09:43 Tue Aug 22, 2017
Hit the Trail, Little Snail! (A Farewell to Mount Washington)
“O to realize space!
The plenteousness of all, that there are no bounds,
To emerge and be of the sky, of the sun and moon and flying clouds, as one with them.”
-Walt Whitman ‘Of The Terrible Doubt of Appearance’
Never underestimate what mountains can do. They will break you to your core and then heal every part of you inside, no matter how deep the wound. They will bury you in complete silence, and in the turn of a moment will blast you with the force of a wind seeming to carry the weight of the entire atmosphere. They will push you into the sky and leave you speechless, then present you with a rare artifact of the clouds and make you shout with joy. An unlikely home, Mount Washington did all this and more for me.
I came to the mountain after a long and rigorous semester that, to say the least, broke me down further than I intended to go. After the initial wave of relief that came with the completion of finals, I desperately needed a place for reflection and some kind of peace. On top of a mountain, I thought, what better place to be? How lucky I am to be far away from grueling reality of the ground, and in the simply placidity of the clouds? Though I’ve visited many times before, this was something entirely different, becoming a resident of the celestial canvas of the sky. I was as close to the clouds as I could get, with no one to face but myself, else I let myself fall right off the edge. So I stood at every one of those edges around the summit and admired the views.
I’ve loved it so entirely and so immensely that I began to miss seemingly small things when I was on my off weeks. I missed being eye-level with the bases of clouds and sleeping in my small bed fort that I created with my mom’s quilts and my drying towel covering the opening. I missed staring out the office window with the rest of my shift, ignoring responsibility, because the sight outside was simply too beautiful and captivating. I missed the winds that came at me so fast between breaks in the lifting clouds that I truly and honestly felt like I could be flying. I missed Clay, Jackson, Adams and Madison always standing steadfast in my view and allowing me to feel small, humbled and human. I missed running for rainbows and having the very Appalachian trail at my fingertips to walk in solitude. I missed laughing senselessly at dinnertime after the longest of days and watching I missed the Great British Bake Off so much that we began to think we were baking experts. I missed waking up to ‘Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa’ on Elizabeth’s phone in the bunk above me, and falling asleep to the white noise machine in complete darkness. I missed the billowing silence of a calm morning and the undercast that blanketed the mountains before lifting and immersing us. With days remaining, I realize I will miss all these things with a greater force than every off week before, as I will not be returning on the following Wednesday. A sobering thought indeed.
It was truly everything I needed at this point in my life and my career. I asked questions and found answers I’d been long looking for, and learned skills I didn’t know I needed. I suppressed my fear of giving tours long enough to feel comfortable speaking to complete strangers with conviction and self-assurance, at least on the outside. I learned what it really takes to have a job in the field of meteorology, and how demanding and truly exciting it can be. Above all, I found a way to make a difference in people’s lives while doing something that I enjoy beyond all things – forecasting. None of which would’ve been possible without the incredible amount of opportunity that comes with being a part of this mountain staff.
Beyond everything, this wonderful place gave me what I needed to put myself back together. Every solitary morning walk around the summit amidst the magnificent expanse of terrain, I found myself humbled and calmed. Every time the winds exceeded 50 mph and held me up while I leaned against it without falling, I felt safe in the arms of the mountain. All the sunsets I watched fall beneath the horizon and leave behind a swath of colors, I felt the distress of the previous months making its grandiose conclusion in my mind and heart. And every time I drove back up, always sad to say goodbye to my love and to my home at Little Squam Lake, I felt myself becoming a little stronger every time; little surer of myself with the weeks of mountain reflection adventures in my wake. How fortunate and humbled I am to be a piece of this observatory and to have known such amazing people, even if only for a short time.
A blog excerpt adapted to my own songs written by Christopher Hohman, who told me the wonders of this place –
“Whenever I end something grand in my life, I always like to pick a song that I listened to a lot during it to sort of be my tribute to that time in my life. I’ve always picked one, but this time three songs just meant so much to me I couldn’t decide. So if you’d like to hear the ‘Songs of my internship’ here they are”:
“Home” – Delta Spirit
“Everything Now” – Arcade Fire
“Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)” – George Harrison
And an honorable mention: “Organic Mix” – Tom Howe
Julia Moreland, Summit Intern
14:34 Sun Aug 20, 2017
A Fond Farewell!
“A mountain has no need for people, but people do need mountains. We go to them for their beauty, for the exhilaration of standing closer to mysterious skies, for the feeling of triumph that comes from having labored to reach a summit.” – Earl Hamner, Jr.
Despite being over 500 miles from where I was born and raised, coming to the White Mountains has felt like a homecoming to me. From the purple lupines of early summer, to the white birch lining both roads and far flung trails, to the cold snow melt running down the mica schist of the Rockpile itself, I find myself wondering daily at the beauty of this area, and I am deeply saddened that I must leave so soon.
I had the rare luck of knowing where I belong from an early age—when my family brought me up to Mount Washington at age 7, I knew two things: I was going to be a meteorologist, and I was going to live in New Hampshire. To be living out such a young, innocent goal over a decade later is a truly one of the most amazing things I have done in my life.
Figure 1: Enjoying an early summer undercast day.
