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Observer Comments

20:26 Mon Mar 30, 2015

A Brief Clipper Brings a Round of Fresh Powder!
A brief Clipper is swinging through the Northeast, yielding scattered snow showers across the state. While the first round of precipitation moved in early this morning, additional snow will continue this afternoon and evening before tapering off early on Tuesday morning. Because this is a fast-moving system, significant snowfall amounts are not likely. Totals in the northern half of the state will be around 1-3 inches with higher localized amounts possible above 4,000’. The southern half of the state will see trace amounts after all is said and done.
 
Looking ahead however, skies will clear mid-week before another area of low pressure moves in during the Thursday-Friday timeframe.
 
GFS model Thursday 8PMAn area of low pressure moving into the Northeast Thursday at 8PM, image courtesy of The Weather Gun
 
GFS model Friday 2AMThe low pressure strengthens a bit by 2AM Friday, image courtesy of The Weather Gun
 
GFS model Friday 8AMFriday 8AM: Lingering moisture moves through and eventually dissipates through the day on Friday, image courtesy of The Weather Gun
 
Precipitation types will be dependent upon temperatures, which at this point may be warm enough for rain, especially for southern NH. Until then, enjoy the newly fallen snow and the subsequent clear skies that follow! We’ll be sure to keep you updated. 


Kaitlyn O'Brien, Weather Observer/Education Specialist
  

19:49 Sun Mar 29, 2015

Examining Strong Winter Winds
I was reflecting on this winter's weather, and I thought it would be interesting to take a look at some of our stronger wind events and the conditions that led to them.
 
High wind events in the winter tend to have some similar features, and much of this can be explained by a little bit of physics.
 
First let's take a look at some surface maps.
 
We'll start off with our 2nd highest daily peak gust.  This map show the surface weather analysis for January 5th, where we recorded a gust of 129 mph from the west.
 
Synoptic pattern 129 mph gustImage Courtesy of the University of Washington Department of Atmospheric Sciences
 
The black lines on these maps designate lines of equal pressure as determined according to values reported by surface weather stations, so as you cross black lines, pressure is either increasing or decreasing.  These lines are called isobars.  Pressure values are given in millibars, or hectopascals (1 millibar = 1 hectopascal).
 
Winds tend to move approximately parallel to these black lines.
 
So immediately, you should notice high pressure over Indiana and Illinois decreasing sharply as you look to a strong low pressure area northeast of Maine.
 
Pay attention to the location of the highs and lows (H's and L's) as we look at these next couple of maps.
 
Here's the analysis of our big wind day this winter, February 16, when we recorded a 141 mph gust from the northwest.
 
Synoptic pattern 141 mph gustImage Courtesy of the University of Washington Department of Atmospheric Sciences
 
The low over the Canadian Maritimes bottoms out at 960 mb, wow!
 
And the last surface analysis map we'll look at is just from a couple weeks ago when we recorded a gust of 124 mph, also from the northwest.
 
Synoptic pattern 124 mph gustImage Courtesy of the University of Washington Department of Atmospheric Sciences
 
And wouldn't you know it, another cyclone sitting over the Canadian Maritimes!  This time the low isn't quite as deep, only down to 972 mb this time.
 
Ok, what's going on here?  Anyone else starting to notice that these maps look pretty similar?
 
In all three cases, we see significant cyclones over the Canadian Maritimes, and high pressure pushing in from the west.

So why are the winds so high, and why is the location of the highs and lows so important?

We need to understand a few things in order to explain this.

First, what causes wind?

Wind is caused by differences in pressure, and wind is the movement of air in an attempt to balance out these pressure differences.

So if this makes sense, the greater the difference in pressure, the faster the air moves, and the greater the wind speeds.

We describe the rate of change in pressure over a given area as the pressure gradient.  So the closer together the black lines are, the greater the pressure gradient, and the greater the wind speed.
 
Air is trying to move from high to low pressure, but as the earth spins, the air doesn't quite follow this trajectory because of the rotation of the earth.
 
It's like trying to play catch on a merry-go-round.  If your friend is sitting in the center, and you are sitting on the edge, and you're both spinning in circles, if you were to try to throw a ball directly towards your friend, the ball would appear to deflect away from the direction you were spinning.

The same thing happens with winds, and for this reason, winds flow roughly parallel to the black lines.

But as I’m sure you can imagine, it’s a little more complicated, and it involves a little more physics.

As you may have noticed, the pressure lines are not very straight; in fact, they’re quite wavy and curved. Understanding the effect the curvature has on these forces is important.

We’ll employ another analogy to help us understand what’s going on.

Think about performing the classic “Around the World” yo-yo trick. You’re spinning the yo-yo in a circle over your head, by your feet, and eventually back to your hand. There is always a centrifugal force that pushes the yo-yo outward, but is always at least partially held in place by tension from the string.

What is important in this analogy is to understand the role that gravity plays. When the yo-yo is above your head, gravity is opposite the direction of the centrifugal force, so there is less tension needed to balance out the forces. But when the yo-yo is by your feet, gravity is in the same direction as the centrifugal force, so the force of tension provided by the string needs to be much higher.

As these forces increase while entering the lower half of the yo-yo’s trajectory, it cause the yo-yo to move faster by your feet than when it is overhead and the forces are dampened.

This same type of thing happens in the atmosphere, except different forces are involved.

When air circulates around high pressure systems, the centrifugal force pushes outward in the same direction as the pressure gradient force pointing from high to low pressure. When these forces stack up, wind speeds ramp up.

We see this happening to some extent in each of these cases. Deep low pressure systems create significant pressure gradients accompanied by a high pressure ridge pushing in from the west. This combines to create exceptionally strong winds on the backside of the low.

Next time you see high winds in the forecast, take a look at a forecast map and check out what’s going on!



Nate Iannuccillo, Summit Intern
  

17:21 Sat Mar 28, 2015

I Will If You Will (#IWIYW)
Do you know what day it is?
 
It’s March 28, 2015. Today marks a special day of global proportions. Today, people all over the world are embracing this wonderful planet we live on. Today, we celebrate Earth Hour.
 
