nor'easter?

You may have heard the term ‘nor’easter’ used in the news or from our forecasts during the past couple months. You might think “We get storms all the time. But what exactly would define a storm as being a nor’easter?” That is what I will be talking about in this blog post.

The Weather Channel defines a nor’easter as a “strong area of low pressure along the East Coast of the United States that typically features winds from the northeast off the Atlantic Ocean”. They are a result of air temperatures over land being much colder than air temperatures over the ocean during the winter and early spring months. The difference in temperature between the warm air over the water and cold air over land provides the instability and energy needed to develop and fuel nor’easters. 

A typical setup for a nor’easter (Weather.com).
The polar jet stream transports cold air southward out of Canada into the U.S., then eastward toward the Atlantic Ocean where warm air from the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic tries to move northward. This is why the U.S. East Coast is an ideal spot for nor’easters. The areas located closer to the coast (such as Boston, New York City, etc.) will be more vulnerable to this type of storm.

A nor’easter can bring heavy rain or snow, strong winds, and coastal flooding to the affected locations. Keep an eye on the weather in order to be sure when to take the proper steps to prepare. This includes stocking up on extra food and water, just in case you were to lose power for a couple days due to trees and power lines being knocked down by strong winds. It will also include staying off of the flooded/snow-covered roads until flooding subsides or they are plowed.

Jillian Reynolds, Summit Intern

21:59 Mon Mar 12, 2018

Response to a Common Question
In the 12+ years I have worked on the summit, the most common inquiry I have had to answer via email, direct messaging, social media comments, or otherwise is some iteration of, “I plan to hike/visit Mt. Washington on so-and-so day. What’s the weather forecast for that day? And what would be the easiest trail on the mountain?” While I know I will likely have to answer this a few more times over the course of 2018 (and beyond) I figured I would share my response so I might help out one or a few of those individuals out there wondering the same thing.
We (the Mount Washington Observatory) unfortunately do not provide extended forecasts due to the variability of the summit weather nor do we provide personalized forecasts due to liability issues. However I can certainly run you through how to prepare for and get to know the weather and trail conditions for your hike.
The first thing to examine is what the weather typically is for that time of year by looking at our normal, means, and extremes: http://www.mountwashington.org/weather/normals.php. This will give you a rough idea as to what to expect overall on any given month.
Additionally you can check out our most recent copies of WS Form F-6: https://www.mountwashington.org/experience-the-weather/mount-washington-weather-archives/monthly-f6.aspx. These PDF's are available for the past decade or so and provide an overall summary of the weather broken down by year, month, and day.
When the date of you hike finally approaches, you can turn to our 48 hour higher summits forecast (updated twice a day no later than 5 am and pm): https://www.mountwashington.org/experience-the-weather/higher-summit-forecast.aspx and NWS's 36 hour higher
summits forecasts: https://www.weather.gov/gyx/AllLocationsText?loc=MOUNT%20WASHINGTON. You can also try a computer generated forecast through sites such as accuweather, weather.com, or any other site you might be familiar with by entering our zip code 03589 (note though that not every website or app recognizes us as a known location) or the zip code/city names of neighboring towns/cities/villages (Conway, Berlin, Twin Mountain, etc). Automated forecasts for the summit have a difficult time providing a realistic outlook as the algorithms used tend to put our location lower in elevation and slightly further south. This results in the automated app/website typically making us appear calmer, warmer, drier, and clearer with numbers way far off from reality (I have tested several apps and none have aligned with reality for the summit). However, using an app/website with extended forecasts can help out in giving a generalized idea of what the weather might be; for instance, if the app is calling for precipitation in Conway, it is likely going to precipitate here too. So you can use an automated service for a rough extended forecast then turn to our 48 hour forecast for additional details as the date(s) of your hike approach.
Boott Spur at sunriseLooking towards Boott Spur Trail at sunrise 12 March 2018
As for checking trail and road conditions, I wrote an Observer Comment awhile back touching upon most of the resources that people should check before planning any trips in the northern half of NH. It was written after Hurricane Irene however most of it still applies. The full comment can be read on our archive and then searching for August 31, 2011 (or clicking HERE). To get to the sites referenced in the blog entry, just click on any highlighted/underlined words to be taken to the various websites. Since it is an older entry, some of the links no longer work, but the important ones and ones relevant to your hike are still working correctly and a Google inquiry can usually direct you to the updated links that might be broken. Additionally, you can look through the various resources and guidelines on the AMC page here: http://www.outdoors.org/recreation/hiking/hiking-mtwashington.cfm.
There unfortunately is NO “easy” way up/down the summit by foot. However, the most commonly used way to the summit is from the eastern side via the Tuckerman/Lion Head Trail routes as it is the shortest by distance. But read over trail descriptions and look over topo maps and you will see that you will be going straight up a glacial headwall for half of the trail. So short, but by no means easy. This trail starts at the AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor Center where it is advised to stop in, sign the log book, and get a last minute update on current weather and trail conditions. You will then take the Tuckerman Ravine Trail up until it forks with the Lion Head Trail Summer/Winter Routes. During the summer months, one can either take the Tuckerman Ravine Trail or the Lion Head Summer Route up/down (or make a loop out of them). However, during this time of year, the trail in the ravine is still closed due to snow/avalanche dangers, so Lions Head Winter Route will need to be taken up/down. There are plenty of online resources with information about what to pack for the season you are interested in however, regardless of the season, the 10 essentials should always be packed.
Lastly, all summit facilities and transportation are currently closed for the winter season. When they reopen for the late spring to early fall season, all summit facilities and transportation (in case you are planning to take them down) only operate during the day and are all weather dependent (for instance, if it becomes icy, operations might become limited, close early, or not operate all together). Additionally, all transportation options are based around a first-come first-serve basis and only if space if available. So be sure to pack plenty of food, water, and adequate clothing as you will be responsible for not only getting up but back down as well. Have a turn around time and listen to your body/conscience. In every season on any mountain, it is ALWAYS safer to head back down than it is to continue up as trail conditions and more importantly, weather will always get worse the higher you ascend. Since we (MWO) operate independently from NH State Parks, Mt Washington Auto Road, The Cog, and the AMC, any inquires about their various operations should be directed towards them directly. The AMC page is linked above but the other pages are:
The Mount Washington Auto Road: http://mtwashingtonautoroad.com/
I hope this helps in your planning and I hope you have a safe and enjoyable hike on the so-and-so date of your choosing.
Northern Presidentials at sunriseLooking north at sunrise 12 March 2018