Working at Mount Washington has greatly influenced my future and helped me to find my path in this career field. Using my tools provided by dozens of credit hours of math, physics, and meteorology, I am finally able to see my forecasts impact real people and help to provide safety and education to those visiting and living in the area. I am so thankful to both my professors from Brockport and the observers here at MWO for supporting me and teaching me so much about the atmosphere and writing a concise, accurate forecast. Through tours and answering the questions of everyone from children to casual weather enthusiasts to NASA scientists, I have reaffirmed my passion for educating others and sharing my love of science with them.
Figure 2: A summer here has meant happiness, hikes, and fulfilling work for me. Photo from early June at Lowe’s Bald Spot.
By being here in the mountains of New Hampshire, I have become more of who I know I am meant to be. There have been extremely busy, trying days, difficult forecasts, and the loneliness of living alone for the first time. But there have been countless more moments of wonder, laughter, pride, and growth. I have climbed mountains, both literal and metaphorical. To be taught and to teach here has been such a defining moment of my life, and I am so thankful for this opportunity. I want to especially thank the observers of my shift Tom, Taylor, and Ryan, for not only being amazing role models and guiding this internship, but also for being supportive and great friends. Thank you to my fellow interns Elizabeth and Julia for all the memories, inside jokes, and encouragement in the hardest moments of the summer.
There have been many interns before me, and there will be many after, but I am so appreciative of this internship and how it has so deeply impacted both my professional and personal life. I know I must say goodbye to the White Mountains and MWO for now, but I hope I do return someday to a place that now feels like home.
Figure 3: Enjoying a colorful early June sunset with fellow summer interns Julia and Elizabeth. Goodbye, Mount Washington!
Margaret Jividen, Summit Intern
05:51 Sun Aug 20, 2017
Using A Four-Letter Word Starting With "S"
August is a great time to visit the White Mountains. Temperatures on the summits are still mild and generally warm however nowhere near the Dog Day afternoons of areas south of us. Summits are green with vegetation or just starting to show some early fall browns. Neighboring bodies of water in the valleys below are great to be in/on. Neighboring towns and villages have various events during the weekends. In short, August is the embodiment of summer to me. However, August also means summer is winding down and the freedom of summer will soon be a mere memory. As a kid it meant the ebb and flow of the school year would be returning but as an adult on Mt Washington, it means the ebb and flow of the winter season will soon be returning.
So a common question this time of year is, “When do you typically see first snow?” The summit has received over an inch of snowfall every month of the year in our 85 year history. So it can and has technically snowed every month of the year. In looking through my personal photo journal through my decade and some change of working up here, I have photographed snow and rime in for every month up here; so this does hold true (you can check out our F-6’s HERE
). Typically, our last significant snowfall is in June and our first significant snowfall is in September. However, that is snowfall. Rime ice on the other hand can rear its ugly/beautiful head (or should I say, feathers) every month on a more regular basis. (If you want to learn more about rime, a blog post available HERE
by a former intern does a great job explaining it).
I mention rime/snow because looking out in recent long-range model runs, rime/snow/ice looks possible next weekend. Of course there is a giant asterisk attached to this statement. It is a week out, so a lot can change between this post and next weekend - weather patterns shift their tracks, patterns move faster/slower than expected, etc. And while it looks possible, whatever does fall or form doesn’t look like, as of now, it will stick around for very long; with whatever does fall/form melting out during the following day. In any case though, it will be something we will be keeping an eye on in the coming days. If you have a hike planned next weekend, it should be something you might want to keep an eye on
too. And if it doesn’t pan out, it does at least serve as a good reminder that winter-like weather is approaching in weeks and not months.
Thin layer of rime on summit sign August 7, 2010
On an unrelated note - If you were lucky enough to obtain a pair of solar eclipse glasses for Mondays viewing of the solar eclipse, after the big event, hold on to them and store them somewhere safe. Another eclipse will be viewable on the east coast on April 08, 2024
. I know it is seven years out but it will save you a few bucks and the time of having to get them all over again.
Ryan Knapp, Weather Observer/Staff Meteorologist
07:02 Wed Aug 16, 2017
Living and working on Mount Washington has been a dream of mine for some time now. Although I am from New York, my family and I have visited Mount Washington ever since I was young. Having the chance to live up here for the summer was (so far) an amazing experience. I have witnessed some things that are different while staying here on the tallest peak in the northeast compared to sea level.
Difference in Pressure
Traveling up this 6288’ mountain, you may start to feel your ears pop. The reason for this is because of the change in pressure. Being this high up in the sky, there is about a 20% difference in pressure between up here and if you were to bring this pressure down to the base. This means that there is 20% less atmosphere above us. Less atmosphere means less oxygen. That is why walking upstairs, hiking, etc. on the mountain may make you get a little winded faster. It takes some getting used to.
Jillian Reynolds, Summer Intern
Figure 1. Digital barometer showing an example of the 20% difference in pressure. The pressure on top represents the summit’s pressure and down below represents if you were to bring the pressure up here down to sea level.
Mount Washington is known as the “Home of the World’s Worst Weather.” The reasoning behind this is because there are many different types of extreme weather that can be seen while being up here. Whether there are fast winds, thunderstorms, snow, or hail, you can expect to get what you bargained for while staying here for a week at a time. My favorite weather phenomenon that I experienced this summer was our July 1st thunderstorm. We experienced a 90 mph gust of wind as the main line of storms rolled through! I have never seen anything like it.