Originally launched 8 years ago in Australia by the World Wide Fund for Nature, or the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Earth Hour has grown significantly. Last year over 7,000 cities participated in 154 countries across all 7 continents.
 
This evening, from 8:30-9:30PM (local time), Observatory staff will be honoring this event by observing (in addition to the weather), an hour of darkness, in an effort to raise awareness about all of the environmental issues our planet is facing.
 
But this event does not end after one hour. This is an on-going effort to raise awareness, make changes, and celebrate the commitment to making this world a better place.
 
For more information on how to participate, please click here
 
#IWIYW
 
 
EarthHour

Kaitlyn O'Brien, Weather Observer/Education Specialist & Earth lover
  

20:30 Fri Mar 27, 2015

Cold Hope

We live and work on the summit fog eight days at a time. This means we have to pack eight days’ worth of clothing to wear in that time span. In the heart of winter, packing is easy - pack anything and everything to keep me warm. In the heart of summer, it is just as easy as it means I will be packing warm weather clothes (shorts, t-shirts) and a mix of light jackets, rain pants, etc to keep me dry and warm if/when needed. In the transitional seasons of spring and fall though, my bag typically sees a larger variety of clothes as weather typically varies between winter and summer-like conditions. However, for my first shift week back since the first day of astronomical spring (March 20), my bag has no variety – it is all cold weather clothing as winter conditions continue on the summit.

Earlier in the week, models were hinting at temperatures above freezing for the first time on the summit and this gave me hope that my bag would get a bit of a variety in the clothing department. However, as the storm approached and the models resolved its track, projected temperatures kept notching lower and lower keeping us in the cold sector of the storm. While the storm was passing yesterday, temperatures did inch up into the 20s but they never came close to rising above the freezing mark. As a result, our streak of consecutive days below 32F/0C continues, bringing our tally to 82 days and counting. Looking long-term, models are once again hinting at finally breaking this streak next Friday. After such a long streak of cold weather, I think all of us on the summit are all likely hoping for the warmer weather in the models. However, “hope is such a bait, it covers any hook” (Oliver Goldsmith), so at this point, I’m just going to leave the bait and let hope float a bit; but fingers crossed our cold weather streak will finally be broken, even if only for a day.



Ryan Knapp, Weather Observer/Staff Meteorologist
  

16:58 Thu Mar 26, 2015

Spring (Skiing) is in the Air!

While this winter was slow to start, it seems to be the gift that doesn't stop giving. The higher summits have seen an impressively long span of below-freezing temperatures, allowing for minimal melting in our snow pack as well as plenty of snowfall! Coverage at resorts across the state is doing quite well with the deepest base depths reaching over 5 feet!

Taking a look at the natural snow across the state, it’s no wonder the base depths are so deep! Natural snow depths are still hovering between 1-3 FEET for most of the state! Even after today’s (mostly) rain event, the southern half of the state will see some melting, but the little melting that will occur will be barely noticeable in our impressive snow pack and the northern half of the state will barely see any melting whatsoever. Even better, there is a swath of snow on the backside of the storm that will spread in through the center of the state, giving us a 20-40 percent chance of dropping 6 inches or more in the next 48 hours!

Snow melt over the next 24 hours.Snow melt over the next 24 hours. Source: http://www.weather.gov/nerfc/snow
 
 
Snow depth in New England.Snow depth in New England. Source: http://www.weather.gov/nerfc/snow
 
Don’t be discouraged by the warmer weather moving through the region today, we’re looking to dip back below the freezing mark, getting some snow on the backside of this storm. The weekend is looking perfect for skiing with temperatures in the 30s for the southern two thirds of the state both Saturday and Sunday. Looking a little further out, it doesn't look like we’ll be getting any dramatic melt-out events through the end of the week. While temperatures may feel spring-like compared to what we've been getting this winter, this is arguably the best time of the year to hit the slopes! Time to get your tan on!


Mike Dorfman, Weather Observer/IT Specialist
  

19:07 Wed Mar 25, 2015

A Variable Volunteer Week
It’s said that March comes in like a lion, and goes out like a lamb. You could probably say the same thing about our week of summit volunteering. Last week’s shift change was switched to Thursday because the wind on the summit was blowing at 120 mph, and the windchill was 65 below. The first five days we were here, the wind didn’t drop below hurricane force, and rarely below the century mark. We hosted a group of climbers from the EMS Climbing School and two Day Trips during our stay. The conditions for the Monday trip were perfect. The visibility was over 100 miles, the wind was blowing around 85 mph, the temperature was 18 below, and the windchill was, well polar. These conditions are why they signed up to come to the summit, and everyone had ear-to-ear grins, even if we couldn’t see them under their face masks.
 
I said it was perfect because they wanted extreme. Had the conditions been any worse, the trip would have likely been cancelled. Barbara and I were able to get out each day to experience what the mountain had to offer, even when the wind speed topped 100 mph. The highest wind gust during our stay was 113 mph, a personal high for one of our stays here. The last day of the high winds was bright and sunny and we tried taking photographs as wind gusts moved us back and forth about 12 inches. It was like trying to photograph something while you were jumping up and down on a trampoline, though here the movement was back and forth. The coming of spring didn’t change much, weather-wise, but after five high wind days, the lamb part of our stay began. The wind dropped to 20 mph or less, and the bright March sun’s radiant heat warmed us when we were out, even though the air temperature was still in the single numbers and teens. It felt like spring. We took a walk down to Mt. Clay and got some incredible, blue sky shots of the summit buildings and towers and the headwall of the Great Gulf in the same photo. The fair sunny weather and comfortable conditions lasted through the end of our shift. You could say that like the day trip, our shift was perfect.


Bill Ofsiany and Barbara Althen, Summit Volunteers
  

17:23 Tue Mar 24, 2015

March 2015: The lion never left!

After a very cold and windy winter across the higher summits, March appears to have continued the trend. A typical March on the summit of Mount Washington sees average temperatures rise from only 9 degrees on the first to the seemingly balmy upper teens (18) by the end of the month. After having our second coldest February on record just this past month, March has continued that trend. So far this month we have seen 14 days with readings below zero, with the lowest reading of 23 below actually occurring just 2 days ago. Currently the average temperature for the yet-unfinished month of March is 4.1 degrees above, which if It held would be the coldest March on record! Looking ahead at the rest of the days in this month it does appear likely that this number will rise due to warmer temperatures ahead, but March 2015 will still likely end up in the top 10 coldest.