Ryan Knapp, Weather Observer/Staff Meteorologist

15:25 Sat Mar 10, 2018

March - In Like a Lion...

As I write this blog post, winds outside are howling at hurricane-force, whipping up nearly a foot of newly fallen (and still falling) snow and hurling it through the air, just one element of the summit milieu that both deprives and overstimulates the senses. The ground rumbles underfoot and cold seeps in relentlessly through even the warmest layers. The ground and sky cease to maintain their autonomy and blend seamlessly into an ever constricting blanket of milky white: visibility is down to inches. Tumultuous eddies of broken snowflakes sandblast any and all surfaces, including myself, as I step outside for a routine weather observation. In like a lion, the saying goes, and yet, conditions like this are what the summit of Mount Washington routinely delivers on a mid-March day.

With an average temperature of 12.8°F, March is the 4th coldest month on the summit of Mt. Washington. In terms of temperature swings, the month sports a record high of 54°F, and a record low of -38°F! It is also the second snowiest month of the year averaging 45.1 inches: just December’s average 45.5 inches. Winds blast the summit with an average velocity of 40.3 mph over the month, and have gusted as high as 180 mph (1942). Make no mistake, March atop the Northeast’s highest peak is fierce, and while winter may begin to relax its grasp on the remainder of the region around this time of year, it remains firmly entrenched atop the Rockpile for many weeks to come.

Only ten days into March, and the summit has already picked up nearly 30 inches of snow. This trend doesn’t look to slow down any time soon, with another potential Nor’easter on the way to usher in the work week. For comparison, at this time last year, the summit had recorded only about 12 inches of snow for the month of March to-date. What a difference a year makes!

Snowy SunriseFigure 1. Sunrise with calm winds, undercast, and several inches of freshly fallen snow blanketing a sleepy summit.
FootstepsFigure 2. Footprints in several inches of freshly fallen snow, illuminated at sunrise.