Figure 2. Hays wind chart showing gusts of 90 mph for the July 1st thunderstorm.
One last thing that is different with living up here than being down at sea level is the views. Some of these views include other towns (North Conway, Berlin, Whitefield, etc.), lakes (Sebago, Winnipesaukee, Ossipee, etc.), a wide range of mountains, and the wonderful sunrises and sunsets! If it were to be early in the morning and an extremely clear day, you could even see the Atlantic Ocean over to the east. Although I have not had a chance to view the ocean yet from up here, hopefully someday I will!
Figure 3. July 17th sunset as viewed from Mount Washington.
08:06 Tue Aug 15, 2017
A Visit From the Past
One of the primary reasons my time at the Observatory's summit station has been as invaluable as it has is the opportunity for me to be one more segment in its rich and storied history. The long list of men and women that have called the summit of Mount Washington their work and their home is quite a remarkable one, and even though I haven't met most of these individuals, one can't help but feel a deeper connection with them nonetheless. The unique experiences we share, the perpetual challenges we face, and the dedication we show to the work that we do—it's very easy to put oneself in the shoes of any number of observers that came before (although the more efficient heating and effective insulation does make the job a little more pleasant these days).
Back in the 1930's (1936-1938), an individual by the name of Aubrey Hustead worked as a weather observer at our summit station. This was back in the days when our building was a shadow of what it is today, with a construction not quite as robust as the steel-reinforced concrete Sherman Adams building. The dedication of Aubrey and his fellow observers was staunchly resolute, as shifts lasted months instead of days, and maintenance of a mountaintop weather station did not benefit from the more modern technology that we have at our disposal in 2017.
Yesterday, we had a very special visit that brought with it echoes of the past: Dennis Hustead, the son of former observer Aubrey Hustead, came to visit the Observatory's summit weather station, bearing old pictures and articles from the days when his father was tasked with the Observatory's day-to-day operations. Dennis and his wife drove up the Mount Washington Auto Road to our summit station yesterday, sharing stories of his father's days as a weather observer atop Mount Washington back in the 1930s. The day was a fun and enlightening one, with a level of comity in the atmosphere, hearing about the experiences of those hearty souls that have come before us. It's interesting to hear what has changed, but perhaps even more astounding is what hasn't changed: the courage, dedication and resolution of summit observers is still alive and well as it was some 80+ years into the past.
Pictured below is the first ever news bulletin published by the Mount Washington Observatory, back in November of 1937.
WHAT HASN'T CHANGED
“The Observatory staff reports the building an excellent one to live in. The heating equipment is, if anything, too efficient, and even on a light fire is more than enough to keep the building warm, unless the temperature is well below freezing and the wind is blowing hard.”
Our historical records indicate that November of 1937 saw a peak gust of 150 mph on the 13th, and a minimum temperature of -3°F a few days earlier on the 11th. These days, winds of 150 mph, or temperatures below zero, will still bring a decided chill to the inside of our Sherman Adams building, despite the more efficient heat. One can only imagine the draftier construction of the 1930s and the permeating chill that surely must have been felt on those bitter blustery mornings.
"On July 4, 1937, a Mr. XXXX, of Salem, died of heart failure near the summit of Mt. Jefferson. Assistance was sought at the summit and Meteorologist Hustead and Observer Lees from the Observatory, accompanied by some others, went to the spot to offer what help was possible."
One of the realities of working at a mountaintop weather station renowned for it's extreme weather, which simultaneously attracts a wide array of outdoor enthusiasts and recreationalists, is the propensity for folks to get themselves in trouble on said mountain and its neighboring peaks. Fast-forward to 2017, and this unfortunate circumstance continues to be a reality, which motivates the staff to produce high-quality and timely weather forecasts.
WHAT HAS CHANGED
"Radio communication from the Observatory is of vital importance due to the frequent failure of telephone service in the winter. Since the beginning of the present Observatory radio communication has been provided with the foot of the mountain and Boston by means of ultra-high frequency, or very short radio waves."
While UHF radio communications are still utilized by the Observatory, these communications are not nearly as vital as they once were, thanks to the digital age's shining invention: the internet. Speedy and reliable internet connectivity has opened up the world of communication to our remote location, detracting from that very sense of remoteness that perhaps attracted many to this mountain in the first place. Nevertheless, we remain grateful for our ability to keep in constant touch with our family and friends much more intimately and reliably than the observers of the 1930s.
We're thankful for the visit of Dennis Hustead, as we keep the roots of the Observatory well in mind while forging resolutely into the future.