Winds have been very impressive on the summit this winter, especially this month. March is known for its winds, with some of the strongest Nor’easter systems forming during late winter. The stronger March sun begins warming the ground a bit more, while arctic air still occasionally dives south out of Canada, allowing for large areas of clashing air masses that fuel developing storm systems. The average wind speed for the month of March is 40.3 mph. So far this month the average wind speed has been an impressive 51.0 mph, making it the 6th windiest March. This number is likely to fall off a bit due to lower winds to end out the month. Also of note we’ve seen 10 days, or roughly one-third of the month, see daily peak gusts of over 100 mph. This number of 100 mph days was last seen in January 2012. With one week left to go, we’ll see where March 2015 ends up in the records, but this winter, and certainly February and March, have been very impressive. The old saying “March comes in like a lion, and out like a lamb” doesn’t really apply here. The lion never left!

 
Winds sustained near 100 mph with a gust to 111 mph on the evening of March 22nd.

Tom Padham, Weather Observer/Meteorologist
  

20:01 Mon Mar 23, 2015

Exploring the Alpine Zone In Winter

Occasionally a break in my work schedule affords me the opportunity to get outside and explore the summit. This is one of the great pleasures of living on top of Mt. Washington, being able to leave the observatory and immediately be in the middle of a spectacular alpine environment. For the most part, the weather this winter has limited my excursions to quick loops around the summit cone, ducking behind rocks to get out of the wind and peeking through holes in the fog to try to catch a glimpse of the views. At the end of my last shift week, however, I was fortunate enough to a squeeze in a break from work under some of the finest conditions I’ve seen up here, so I headed down to Lakes of the Clouds to stretch my legs.

After quickly dropping down through some small snow fields to get off the summit cone the Crawford Path became a bit hard and icy, but made for a great walk with crampons on. After a final traverse across a deeper and softer snowfield the cairns led me past the lakes to the half-buried hut and a great view back at our home on the peak.

I wasn’t quite ready to head back up, and I had a little time before I needed to start working on that evening’s forecast, so I did a little exploring around the lakes. It is amazing how different all the nooks and crannies of Mt. Washington are, and they all hold plenty of secrets. After spending so much time atop the rockpile that is the summit cone it was refreshing to poke around the black spruce that are nestled in around the lakes.

It was a warm and sunny day and I could smell the spring on the diapensia that have patiently waited through the winter.

The small scale topography of the hollows in which the lakes lie create some curious features, like this near circular bulge of wind-blown snow that was 6 feet across.

And while the lakes were mostly covered by snow and sastrugi there were a few patches of deep blue ice exposed, filled with ice-filled air bubbles and intricate cracks.

Looking back at these photos from two weeks ago I am excited to explore the summit again. And with winds dying down tonight, and a warm (10 degrees) clear day in the forecast, tomorrow might be a perfect opportunity.



Adam Freierman, Summit Intern
  

08:55 Sat Mar 21, 2015

...And Down the (Home)Stretch They Come!

With the summit back in the fog today, the view outside is nothin’ to write home about. Unless you’re a fan of the color gray, that is.

The scenery on the Rockpile was more dramatic yesterday, including a view that I personally had never witnessed before.

The scene began with a radio call from State Park, alerting us to the fact that a dog sled would be within sight, charging up the homestretch section of the Mount Washington Auto Road in a matter of minutes. This was not exactly a call we’re used to getting, so the staff quickly geared up and headed up the observation deck to catch a better glimpse.

Sure enough, within a few moments, Ben Morehouse and his team of 8 dogs rounded the corner, pushing upwards and upwards at a tremendous pace!

 

...And down the stretch they came!

 

Homestretch is relatively flat, but as they turned onto the Service Road, which is quite steeply-pitched, their pace was noticeably reduced, until they ultimately made the final push on to the summit.

 
 

Upon arrival, they enjoyed some well-deserved treats.

 

Ben and his team started out in Concord, VT, and made it up to the summit of Mount Washington. This group certainly deserves tons of kudos for making the trek up the Auto Road in the winter season (yesterday may have been the first day of astronomical spring, but in reality, it’s still very much winter in the Alpine Zone). 

 


Mike Carmon, Interim Director of Summit Operations
  

16:10 Fri Mar 20, 2015

A Long Awaited Week On The Rockpile In Winter

My love affair with the White Mountains and Mt Washington began only about 10 years ago. When my daughter was young we began coming to the mountains with her each summer and we all fell in love with them. In 2007 I turned 50 and gave myself a birthday present – a 4 day hike over the Presidential Range between the AMC huts. The first day of that trip I stood on the summit of Mt Madison, my first 4000 foot peak, and I was forever hooked. In planning a return trip for a different route the following summer I was looking for information resources and found the Mt Washington Observatory forums and my relationship with Mt Washington and the MWObs began. It was also the beginning of many close friendships that began online in the forums and became personal over the years through Seek the Peak, the annual fundraising hike to support the Obs. I've participated each of the last seven years and it has always been a wonderful experience. There is nothing like standing on the summit of Mt Washington on a beautiful day, or even more, standing in the top of the Observatory tower and looking out over the White Mountains and beyond, and better yet, sharing it with the many friends that have that same love for this magical place. But this year I got an opportunity for much more.

 

Last winter my friend Kevin Talbot, who I had met online and at my first Seek the Peak all those years ago, suggested that we do a volunteer week together at the Obs this winter. This was something that I had always wanted to do but had just never taken the initiative to make happen. This time I wasn't going to pass up the opportunity. Kevin had volunteered seven previous times in all seasons and was a real veteran and I felt like I could uphold my end of the bargain. We applied, and last September got the news that the final week of winter was available and it was ours if we wanted it. We jumped at the chance! You can read Kevin's account of the week in the previous Observer Comment.