For those of you interested in experiencing winter weather on the summit firsthand, I encourage you to check out winter daytrips. Four spots have recently become available, but they probably won’t be available for long. Winter daytrips include transportation to the summit in our SnowCat, as well as lunch on the summit and a tour of our weather station, plus the opportunity to chat with weather observers about life and work atop this storied place. More details are available on our website at mountwashington.org/trips.

Taylor Regan, Weather Observer

13:39 Fri Mar 09, 2018

Slinging Science!

Every hour for the past 85 years, one of Mount Washington’s weather observers has stepped out onto the Observatory’s deck to take a manual weather observation. In addition to noting visibility and cloud formations, they also use an instrument called a sling psychrometer to take wet-bulb and dry-bulb temperature measurements, which are important for calculating relative humidity (the amount of water vapor present in the air). On a day when the summit is shrouded in fog, the air is completely saturated and has a relative humidity of 100%. On any other day, however, this measurement needs to be taken.


Taking a measurement with the sling psychrometer.

A sling psychrometer is made up of two thermometers attached to a spinning handle: a dry-bulb thermometer, which is identical to a typical thermometer, and a wet-bulb thermometer, which has a piece of wet cloth wrapped around the end. To take a reading, the sling psychrometer is slung around in circles, and water begins to evaporate out of the cloth at the end of the wet-bulb thermometer.

When water evaporates, it changes from a lower-energy state (liquid water) to a higher-energy state (water vapor). In order to achieve this higher state, the water molecules need energy, and so they take it from their environment in the form of heat. As more and more water evaporates from the end of the wet-bulb thermometer, more heat is taken from it and the temperature reading drops. When the air can’t hold any more water vapor, water stops evaporating from the end of the thermometer and we have our wet-bulb temperature! A day with higher humidity will have a wet-bulb temperature closer to the dry-bulb temperature, because less water will evaporate from the end of the thermometer and less heat will be removed.

This process is similar to how the human body regulates its temperature. When the body starts to grow too hot, it produces sweat. The sweat evaporates, taking heat away from the body and cooling it down. This is why a humid day feels more uncomfortable than a dry day: the body can’t rid itself of excess heat by evaporating all of its sweat. Take extra care on humid days to avoid overheating!

Sarah Schulte, Summit Intern

21:44 Tue Mar 06, 2018

Looking in the Rear View Mirror – A Summary of February, 2018

February was warm, but not the warmest! While scrolling through our records, it appears that three previous Februaries had higher average temperatures than 2018. That puts February, 2018 at the fourth warmest since our records began with an average temperature of 12.9°F. With that being said, this past month sure packed a punch at times as we set the monthly record high temperature on the 21st at 48°F. The previous record was set the day before at 45°F BUT prior to that, the record high for February was 43°F which was set on February 11, 1981 and equaled on February 12, 1999.

This past month, Ryan and I (Night Observers) were not the only ones who did not see the sun. As it turned out, all of us working atop the Rockpile were in jeopardy of a vitamin D deficiency. Every day in February had the summits shrouded in fog for at least part of the day, which obscured the sunlight from view. It was not just fog that kept the summits from basking in the warmth of the sun, but also overhead cloudiness that was an issue. One of the parameters that we observe on an hourly basis is sky cover. A sky cover of 0 would indicate clear skies with no clouds in sight, whereas a sky cover of 10 would indicate overcast skies. For the month of February, our average sky cover ended up as a 9. Because of the persistent fog and cloudiness, the summits experienced only 19% of possible sunshine minutes through the month of February!

Precipitation ended up being fairly close to normal for us, as we average 6.77 inches of liquid precipitation and 40.1 inches of snow. This past February saw 6.73 inches of liquid precipitation fall as rain, freezing rain, sleet and 51.6 inches of snow. Snowfall was above normal for the month, but due to the extreme warm stretches, our snowpack was decimated across the White Mountains, and we now have only 5 inches here at the summit.

Our snowpack is about to get a substantial boost though! The potent Nor’easter is beginning to take shape off the Mid-Atlantic coastline looking to trek towards the Gulf of Maine over the next 24 hours. We are expecting upwards of 2 feet by the time the snowfall tapers at the end of the workweek. February was a bit dull per Mount Washington standards, but the way March is beginning… Well we hope it acts like a lion throughout, keeping the lambs in a herd somewhere far away from here.