Mike Carmon, Senior Meteorologist & Education Specialist
18:04 Sun Aug 13, 2017
Enjoying the Weather Worry Free
People commonly ask if I feel safe up here in the winter, and just in general when the summit is being bombarded by the intense weather it is notorious for. While I like to think I have a thick skin for crazy weather, if this building was not as sturdy and secure as it is now… Well I would probably still work here. But, it would definitely be an entirely different experience and substantially more nerve wracking than it is today. The Observatory is located in the Sherman Adams building, which was completed in 1980 and constructed to withstand winds up to 300 mph! The walls are two feet thick steel reinforced concrete and the building itself is constructed similarly to houses that are built in hurricane prone areas. This past March, a Nor’easter moved into New England and sustained winds ramped up beyond the century mark with the peak wind gust soaring to 138 mph. As winds accelerated to these speeds, the sound inside was hard to describe! From inside the weather room, my fellow weather observers and I were able to watch this incredible weather event unfold while feeling perfectly safe at the same time. Having this sturdy building also allows us to go outside and experience Mother Nature unleashing her fury without having to worry about getting back down the mountain, or being outside for too long. This type of weather is impossible for others to really experience in a (nearly) worry free environment, and we are truly blessed to be up here observing the weather year round.
The building has not always been this sturdy! Back in January I wrote a blog discussing a storm that passed over the summit bringing two peak wind gusts of 127 mph, separated by a 24-hour period. Dave Glidden was working on a UMASS climatological project in the early 70s and staying with Lee Vincent at the WMTW TV station atop the Rockpile. Dave read my blog post and sent me a log that he kept during a massive storm that barreled through the White Mountains in 1972. The following notes are taken directly from his account of that storm on February 3rd, 1972.
Thursday, 3 February 1972
2210 – Raging blizzard. Winds over 120 mph now. Doors shaking in the TRANS room – Barographs pumping sharply with pressure falling straight down. Pressure oscillations can be felt on our eardrums. Engine room filling rapidly with drifting snow, despite closed vents. Winds tremendous. Made a difficult trip over to see Al at the OBS. He was having trouble keeping snow out and heat in the COSMO room – along with rapidly icing pitot.
Friday, 4 February 1972
0530 - Up at 0530, after a totally sleepless night due to extreme winds and shaking building. Fantastic conditions outside – winds are exceeding 130 mph, with a near-opaque whiteout, blowing chunks of ice hitting the building, and shaking doors, floors and tables inside. The storm shifted a bit to the west of its expected track.
0645 – Just talked with Guy. He wanted to know if everything was okay over here. He reports average speeds down to 112 mph, with peak gusts earlier to 166 mph from the east. The front steps of the OBS were blown away, and Guy said he’s not going to try to get out again. Winds are now WNW.
1400 - … Guy said that he and Al were up most of the night boarding up exposed east windows. He mentioned that, at times, the OBS was shaking so badly that one’s head literally rolled, with the walls and seams moving so much he thought something might buckle. “The world’s strongest building has proven not to be so strong after all” were Guy’s comments. He thought its limitations were fairly well compromised last night.
As I read Dave’s account from that blizzard I was overcome by excitement for a storm of that magnitude here on the summit. I was also overcome by anxiety when thinking about how frightening that would be to go through, while questioning the integrity of your shelter. I cannot imagine what that would be like living up here during a storm where snow was literally drifting through vents and filling up rooms. We have snow frequently blow through cracks in the tower, but never into the rooms where we are living and working. I have the utmost respect for everyone who observed the weather in this extreme climate prior to 1980. I also respect all other weather observers in the past who have put themselves in harm’s way to record meteorological data when accommodations were not quite as secure as they are now.
I am currently reading a book by Christopher Burt, Extreme Weather – A Guide and Record Book. This book contains countless anecdotes from people who have experienced a variety of different weather conditions and extremes. As I was going through a section that was discussing all of the major hurricanes that have occurred throughout the world, I came across a story of a weather observer who found himself in the midst of the most intense hurricane to make landfall in the United States since the beginning of records that date back to 1851. The man was J. E. Duane, and he was the official weather observer for the U.S. Weather Bureau at Long Key, Florida on September 2, 1935. On this date, a category 5 hurricane (157 mph winds or greater) lashed out unimaginable fury to the tiny islet and he was miraculously able to survive while continuing to monitor the weather instrumentation. Unfortunately, more than 400 people died in the Keys from this hurricane, which brought winds over 157 mph and a 20-30 storm surge. Duane’s account of this hurricane is incredible and I cannot even remotely fathom how terrifying this would have been. Here are a few snippets from his account from that day September 2nd into September 3rd:
During this lull, in the eye of the hurricane, the sky is clear to northward, stars shining brightly and a very light breeze continue; no flat calm. About the middle of the lull, which lasted a timed 55 minutes, the sea began to lift up, it seemed, and rise very fast; this from the ocean side of the camp. I put my flashlight out to sea and could see walls of water which seemed many feet high. I had to race fast to regain the entrance of the cottage, but water caught me waist deep, although I was only about 60 feet from the doorway of cottage. Water lifted cottage from foundations and it floated.
10:10 p.m. - Barometer now 27.02 inches; wind beginning to blow from SSW.
10:15 p.m. – The first blast from SSW, full force. House breaking up – Wind seemed stronger than any time during storm. I glanced at Barometer which read 26.98 inches, dropped it in the water and was blown outside into sea; got hung up in broken fronds of coconut tree and hung on for dear life. I was struck by some object and knocked unconscious.
2:25 a.m. (September 3) – I became conscious in tree and found I was lodged about 20 feet above ground.