 

Mt Washington is an incredible place at any time of the year, but in winter it is really special. This mountain and its weather are not to be taken lightly. While I have gotten increasingly into winter hiking and have now been to many 4000 footers in winter, Mt Washington and the northern Presidentials have not yet made that list. Being on the summit in winter for 8 days brings opportunities that hiking it never could. Sunrises and sunsets, being outside in the worst weather and getting to experience its full fury (while being able to then go safely back inside), seeing all of the best and worst of what the mountain has to offer in one of the most beautiful seasons of the year.



Mark Truman, Summit Volunteer
  

21:02 Wed Mar 18, 2015

A Change of Pace
Every once in a while, an opportunity comes along that slightly changes our normal shift week schedule. This past Monday, I departed the summit two days earlier than normal so that I could attend the Women In Science and Engineering (WISE) conference at Salem State College in Salem, Massachusetts. Every year, Salem State College hosts a career day specifically tailored for young women with the hope of encouraging more females to pursue science, engineering, and other technical fields. This year, hundreds of girls from local middle schools and high schools gathered to hear presentations given by female professionals with a variety of scientific backgrounds. I was thrilled to be able to share my experiences about my work at the Observatory alongside former Observer Rebecca Scholand, who has since acquired a position working as a Brand Ambassador for Backpacker magazine for the 2014 Get Out More Women’s Tour.
 
 
Kaitlyn presenting at the WISE conferenceTalking to a group of young women during the WISE conference at Salem State College, Salem, MA
 
 After a morning full of workshops, presentations, and some time for lunch and networking, Danielle Niles, a WBZ-TV broadcast meteorologist closed out the day and addressed the group with some final words of encouragement. It was a wonderful day and I thoroughly enjoyed sharing my story with so many bright, enthusiastic young women!


Kaitlyn O'Brien, Weather Observer/Education Specialist
  

16:38 Tue Mar 17, 2015

A Volunteer Week
Once again I find myself here on the summit of Mount Washington. I am spending another eight days with the crew of the Mount Washington Observatory in their volunteer program, cooking and cleaning for the crew and the various guests. It is a sweet job, but believe me, it is a lot of work! On days when it is my fellow volunteer and good friend Mark Truman, the crew, and me, it is pretty laid back. We only have to provide dinner for ourselves and the crew and do the clean up afterwards, but on days when there are guests we can be flat out.
 
On Thursday we had a Day Trip come up for lunch which included two friends of ours who actually won the trip as one of the prizes at last year's Seek the Peak. Through the Observatory website and this annual event, many lifetime friendships have been forged and when Seek the Peak rolls around each July, it is more like a family reunion for many of us! We served them lunch and they got the tour of the Observatory and literally "had a blast" when we got to play outside in 90 mph wind gusts. To say they thoroughly enjoyed it would be an understatement.
 
On Friday afternoon a group of hikers arrived led by Mooney Mountain Guides and we had a full house with the two of us, four Observers and a party of eleven who were here for dinner - ravioli, meatballs, garlic bread and salad. Next morning's breakfast was French Toast Casserole and sausage. Not long after they left in the morning, an EduTrip arrived and we again had seventeen including the crew and ourselves. We provided them with lunch - simple soup and sandwiches; and dinner - roast pork loin, potatoes, and broccoli. For breakfast on Sunday morning, we had a sausage casserole and found out that due to unforeseen circumstances they would again be with us for one more night.
 
Sunday night we fed them lasagna and salad, and Monday morning it was a quick breakfast of cereal and toast before they made their descent. The snowcat descended with the EduTrip then it was loaded up again with another Day Trip. Their lunch consisted of chili and bread. This group left happy as Mark and I breathed a sigh of relief - we were exhausted!
 
In the moments we did have to ourselves, we were able to go outside and enjoy some beautiful sunrises and sunsets; though this doesn’t occur on a daily basis as we are most often in fog with blowing snow. Going outside in March usually means covering every inch of skin as temperatures and wind chills are extreme. But covering up is well worth the effort as the photos below should plainly show. At my age, I will never make it to Antarctica, but seriously, why go there when I can experience what is often similar extremes right here in my own playground of New Hampshire? As a photographer I am able to record things which can be seen nowhere else and share them with my friends and fans on my website. Pictures and writing will appear there over the next few days, but there are also many other trips I have made here to peruse while waiting for the most recent. Many thanks to the Obs and to our guests who made this another great volunteer week!
 
Sunset from Trinity Heights
 
 
Sunrise and the Stage Office 
 
 
 Marty
 
 
 Lower Sun Pillar
 
 
 Sunset


Kevin Talbot, Summit Volunteer
  

17:14 Mon Mar 16, 2015

Model Musings

With the astronomical winter season coming to a close at the end of the week, it appears that we’ll be receiving some proper winter weather before entering the spring season.

Tomorrow will bring snow showers of scattered intensity throughout the day, and we’ll take a look at some of the discrepancies in the intensity of our precipitation as displayed by two different forecasting models.

The GFS model, the top synoptic scale model of our National Weather Service, shows showers somewhat scattered, and of varying intensity.

But conversely, if we look at the Unified model of the UK’s Meteorological Office, we can see precipitation magnitudes generally a bit higher and more sustained than those calculated by the GFS.

In the image below, we can see the comparison of the two models for 8am tomorrow morning. The UKMET output is pictured on the left and the GFS on the right.

 

Image courtesy of UQAM-Montreal Weather Centre

As we can see, there is some discrepancy in precipitation amounts, but as a whole, there is certainly some visible agreement between the two models. We’ll see how this changes as we look further into the future.

But first let’s check out the precipitation profile as forecast by the GFS model. The good news is that precipitation should remain as snow for most of New Hampshire.

Check it out.

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Image courtesy of UQAM-Montreal Weather Centre

Green shows rain and blue predicts snow. The one red dot on the map is freezing rain and the yellow regions display mixed precipitation.

Let’s look a little further ahead now. Here is 8pm tomorrow night, a full twelve hours further in the future.


 

Image courtesy of UQAM-Montreal Weather Centre

Focusing on New Hampshire, we can see a little more discrepancy this time. The GFS shows very little precipitation in NH whereas the UK model shows some precipitation for all of New Hampshire. This is where the challenge of forecasting lies.