Caleb Meute, Weather Observer / Meteorologist

17:33 Sun Mar 04, 2018

Upcoming Storm

With this last Nor’easter back on the 2nd of March still fresh on the minds of people, another Nor’easter is taking aim at New England. This time around, the storm is looking like it will be weaker than the last storm but it will be colder, so more areas will see accumulating snow fall. The March 2nd storm impacted Southern New England much more then it affected our region. The maximum winds we saw only topped out at 98 mph for the storm. The center of the low was just a little too far to our south to really bring the high winds. If this storm was even just 100 miles further north, we could have seen some epic winds. Wind gusts could have topped out over 130 mph, probably getting up into the 140 mph range. So enough with what could have happened, let’s move on.

For this next storm, I will be using the GFS modeled forecast. Many of the different global and local models are starting to come into agreement so a storm is looking likely for New England. This is preliminary and be sure to regularly check your local forecast over the next few days to get the latest information. I will not be going into any snowfall totals because for a coastal storm, it is too early to be throwing out possible accumulations.

Taking a look at the weather map below for 12AM Thursday, we can see that the storm is in a very similar place as the last Nor’easter but right now the central pressure is in the 990 mb range rather than deepening down into the 970’s like the March 2nd storm. Initially the storm will be brining rain fairly far inland as represented by the green and orange colors on the map. The low will still be strengthening as it moves into the Gulf of Maine so the rain snow line moves closer to the coast as cold air and dynamic cooling allows for precipitation to transition from rain to snow.


The image below is for 6AM on Thursday and you can see the rain/snow line nearly to the coast in Maine and getting further south.


Then for Noon on Thursday.


The low is going to stall near Maine/Canadian border on Thursday into Friday due to a blocking high up near Greenland so the unsettled weather will last in the White Mountain Region. Below is the predicted weather for Friday, around sunset, and there is still snow showing up for the Green and White Mountains.


The set up on the back is ideal for some upslope snow across higher terrain so the snow will keep piling up in the mountains even after the precipitation has ended for costal and southern valley regions. Below is a forecast sounding for the White Mountains just upstream of Mount Washington. This shows how the temperature and dew point changes as you go up in the atmosphere. In the low levels, the temperature decreases at the moist adiabatic rate all the way up to 700 mb, or about 9000’ feet in the atmosphere. When this air hits the mountains, it will force the moisture to precipitate out of it. The one thing preventing this from being a major upslope snow event is the low wind speeds in the lower levels of the atmosphere. Small changes in the intensity of the low could change that. If the storm ends up being stronger, the winds will be higher, thus forcing the moisture to precipitate out of the air mass at a higher rate, resulting in much higher snow totals.


Adam Gill, Weather Observer/IT Specialist

12:52 Thu Mar 01, 2018

Summit Museum Attendant Perks

Hey everyone! Since the Mount Washington Observatory is still accepting applicants for our Summit Museum Attendant position this upcoming summer through fall, I thought I would explain some of the perks of working in a museum up here on the tallest mountain peak in the northeastern United States.

“Extreme Mount Washington” is the name of our summit museum
I am a part-time museum attendant for the Mount Washington Observatory’s Weather Discovery Center down in North Conway Village. I also helped the summit’s museum attendant during this past summer as an Observatory intern. Working as a museum attendant includes several responsibilities (training interns, working the register, re-stocking inventory, etc.). There are also perks of the job as well!

One perk is that you will have the chance to interact with many interesting people. Whether they hiked up to the summit or took a guided tour up, these museum-goers will always have stories to tell. They will also always have questions regarding the Observatory, but it is always nice to answer them and hear them say, “Oh wow, really?!” if something you said seemed to surprise and excite them.

Another perk of working as a museum attendant is the group of individuals that you will be staying with. There will be the three observers, intern(s) (three during the summer and one during the fall), and two volunteers. It may seem unusual living with a bunch of strangers at first, but you will become very close with this group of people. After a long workday, you can look forward to a nice, big family-style meal back in the living quarters with your crew! There, everyone will be talking about everything that happened that day.

One more perk is that the interns will also assist you throughout the day, so you are not always working by yourself. This will allow you to take a lunch break, nap, explore outside for a bit, or learn more about the mountain by reading one of our books!

If you are interested in applying, here is the link: https://www.mountwashington.org/uploads/pdf/JD-SMT%20Museum%20Attendant%2018.pdf. It is an opportunity that you will not want to miss!

Jillian Reynolds, Summit Intern


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