-J. E. Duane, 1935
This train was sent to evacuate everyone from the Florida Keys prior to the landfalling hurricane. At the time, around 700 veterans were working on the Florida Keys Causeway. Unfortunately, the train was delayed and by the time it arrived in the Keys it was caught in the middle of the storm. The train derailed, and around 400 veterans and civilians died in the hurricane.
These two accounts sure make me appreciate what people have gone through to record meteorological data and keep equipment running properly while being in the midst of dangerous and deadly storms. It is an honor to continue taking weather observations and contribute to the extensive climate record here on the summit of Mount Washington, but I sure am glad the building was upgraded! Bring it, Big Bad Wolf…
Caleb Meute, Weather Observer / Meteorologist
15:18 Tue Aug 08, 2017
I Was Just in the Valley – Why is it Foggy Up Here on the Mountain? (Or Vice Versa)
One of the things Mount Washington is most notorious for is the seemingly endless fog that lingers on the summit. Many patrons will come from the valley, in beautiful, clear weather, and then arrive at the top of the mountain completely immersed in fog. With such a rapid change in weather, it seems almost impossible – so how is this fog developing so quickly, and why is it so constant?
Here on Mount Washington, we experience about 2/3 of the year in the fog, regardless of the weather in the valley. One of the biggest culprits are what is known as upslope fog. This occurs as a result of air being pushed up against the slope of the mountain, being forced up toward the summit, and in turn reaching saturation and condensing into clouds as it rises and the air cools. With strong winds blowing against the western slope of the mountain, we can experience days like the one pictured below. In this case, the synoptic scale setup in the region allows for clearing skies, but low level moisture (remaining in the valley) and the tight pressure gradient behind a low pressure system sends strong winds toward the mountains, inducing fog on just the tops of the mountains.
Summit fog can also come as a result of another lifting mechanism, such as a front. When a front approaches the mountains, air is again forced upward as it comes in contact with this large barrier. With the additional lifting that comes with a cold front - cold air cutting through the valley and forcing air to rise very rapidly with the help of the mountains - even more intense clouds can form on or above the summits. As this cold front traversed the White Mountains region, moisture in the valley was forced up dramatically, creating a beautiful display of cumulonimbus clouds, which can produce thunderstorms, precipitation, and lightning.
Sometime even the opposite might happen – you may see lots of cloud cover overhead while in the valley, but come up to clear, open skies. We can also see, from our perspective, some beautiful examples of valley fog, which is a form of radiation fog. This can form for a few reasons. Typically on calmer and clearer nights, as the radiation is released back into the atmosphere from the earth’s surface after being heated during the daytime, the air near the ground cools and all remaining cool air sinks, as it is denser than warm air. With this colder air now so close to the ground, it is now near or at its dew point, allowing fog to easily form without the air having to rise much further up in the atmosphere to saturate. This will result in beautiful pools of fog sitting at the bottom of the valleys, only able to evaporate once the sun comes out and again heats up the air near the ground.
Next time you come up to the summit, check out whether the valley or the summit is experiencing fog, and see if you can figure out why!
Julia Moreland, Summit Intern
07:29 Tue Aug 08, 2017
My Last Week on Mt Washington
Somehow, my internship at the Observatory is coming to a close. These past few days, I’ve been able to reflect on everything I’ve learned over the past weeks on the summit and a few things I have grown to appreciate here.
Since I study geology in college, I haven’t had many chances to study weather forecasting besides very briefly in my one meteorology elective that I took last fall. I don’t think I will ever get the chance again to create
meaningful forecasts for outdoor enthusiasts in the White Mountain region. Not
only are these forecasts special due to the topography and unique climate, but
they are also used every day by backcountry users. This leaves little room for
error and I’ve been able to hone in my weather forecasting skills and
learn more about how weather patterns tend to act while passing through the
I’ve given dozens of tours, reinforcing my communication skills and knowledge of Mt. Washington’s history while getting to know future meteorologists, people who wish they were meteorologists, passionate hikers, knowledgeable New Englanders, and just curious tourists. Sharing my experiences and knowledge with others has been very rewarding.
I’ve experienced some wild weather and atmospheric phenomena alongside peers and observers. Having never been in consistently high winds and low visibility before, the prospect of living and working in truly the worst weather in the world was an experience in and of itself. As I’m writing this, the summit is seeing sustained 70 mph winds with gusts to 80 mph. I only have to step outside to feel its power, and can return to the warmth of the weather room.
Several times earlier this summer, our dinners were interrupted by the tinny sound of hail echoing through our vents. A few afternoons, I’ve been torn from my desk to look at beautifully colorful rainbows that somehow disappear as soon as they form. My first week on the summit, I was awoken at 2:30 am to view the Northern Lights from the observation deck. According to our night observer, the lights were the some of the strongest he’s seen in 11 years, and the night happened to be relatively clear. Finally, the sunsets I’ve watched on the mountain, although more often than not have been difficult to view due to the frequent heavy cloud cover, on rare occasions were stunningly beautiful.
I’ve enjoyed living on the highest peak in the Northeastern United States with passionate and knowledgeable meteorologists and fellow interns, sharing interesting dinner conversations and bonding over our unique jobs.