The Bottom line is we can be pretty sure of some snow for northern NH tomorrow despite uncertainties in snowfall intensity and duration.



Nate Iannuccillo, Summit Intern
  

20:17 Sun Mar 15, 2015

The Ever-Changing Mountain
While the valley might be seeing more mixed precipitation, the shoulder seasons are some of the most dangerous parts of the year for people traveling above tree line.   As people familiar with this mountain know, although there may be spring-like weather in the valley, the summit is still in what most people would consider “full-on” winter.  Our average temperature for late March is in the upper teens.  With more moist conditions present with these temperatures, it’s easy to get soaked.  This allows for a serious hypothermia threat to the unprepared hiker.
 
Before heading above tree line, be sure to check our higher summits forecast to get a better idea of what you’re hiking into! While we've been socked in the fog, I've had some time to go back and edit some of the time-lapses that I've taken the last few weeks.  Highlights include a beautiful sunset, aurora, and moonset.  Enjoy!
 


Michael Dorfman, Weather Observer/IT Specialist
  

15:02 Sat Mar 14, 2015

78MPH Wind Gust Recorded at the Base of the Summit
Early on Thursday morning at 12:35AM, our mesonet station at the base of the Auto Road recorded a 78 mph wind gust:
 
Short description of image
 
Curious, I decided to investigate what caused this burst of wind. 
 
The large scale pattern had a cold front approaching from the NW that night. Pictured below is a map of surface observations just minutes before the front hit the Presidentials:
 
 
Surface Observations
 
Winds south of Mount Washington were from the SW at ~10 mph ahead of the cold front, and winds to the north of Mount Washington were from the NW gusting over 30 mph behind the front.
 
The garage wind gust occurred along the leading edge of this front, but the front alone did not cause a gust to 78 mph; it couldn't have. What caused the gust?
 
Radar imagery indicates snow squalls moved through with the cold front:
 
Radar imageRadar image captured 8 minutes after the wind gust occurred with arrow denoting location of the summit.  For a full radar loop, click here. Courtesy of Dept. of Atmospheric Science, College of DuPage
 
 
The bright greens and yellows indicate there is likely unstable air creating shallow convection (just like a thunderstorm, only not as deep). South of the arrow head is a narrow curved band of green (25-30 dBZ). The radar beam is sensing this band near the elevation of Mount Washington (not near the elevation of the garage). This band suggests there's a downdraft associated with the snow squalls moving through the Presidentials. Just prior to the 78 mph gust, the summit reported sustained winds in the 60-70 with gusts up to 83 mph. The snow shower likely had a convective downdraft that took this fast moving air downward, and gained additional momentum by snowflakes sublimating (cooling the air, making it denser, and causing it to sink faster).
 
Readings from the Auto Road Vertical Profile indicate the temperatures cooled at each site by ~2F behind this gust front: 
 
Auto Road Temperature ProfileMount Washington Auto Road Vertical Temperature Profile
 
 
You'll notice the temperature drop is more rapid at the sites above treeline. Below treeline, it takes a while for the cold air to fully mix below the canopy. The temperature drop begins at the Auto Road garage about 5 minutes before the summit, suggesting the downdraft came from a snow squall from the north and spread across the valley just prior to the cold front arriving at higher elevations.
 
Incredible weather hits the Whites again - this time the low elevations got a great show!
 


Dr. Eric Kelsey, Director of Research
  

20:40 Fri Mar 13, 2015

Waving at Waves
Last Tuesday, fair weather allowed me to enjoy what proved to be a splendid day of hiking in the alpine zone. While I was thrilled by the good conditions, there was something else that got me really... really…
 
Ecstatic!
 
Ok, what the heck was I so excited about?
 
Lenticular Clouds!
 
Alright, so what are lenticular clouds?
In short, lenticular just means that they form in the shape of a lens, so they look really cool, as you will see.
 
But first, how do clouds form this shape?
 
Lenticular clouds are commonly associated with the lifting effect mountainous terrain has on airflow.
When air comes into contact with a mountain, it is forced to rise, and in most conditions, cools.
Water condenses with greater ease at colder temperatures, so as air is forced upward, it usually cools and will more readily form a cloud.
 
Conversely, as air moves down the leeward side (the side pointing away from the wind) of the mountain, the reverse effect tends to happen. Air warms as it moves back down the mountain, and water evaporates more easily, terminating cloud growth.
 
So depending on temperature profiles and the amount of water vapor in the air, the upward forcing provided by mountains can lead to a wide variety of different clouds initiated by this disturbance.
 
Sometimes, we can see what it is called a Cap Cloud that appears to sit on the top of the mountain.
 
And in fact, I got to observe one of these over the summit early Tuesday morning from Mt. Monroe.
 
Cap Cloud over Mount Washington NH as seen from Mount Monroe 
 
While these clouds tend to remain stagnant and may give the impression that there is very little wind, remember that this is not the case!
 
As air moves up over the mountain, “new” cloud is constantly forming as air rises, cools, and condenses, but as the air moves down the leeward side, cloud is continuously evaporating as air descends and warms.
 
I was delighted to get to see this interesting type of cloud on Tuesday, but this cap cloud was not the only lenticular cloud that I could see.
 
First, let’s think about the effect that an obstacle has on airflow.
 
Think of a large rock in the middle of a river. There is bound to be some notable disturbances as the water flows around the rock. There will likely be some ripples in the water downstream from the rock, and probably some turbulent eddies behind the rock as well.
 
Mountains have similar effects on airflow. This is fluid dynamics, folks!
 
The initial disturbance provided by the mountain often causes air to flow in a wavelike manner on the leeward side of the mountain. These waves can often cause clouds to form in a similar vain to the cap clouds that I described earlier. They will still have the same lenticular shape, but they won’t necessarily be situated over any specific mountain. These are called Lee Wave Clouds.
 
 
Mountain wave formation diagramSource: Dr. Robert Houze, University of Washington
 
 
So I bet you’re wondering if I saw any lee wave clouds on Tuesday…
 
You bet I did!
 
Check out the lee wave cloud over Boott Spur.
 
Lee wave cloud over Boott Spur 
So, this is a great example of how waves propagate in the horizontal direction, but do they still propagate in the vertical direction?
 
Of course they do, and this means that you can also get lenticular clouds forming well above the actual height of the mountains.
 
 
 
 Check out the lenticular cloud action over the northern presidentials…
 
Lenticulars over the Northern Presidentials 
Terrain can have some really cool effects on the cloud activity, so be sure to keep an eye out for sweet lenticular clouds, especially if you’re in the mountains!
 


Nate Iannuccillo, Summit Intern
  

15:57 Thu Mar 12, 2015

Wintry Mix Ahead?
Some may have woken up to the sight of a few snow flurries this morning, but these quickly dissipated through the day as a clearing pattern set up for the rest of today and is expected to continue into Friday. Clouds will be steadily decreasing giving way to sunshine this afternoon and evening. An area of high pressure will build into the region midday on Friday, allowing for generally clear skies. But looking ahead toward the weekend, another round of snowfall might be in store!
GFS model output 2AM Saturday2AM Saturday morning forecast: Two areas of interest; a Clipper developing along the Canadian border and a disturbance moving up from the south. Courtesy of UQAM Weather Centre
 
GFS model output 8AM SaturdayThe disturbance to our south becomes more organized by 8AM Saturday morning. Courtesy of UQAM Weather Centre
 
During the early morning hours on Saturday, a disturbance to our south will work its way up the coast and merge with a Clipper system that is expected to swing through via the Great Lakes. Right now, the bulk of the precipitation looks to be located offshore, but snow is likely, particularly in northern NH. Temperatures in southern NH may be warm enough for a wintry mix of precipitation to fall including snow, sleet, and freezing rain.
 
GFS model output 2PM Saturday2PM Saturday afternoon: The heaviest precipitation will occur Saturday afternoon and evening. Courtesy of UQAM Weather Centre
 
With the bulk of the storm looking to pass through Saturday evening into Sunday morning, precipitation will last through much of Sunday before finally tapering off early Monday morning when high pressure returns for the beginning of the week. No word on amounts just yet, but we’re monitoring the latest model runs!
 


Kaitlyn O'Brien, Weather Observer/Education Specialist
  

16:42 Wed Mar 11, 2015

A Week on the Summit
I grew up skiing the mountains surrounding Mount Washington looking up in wonder at what appeared to be a castle in the clouds, never thinking I’d be spending a week up here. After having such an amazing week volunteering at MWOBS this past summer, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to volunteer again, this time for a winter week. I was lucky enough to arrange a week off from the Hospital where I work, left Rhode Island at 2:30am last Wednesday and drove north for what could be considered a rather unconventional Spring Break. While co-workers and classmates were headed south to vacation under palm-trees and sip fruity drinks, I was driving 4.5hrs north in a snow storm to spend a week on the summit of Mt. Washington!
 
MWO tower covered in rimeA beautiful day with MWO tower covered in rime
 
Arriving at the base I met Dennis, the other volunteer I would be working with this week. After introductions and a short chat, the rest of the crew began arriving and we loaded our bags into the Snowcat in preparation for the trip up the auto road. The trip up the auto-road took a bit longer than expected due to a few snow drifts that needed to be dealt with. Although I could hear in my mind a quote from Monty Python’s Black Knight, “You shall not pass, none may pass!”, Slim our expert Snowcat driver slayed the snow drifts and got us to the summit.
 
I must say the newly renovated bunk rooms are a treat! Each bunk now has its own electric socket including USB ports and a reading light. The storage is improved and the climb into the top bunk is not as precarious as it was in the old rooms. Nice!
 
We cooked meals for not only the summit staff but some educational trips and an overnight hiking group. It’s a great pleasure to cook meals for these great folks during their adventure. We got to meet some really fun and interesting people, as well as learn a lot from the group of hikers who stayed overnight.
 
SunriseA great view of sunrise
 
Good ‘ol Marty is still supervising the day to day operations, generally being rather serious or sleeping on the sofa. Marty did go outside for a bit one day for some “much needed fresh air”. You can read about his outing on his blog post from 3/9/15. He did wind himself around my ankles several times through the week, I shall consider that a sign of his acceptance. I am honored.
 
The weather this week was amazing of course. Watching the sun slowly rise from the east peeking over the horizon, clouds rolling in the ravines, and watching the new day’s sky light up in the most beautiful palette of colors was truly a gift that I am most blessed to experience. I watched sunsets with a view over the N. Presidentials, alpenglow illuminating the range with rugged bare granite peeking out of the snow and ice. I spent some time late one night on the observation deck watching what looked to be every star in the sky, the Milky Way and even a few meteors flashing across the night sky. If my tears wouldn’t have frozen, I might have cried a tear of joy! 
 
Alpenglow at sunriseBeautiful alpenglow


Kendra Furman, Summit Volunteer
  

16:53 Tue Mar 10, 2015

Life On The Rock In March

 A beautiful day for my first ride on the sno-cat, quite an experience I tell you. It seemed to be a long ride up with pushing snow and backing up, I wondered if we were going to make it but at last we arrived in good form on the summit. I had the pleasure of being with Kyle, Tom and Mike again this trip and felt very comfortable with the week ahead, what a great bunch of guys. Now, the weather was typical, sunny and clear one minute and cloudy the next. Winds at 50, 60, and 70 mph with a period of -47 windchill, now that was a rush walking around the deck in. This why we come up here! Had fun with Kendra, the other volunteer cooking for the crew, as well as day trip and climbing parties. It was fun meeting people and interacting with them, another reason to be here. I had a conversation with Marty the summit cat who seemed upset the other day, he said they took him outside to take pictures of him in the snow and had him go through a snow tunnel. Marty stated quite clearly that he did not care for this experience but would forgive the guys in a little while. He further mentioned that the State Park guys brought up a dog of all things and I quote “ I had to stay on the couch all day with nowhere to go because of that dog!” Well it is Tuesday with much to do and prepping for the ride home tomorrow, boy did this week go fast! Until the next time have fun on the rock!

 
Marty hanging out in the weather room on a nice day 
 


Dennis Rosolen, Summit Volunteer
  

09:42 Mon Mar 09, 2015

Did You Forget About This Kitty?