Elizabeth Perry, Summit Intern
05:14 Mon Aug 07, 2017
♫♫♫...A Total Eclipse of the ̶H̶e̶a̶r̶t̶ Sun...♫♫♫
While reading a science blog two years ago, I learned about the solar eclipse that would be traversing the US on August 21, 2017
. As soon as I saw the date, I went to my calendar and started counting the weeks to see whether or not I would be working. Sure enough, I would be. So I added a note to my digital calendar in bold letters SOLAR ECLIPSE
with three scheduled reminders so I wouldn’t forget. Come to find out, those reminders weren’t necessary as it seems like everywhere I have looked for about the last month I am constantly getting reminders - social media feeds, news feeds, science feeds, friends, nightly news, and people I know who think I study space (just to clarify, my degree in meteorology = the study of weather). With daily reminders, the date is pretty much etched in my mind at this point. And knowing that I would be working, I started to do my homework on two important factors - how to view it and what the odds of viewing it would be.
So, what are we expected to see with a solar eclipse? A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the sun and the earth causing a shadow to be cast on to the earth's surface and the sun being obscured by the moon. If located dead center of the shadows path (known at the path of totality or the path of the umbra), the sun is blocked out by the moon for two minutes and 40 seconds. If not located within the path of totality (NH will not be anywhere near it this go around), the rest of us (most of North America) will be in the penumbra resulting in a partial solar eclipse. The penumbra passage lasts about three hours from start to finish. So for New Hampshire, our viewing window will be from 1 pm EDT to 4 pm EDT on August 21st. To aid in visualizing all of this, here are some animations and a video.
Or, if you want to see an animation of what it will look like if able to safely look up, head HERE
and enter you zip code in the yellow box.
How do I view it? First off, DO NOT LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN
! If the sun is viewed improperly at any time, eclipse or not, serious or severe eye damage can result. But there are a few ways to view it safely.
: Eclipse Glasses. These are typically a cardboard frame with two filters on them that block out 99.9% of the suns UV. There are two types, one made of aluminized mylar and the other made of black polymer. If going this route, the glasses typically run about $2 to $8+ (although, supply and demand will likely result in price gouging at this point). Prior to purchase or use, check for any defects like holes in the material. And be aware
of scams and fake/unsafe glasses out there.
: Special Telescope, Binocular, or Camera Lens Filters. These attach to the front end of the viewing element and allow viewers to see a magnified image of the eclipse. If you do not have a proper filter, do not view the eclipse with a magnifying device. Think of an ant under a magnify glass, that is what can happen to your eye or your cameras sensor if not properly filtered.
: Welders Glass. Welders Glass is numbered from 1 to 14. This method can be done ONLY if number 14 glass is present. And stacking lower numbers is not a safe method (so two stacked 7’s will not be safe)
: Pinhole projection. This is by far the easiest method, although many will likely be disappointed since the image projected can be quite small pending on how you construct it. This is the method I remember using as a kid and likely the one I will be using this go around. The easiest is a Cereal Box Eclipse Viewer (instructions HERE
If additional information is needed, the Perkins Observatory has put together a great page HERE
and the Exploratorium has a great page HERE
And before diving into something I am more familiar with (weather), here are some great links to explore all things Eclipse related (most with webcam links in case you can’t get out and see it from your location):
As I mentioned previously, I will be at the Mount Washington Observatory when this eclipse occurs. For those of you who might be new to who we are, the Mount Washington Observatory is a mountaintop weather station. That means we are a weather observatory and not an astronomical/space observatory (we don’t even have a hobbyist telescope up here). Our Observatory has been recording weather for 85 years, so we have an excellent data set to look back on for our possibility of viewing odds. After examining this data let me say, the summit of Mount Washington, NH is the LAST place I want to be for this event. So I am not thrilled at all that I have to be on the summit during the eclipse.
Back in June, an article
from the National Centers for Environmental Information popped up in my Twitter feed which had maps and stats using data from NOAA’s NCEI and the Cooperative Institutes for Climate and Satellites-North Carolina which all showed that statistically speaking, along the coast and the eastern half of the lower 48 were not ideal locations to try and view the eclipse. I kind of knew that going into the article but I know this to be especially true for the summit of Mt Washington.
The summit of Mount Washington is in the clouds (ie, fog) over 60% of the year. Additionally, storms typically funnel towards the Northeast which means that even if we are fog-free, we would have a high likelihood of clouds overhead either limiting or obscuring viewing. While it is still too early to do a reliable preliminary forecast for clouds/fog that far in the future, even if I could, I know after years of working here, any model run that far out would be complete rubbish. So rather than looking ahead, I decide to look at our past examining the most recent 30 years of weather records for August 21 between the hours of noon and 5 pm. Here are the findings:
- Fog, Rain
- Cloudy with Drizzle and Rain
- Intermittent Fog under Partly to Mostly Cloudy skies
- Intermittent Fog then Mostly Cloudy
- Cloudy then Fog with Rain and Thunderstorms
- Cloudy with Intermittent Fog and Rain
- Fog, Rain, and Thunderstorms
- Mostly Sunny becoming Sunny
- Partly Sunny
- Fog with Drizzle
- Fog with Rain
- Fog, Rain, Drizzle
- Mostly cloudy becoming Mostly Sunny
- Mostly Sunny becoming Partly Sunny
- Intermittent Fog under Cloudy skies with Haze
- Intermittent Fog under Mostly Cloudy skies
- Fog with Rain
- Fog with Rain
- Fog with Rain
- Fog then Mostly Cloudy becoming Mostly Sunny
- Fog with Rain
- Mostly Sunny then Fog
- Intermittent Fog under Mostly Cloudy skies
- Fog with Rain and Drizzle
- Fog with Rain
- Fog with Snow (yes, you read that correctly, snow!)