Haven't purred from me in a while, huh?

There's a simple reason for that--I've been quite busy with my cat-naps and never-ending buffets of kitty treats (with a side of nip, of course).

This winter has been way too cold for me(ow). I may be a Maine Coon, but even these frigid temperatures have been way too much for my delicate senses to handle. I've had to keep myself barred indoors for most of the winter, despite the observers attempting to lure me into the outdoors for what they call "much-needed fresh air." I'll take my fresh air in the summertime, thank you!

However, it was a little on the warmer side yesterday, and the winds were light, so this feline decided to take a look around on the observation deck. I found a purrrfect little spot on the deck, nestled underneath a snow and ice bank. That's right--it was my very own snow cave, which was just big enough for me to stretch out my idle paws, but cozy enough to keep me warm and purring!

 

It's snowy and windy again today, but my minion observers tell me that warmer temperatures are on the way. So, perhaps, I'll visit my clandestine kitty cave again soon. This is between me(ow) and you though; don't let anyone else in on the secret!

 
 


Marty (Summit Cat), Translated by Mike Carmon
  

17:02 Sun Mar 08, 2015

A Dream Of Spring

With the bulk of a cold and snowy winter behind us, I find myself dreaming of the warmer and longer days of summer. This brought me to the question: when does Mount Washington typically see its last snowfall? It can snow at any point atop the Rockpile, with snow being recorded every month of the year. I’ve personally seen snow fall in the month of June. But on an average year we see a roughly 2-3 month period with snowfall not exceeding an inch.

Looking into the climatology, June averages only an inch of snowfall, with some years seeing no snowfall at all and others seeing a few inches. Complicating matters is the fact that hail, while not extremely common, does count towards snowfall if it accumulates on the ground during summer thunderstorms on the summit. Average temperatures on the summit climb above freezing in early May, with the daily average temperature reaching 33 degrees by the 8th.

Glancing over the digital monthly records going back to 2002, the earliest date we’ve seen our last one inch snowfall on the summit occurred on April 30th, 2007. The latest one inch or greater snowfall occurred June 4th, 2012. The average of all of the last on inch snowfall dates is May 18th, which seems to be a good estimate for our last significant snowfall of the season on the summit. Only about 71 days to go!

 
Spring Scenery from Lakes of the Clouds 


Tom Padham, Weather Observer/Meteorologist
  

19:02 Sat Mar 07, 2015

Sixty One Days and Counting

The last time the summit saw a temperature above 32°F was 61 days ago, back on 1/04/2015. The average temperature since then is 1°F below zero. Within that 61 day span there was a 5 day block where temperatures didn’t rise above zero! Compared to past winters 61 days isn’t that bad. In the winter of 1960 temperatures remained below freezing for 106 days, lasting from 12/14/1959 till 3/28/1960. The 5 days of sub-zero temperatures, this year is less than half of the 12 days’ worth of sub-zero temperatures seen in the winter of 1961. This has been a cold winter; although the past has shown us it could have been much worse. With the official start of spring only 13 days away, there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

P.S. Don’t forget to start set your clocks ahead for day lights saving tonight!



Michael Kyle, Weather Observer/IT Specialist
  

19:52 Fri Mar 06, 2015

Learning From The Best

My main objective for my eight or so weeks that I will spend as an intern here at the Observatory is to learn as much as I can about meteorology. Spending time every day studying models and working on forecasts I end up with a lot of questions about what I’m seeing. Sometimes I can get answers by reading discussions written by our night observers, or ones put out by the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine. Other questions are better solved by reading through books we have in our office or using internet resources my coworkers have showed me. But by far the best place to turn is to the observers themselves.

Most of the observers, having gone to school for meteorology, have an outstanding technical background to draw from. And they all began their time with the Observatory as interns, so they can relate to problems I am encountering. This week Mike Carmon, a longtime observer currently serving as Director of Summit Observations, is with us on the summit, and today I had the good fortune to listen to him practice a presentation he is giving (remotely) tomorrow at Tin Mountain Conservation Center. His talk focused on mountain meteorology, map reading, and forecasting, and really helped me tie together a lot of the concepts I have been learning over the past 2 months.

Mike will be giving this talk tomorrow as part of a full day Winter Weather Workshop offered by the Observatory and hosted by Tin Mountain. Several other educational staff members will be covering additional topics in the classroom and out in the field. The event starts at 9am but if you get on it early you might still be able to reserve a spot. Check out http://www.tinmountain.org/event/adult-nature-course-weather-of-the-mount-washington-valley/ for more information, and be sure to watch our website and facebook for more opportunities like this is the future, because these guys know what they’re talking about!



Adam Freierman, Summit Intern
  

14:11 Thu Mar 05, 2015

The Winds of March

After the long brutal winter New England has been seeing so far this year, we are all looking for a slight break.  Like Tom mentioned yesterday, that break seems to be likely in coming days. This made me think about the old saying “In like a lion, out like a lamb.” I then asked myself, “How accurate is its meaning is for the summit of Mount Washington? Does that saying even apply up here?

To get a quick and simple answer to these questions, I looked through our weather records. Particularly the hourly wind speeds and daily peak wind gusts for the month of March from 1935-2014. Then, I split the month into two halves (March 1st-15th, and March 16th-31st), and calculated the average hourly wind speeds and the average daily peak wind gusts for each half. See the chart below 
Wind Graph

As you can see there is a slight drop in both the average hourly wind speeds and average daily peak wind gusts in the second half of the month. With just a quick look at just our wind records it does seem like the old wives tale does slightly stand true here on the summit. Though, I wouldn’t quite say out like a lamb is accurate, unless it is a very angry lamb.



Michael Kyle, Weather Observer/IT Specialist
  

20:45 Wed Mar 04, 2015

Signs of Spring on the Horizon?

After a very cold and snowy February across New England, we may be seeing signs of changes ahead for the month of March. After a chilly next few days with arctic air locked over the region as it has been for much of the winter, temperatures look to be in the 30s and even lower 40s by the end of the weekend across all of New Hampshire. What’s responsible for this expected warm up? The main driving force is a major change in the jet stream. The jet stream is a narrow current of strong winds existing roughly around 30,000 feet above the earth that circles the planet and serves as a focus for most of the weather we see in our part of the world.