- Mostly Cloudy becoming Partly Sunny then Mostly Cloudy
- Intermittent Fog under Cloudy skies
As far as satellite views, an individual I follow on Twitter put together a compilation of the past 21 years worth of images for the date. You can check that out HERE
So, the stats are certainly stacked against us being able to view it from the summit with most years seeing fog or clouds. But I am remaining optimistic and hoping for the best. If things don’t pan out this time though, our next chance will be 2024 April 8
- when the umbra passes nearly overhead. This blog has gone on long enough, so we will look at those 2024 stats at another time...
Ryan Knapp, Weather Observer/Staff Meteorologist
15:55 Sun Aug 06, 2017
Up on the summit of Mount Washington, Observers regularly experience hurricane force winds as they go about their daily duties. In fact, in the winter time, the summit is blasted by 74+ mph winds nearly every other day. But for much of the world, winds this high are fairly uncommon, and when they strike the coast, as a tropical cyclone bringing lightning, torrential downpours, and potentially hail and deadly storm surge, the results can be devastating.
Hurricane Season begins June 1st, and lasts until November 30th, but the majority of tropical cyclones form between the months of August, September, and October. The figure below shows the distribution of hurricane and tropical storm occurrences from May through December. Note the sharp uptick beginning around the first of August, that peaks somewhere around the 10th of September before tapering off to end the season.
Distribution of Tropical Cyclones by Month
A tropical cyclone is a general term given to an organized, rotating system of clouds and thunderstorms that originates over tropical or subtropical waters. Essentially, it is a low pressure system of which low level winds are rotating counterclockwise in the northern hemisphere or clockwise in the southern hemisphere.
Tropical Cyclone Classification:
Tropical Depression – Max sustained winds 38 mph or less (33 kts)
Tropical Storm – Max sustained winds of 39 to 73 mph (34 to 63 kts)
Hurricane – Max sustained winds of 74 mph or greater (64 kts +). Western North Pacific, hurricanes are called typhoons, in Indian Ocean and South Pacific Ocean, called cyclones.
Major Hurricane – tropical cyclone max sustained winds of 111 mph (96 kts) or higher, corresponding to Category 3, 4, or 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.
The scale of a hurricane can reach 5-6 miles high and 300 to 400 miles wide and occasionally even bigger. These systems typically move around 10 to 15 miles an hour but have been known to move as fast as 40 mph. Tropical cyclones can cause a great deal of damage to property and substantial loss of life. However, they are also responsible for transporting heat and energy from near the equator to the cooler northern and southern reaches of the globe.
Generally speaking, there is a wide “belt” of low pressure that spans the equator. Immediately above the equator, winds blow from the northeast towards the equator. Immediately below the equator, winds blow from the south east. The figure below uses arrows to depict the direction of airflow over the Earth, in particular with respect to the Equator, denoted as a red line.
Trade Winds Image from www.yourdictionary.com
Within this belt of low pressure, the air and ocean are heated. Warming air begins to rise, and the moisture in the rising air condenses to form clouds, which eventually grow into storms. Much of the time these storms run their course and dissipate, however, on occasion, large groups cluster together and create a large area of warm, moist, rapidly rising air, which is responsible for developing an area of low pressure at the surface.
What causes normally routine thunderstorms to cluster together and form a tropical cyclone? To be honest, there are a few “ingredients” necessary to fulfill the recipe for a tropical cyclone. Some conditions that are conducive to tropical cyclone development include a source of warm, moist air which comes from the tropical oceans, surface winds blowing from different directions, converging and causing large parcels of warm, moist air to rise and form storm clouds, low wind shear, which allows the clouds to build to great height, and distance from the equator to allow the mass to spin or twist.
The Coriolis force, which is caused by Earth’s rotation helps to spin the rising column of air. The low pressure at the center intensifies as a result of the warm, moist air spinning and accelerating upwards and outwards. Eventually, a cylindrical wall, or “eye” takes shape. Inside the eye, skies are relatively cloudless, and winds are typically very calm. At the wall, winds are typically their strongest. Nearly 6 miles in the air, the tops of the storm clouds are spun outwards as the storm moves, spreading a thick layer of high clouds over the surrounding region. The figure below demonstrates the formation of a tropical cyclone. Pretty impressive!
Tropical Cyclone Formation (NOAA)
Taylor Regan, Weather Observer
17:00 Fri Aug 04, 2017
A Tale of Two Internships
Growing up in Western New York, I spent much of my summers in the woods. I loved the mountains, and my mother called me “little Appalachia girl” for how I’d leave home in a crisp sundress, and would return with a bucket full of natural treasures, dirt smudged everywhere, and hair reminiscent of a bird’s nest. Whether it was in the shallow woods of my back yard, or on excursion to a state or national park, I was happiest outdoors. My naturally pale skin would become deeply tanned and my blonde hair would become a shock of white.
One of the most common destinations for me was Allegany State Park, New York’s largest state park. About two hours south of Buffalo, it was the closest dose of nature and camping for me. With three man-made lakes, plenty of trails for hiking, and a bike path, Allegany was the perfect destination for my family. It has been a yearly destination since I was less than six months old.
One of the nicest things about Allegany was the natural interpretation programs. With dozens of programs offered over the course of a week, talks, hikes, and games were designed for a variety of age levels. From beaver lodge viewings to learning about the geological history of the area, I always clung close to the naturalists, wanting to be the first to see things and ask questions.
Figure 1: A shot from my kayak in the middle of Red House Lake in Allegany State Park. Note the lenticular cloud formations in the center of the shot, a rarity at such low elevations.
Last year, I had a chance to be one of those naturalists I so looked up to for the years prior. I deeply enjoyed this job, spending much of my time outside educating both children and adults on biology, geology, and history. The interpretation talks covered a variety of subjects, not just meteorology, my field of study. While I was the expert on some topics, I spent much of the summer learning about how to identify edible plants, the snakes of the region, and some local bird calls. I felt so blessed to live in the mountains and be able to hike every day. I saw bears, foxes, raccoons, and small reptiles and amphibians regularly. I was ecstatic to hike Mount Tuscarora, Allegany’s most difficult trail, with a peak elevation of 2,144 feet.
Figure 2: I enjoyed most my days outside at Allegany, rain or shine.
365 days later, and I have been living at more than twice that elevation! The mountains of my childhood now seem to be dwarfed by the White Mountains. Aside from a handful of moose sightings, and ravens on the summit, I have not seen much wildlife—probably because I spend much of my time above treeline. Last Sunday, I finally hiked Tuckerman’s Ravine to the summit. I felt exhilarated, in awe of not only my surroundings, but how much my hiking skills have improved in the last year. I had felt ambivalence at the beginning of the trail, but as I climbed the Headwall I knew I could do it. I enjoyed seeing butterflies, alpine flowers, and the happiness of the other hikers around me.
Figure 3: Two small butterflies along the Tuckerman Ravine Trail.
Also in contrast to last summer, I have mainly been teaching about a topic close to my heart, meteorology. Primarily through tours, I share the history of the Observatory and why we get such terrible weather with not only people with a casual interest in our weather, but also other meteorology professionals. Whenever an interesting phenomenon occurs outside our windows, I am no longer the only one rushing over to capture it and discuss the science behind the occurrence.
That doesn’t mean I’m done learning though. Mountain meteorology has some marked differences from the terrain I became accustomed to forecasting. The unique topography of any region will enhance, diminish, and change any given system moving over the area. Not only do the mountains affect my forecasting, but I have also stuck my nose in a textbook more than once this summer, looking for explanations for findings in my research. I am fascinated by the way the mountains shape the weather in the summits, valleys, and in between.
Figure 4: A view from the Tuckerman Ravine’s Headwall, over the Hermit Lake Shelter and the trail I had taken up.
I have been very fortunate to have these two very different internships in the past two years. I have learned so much about not only various areas of the sciences, but also about myself and who I want to be in the future. I love the mountains, whether they are small and close to my hometown, or large and filled with new experiences. I am thankful for all the people who have taught me so much about educating others, science, and just being an adult while still enjoying the outdoors.
Figure 5: I’m still all smiles, even after falling into a muddy hole on Crawford Path.
Margaret Jividen, Summit Intern
07:44 Wed Aug 02, 2017
Differences in Precipitation
One of the questions that I usually get as a meteorologist is “what is the difference between freezing rain, sleet and hail?” Well, I am here today to tell you the differences in how each of these precipitation is formed and what they would look like to you on the surface.
The first type of precipitation that I will teach you about is freezing rain. Freezing rain develops in a freezing layer then will enter a thick layer of warm air that will make it melt. The liquid precipitation will then reach a thin layer of freezing air hugging the surface. The drops will then freeze on contact with the earth’s surface creating a coating of ice on whatever the raindrops touch.
Figure 1. Atmospheric profile of freezing rain taken from Apollo.Isc.vsc.edu.
Next up are the two types of precipitation that most people get mixed up: sleet and hail. Sleet will develop in a frozen layer of air. It will then fall through a thin layer of warm air and continue moving downward into a thick layer of frozen air on the surface that will end up refreezing it. They will reach the surface as little pellets of snow.
Figure 2. Atmospheric profile of sleet taken from Apollo.Isc.vsc.edu.
Hail usually forms during thunderstorms. Thunderstorms are associated with updrafts (air being pulled up into a thunderstorm). When these updrafts meet supercooled water droplets (liquid water drops that are surrounded by below freezing air), hail is made. The hailstone will undergo an up-and-down cycle within the thunderstorm as it collides with rain drops and other ice particles and gets forced down by gravity. It will then get pushed back up into the cloud by another updraft. It will eventually fall out of the thunderstorm, below the freezing line into the warm layer on earth’s surface. They will look like ice pellets in a wide range of sizes.
Figure 3. Diagram of hail formation taken from alabamawx.com.
Hopefully this clears up any misconceptions about different precipitation types!
Jillian Reynolds, Summit Intern