For much of this past winter, the jet stream has been riding north all the way up into Alaska before diving south to the east of the Rocky Mountains and back up again along the east coast. Storm systems for our area often developed or strengthened just offshore, dumping heavy snow over New England. This is a somewhat typical pattern for winter in North America, although this winter the pattern was especially stubborn, with very little changes to allow any warmer air to work its way into the Northeast.

Looking ahead, the jet stream will be flattening out over the Northeast U.S. by this weekend, keeping the arctic air bottled up to our north in Canada and allowing for more seasonable temperatures for New Hampshire. While this may only be a fleeting warm up, it is a sign that spring is just around the corner, much to the joy of many of the snow-weary residents of New England!



Tom Padham, Weather Observer/Meteorologist
  

14:09 Tue Mar 03, 2015

Second Coldest February on Record for the Summit

A project that has been ongoing since I arrived here back in December of 2005 is the digitizing of our weather records into a database. If you are a long-time follower of the Observer Comments (i.e. this blog), you know some of the difficulties our interns/full-time staff have encountered in this process, first in entering the data but also regarding quality control of the data. Year by year we have chipped away at entering our data and are (hopefully) nearing the light at the end of the tunnel as we approach the records for the start of the Observatory back in 1932. Data for 1935 to present is complete which allowed Michael Kyle to list the “Top 4 Coldest Months on Record For Mount Washington (1935-Current)” in a comment last month. In case you missed that comment, they were:

Top 4 Coldest Months on Record For Mount Washington (1935-Current)

Year Month Average Temperature
2004 January -6.5F
1989 December -5.4F
1970 January -3.6F
1968 February -3.4F

For several locations around New England and Eastern Canada, February 2015 has been posted as being one of the coldest if not the coldest February on their records. Mount Washington had an average temperature of -5.1F for the month of February 2015, which certainly lands on the list above. While it didn’t wind up being the coldest month ever it was certainly colder than the February 1936 average. But was it the coldest February on record with a few years still remaining to be digitized? In the past few days, I have been doing a quick sweep of the temperatures for the years remaining in our data entry (1932-1934) and inputting them temporarily into a spreadsheet. After entering the data and reviewing the numbers twice, another month/year floated up onto the list of coldest months. The month was February, the year was 1934, and the monthly temperature average was -5.3F. So, after this quick evaluation, 2015 ended up being the second coldest February on record. As for where 2015 and 1934 land on the coldest ever list, (pending further review) the list will be reshuffled to:

Top 5 Coldest Months on Record For Mount Washington (1932-Current)

Year Month Average Temperature
2004 January -6.5F
1989 December -5.4F
1934 February -5.3F
2015 February -5.1F
1970 January -3.6F


Ryan Knapp, Weather Observer/Staff Meteorologist
  

20:01 Mon Mar 02, 2015

Profiling More Precipitation
You have probably noticed that we have gotten quite a bit of snow this winter, and if you have been paying attention to the forecasts, you know that there’s more en route to New England tomorrow night. However, this storm system will be a little different from those experienced in the past month. It will begin as a typical “Alberta Clipper” with low pressure forming over northwestern Canada. This time, instead of moving towards New England, upper air patterns will keep the low pressure center far to our North. This will have a few different implications on New England weather…
 
With the bulk of the cyclone largely to our North, it will be a notably warmer storm than those of the past few months as warm air gets cycled in from the southwest.
 
This storm is expected to develop a significant occluded front as it moves east. The actual occlusion (think sharp spike in temperature) should stay to our north, but its vicinity means that we will experience a very brief warm sector because the cold front and warm front will be so close to each other.
 
With most of our snow affiliated with these developing fronts, their proximity means that the swift snowfall will be accompanied by a fleeting temperature spike. This will make for a wet heavy snow that we have rarely seen this winter.
 
Because of these factors, we are likely to see a much different spread of precipitation across New England throughout the storm’s passage. Ahead of the warm front on Tuesday night, New England looks like it should receive consistent snowfall throughout the region, but as things warm up Wednesday morning, the chances of mixed precipitation look increasingly likely for southern New Hampshire.
 
Let’s take a look at some different models for the time period in question:
Here we can see the NCEP (National Centers for Environmental Prediction) GFS model output displaying precipitation types for 1:00 am EST early Wednesday morning. Shades of green represent rain, blues display snow, pink is ice pellets, red is freezing rain, and yellows show mixed precipitation.
GFS precip forecastImage of Courtesy of the UQAM-Montreal Weather Centre
 
 
The GFS shows New Hampshire pretty safe from the mixed precipitation territory.
Here is the same time period displayed by the CMC (Canadian Meteorological Centre) GEM model.
GEM precip forecastImage of Courtesy of the UQAM-Montreal Weather Centre
 
The Canadian model shows a wider berth of mixed precipitation, extending into southern NH.
And lastly, we’ll look at NCEP’s NAM model.
NAM precip forecastImage of Courtesy of the UQAM-Montreal Weather Centre
 
 
The NAM shows a wide spread of mixed precipitation and freezing drizzle scattered over the northeast. If the NAM turns out correctly things could be a little damper than expected.
 
The fringe areas are more difficult to forecast for, but I would expect southern NH on down to get a little mixed precipitation Wednesday morning, whereas in the North Country, I think most of our snow should be on the ground before temperatures rise high enough for any notable mixed precipitation.
 
Things will begin to cool down again on Wednesday night, maintaining some nice conditions for later in the week.


Nate Iannuccillo, Summit Intern
  

21:41 Sun Mar 01, 2015

Wanted: Summer Interns!
Every summer, fall, and winter, the Observatory searches for interns who are interested in learning about extreme weather while assisting with the daily tasks required to run a mountaintop weather station. We are currently seeking enthusiastic students, recent graduates, and qualified weather enthusiasts who are looking for an adventure this summer! The last day to submit applications is this Thursday, March 5, 2015. To find out more information about this exciting opportunity, and to apply, please see our Internship page

Kaitlyn O'Brien, Weather Observer/Education Specialist
  
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