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Observer Comments

17:22 Sun Feb 18, 2018

Using Clouds to Predict the Future

A bout with the influenza virus has kept me sidelined this week and at home in Burlington where Molly has followed me around the house sanitizing with a bottle of lysol, rubber gloves and a mask. It is an unfortunate part of shift work on Mount Washington that when someone gets sick, the rest of the crew continues on, shouldering a bigger workload. To compound matters furthermore, another virus swept through the Observatory and took Adam down as well which has made things unimaginably difficult on our shift leader, Mike. Thankfully, he did his Ron Burgundy impression, polished off the summit Conch Shell and bellowed out for past Observers to assemble, and the legendary Rebecca Scholand answered the call and is helping out until Wednesday. Thanks Becca!

When I am not working on the mountain, I am far less in tune with what is going on weather wise and frequently find myself outside in conditions I am not expecting. This is especially true this week as I have paid absolutely no attention to the weather and more attention to the inside of my eye lids and how much Dayquil and Nyquil I have left. Saturday, however, we were considering having me come back up to the summit today and I quickly felt the need to check the weather to see what I could expect in the coming days atop the Rockpile. Rather than turning the Television on or opening my laptop though, my first step was to look outside the window and analyze the clouds. Prior to becoming a Weather Observer for the Observatory, this is not a reaction that I ever would have had. With that being said, simply looking outside at the clouds can actually be a great indicator of the weather to come. What I noticed yesterday was a thick high cloud cover that seemed to lower as the day progressed. My immediate takeaway was that there was a large scale (Synoptic) feature approaching that would bring unsettled weather in the coming days. To follow this up, I opened my laptop and checked out the weather forecast models to see if I was indeed correct.

Sure enough! While it looked like here in Vermont and through most of northern New England, we would be spared from a significant snowstorm, I saw that a broad area of low pressure was going to traverse through the Mid-Atlantic States and then exit through southern New England. These low pressure systems send plenty of moisture in advance as they trek through the country. Upper level moisture is the first to arrive which is represented by high cirrus and cirrostratus clouds. This is what I was seeing yesterday when I looked outside. By no means was it a dreary day here in Burlington, Vermont but with the thickening high cloud cover it was clear that something was brewing near the region. In our forecast discussions we frequently include that "clouds will thicken and lower ahead of the approaching storm, eventually to summit level in the form of fog". That is the way these events usually transpire for us on the summit and anywhere else for that matter ahead of an approaching storm. Upper level moisture is first displaced well in advance of the storm and as it gets closer, the increased moisture falls through the column. One way to look at it is to imagine a wedge of moisture in advance of the system, with the point of the wedge at the storms center and then the diagonal ascending in advance with the highest point marking the leading edge of the upper level moisture.

This diagram is a great depiction of how it transpires. As a warm front approaches, the warmer air mass ascends above a layer of colder and denser air. As the warm air ascends, it cools and eventually reaches its dewpoint, where it condenses into a cloud. In this image, Saint Louis and Indianapolis are closest to the storms center, while Columbus and Pittsburgh are further away and beginning to see the thickening high cloud cover. If you were in Pittsburgh, and you noticed cirrus clouds growing denser and lowering, GET THE BREAD AND MILK. Or just an umbrella...

If you are wondering how to classify these types of clouds, they are actually fairly easy to distinguish. The following picture shows cirrus clouds: These clouds are wispy high clouds (generally over 20,000 feet) and usually the first to appear ahead of an approaching system.

Next and usually coinciding with the cirrus clouds are cirrostratus clouds which are more widespread but seemingly transparent. These clouds are also found above 20,000 feet but are thicker and more sheet-like. One way to distinguish these clouds would be from the appearance of a halo around the sun or moon. As the night observer, these clouds are tough to identify sometimes because I can still see stars although they appear a bit more faint. The halo around the moon is the biggest giveaway to the presence of a high cirrostratus cloud layer.

As the cloud deck lowers furthermore we find altostratus clouds. Altostratus clouds are midlevel clouds that typically cover the whole sky. They are generally found between 6,500 and 20,000 feet and will occasionally coincide with light precipitation. A way that I distinguish these clouds is when it looks like the sun or moon is visible through frosted glass.


Finally, upon the arrival of the worst of the storm, clouds would transition to nimbostratus clouds. Contrary to popular belief, this is not the name of your favorite Wizard's Broom from Harry Potter. These clouds are found below 10,000 feet and they are opaque and associated with widespread moderate to heavy precipitation.

Clouds can give us a wealth of knowledge on the weather to come and I find this a fascinating part of being a Weather Observer on the summit of Mount Washington.

Looking ahead, not at clouds, but instead at the weather forecasting models, the heat is about to CRANK. The monthly record high temperature for February is 43°F which was set in 1981 and tied in 1999. Tuesday and Wednesday may feature two consecutive days where highs could surpass this number as very warm air streams into the northeastern United States between an approaching system from the west and strong high pressure centered off the eastern seaboard. Current model indications show potential high temperatures Wednesday soaring to 48 degrees! WHOA, that's a warm temperature! Relative to Mount Washington at least... In February...

Caleb Meute, Weather Observer/Staff Meteorologist

10:36 Thu Feb 15, 2018

Wind Chill Advisory VS Warning

You may have heard or seen in our forecasts that a “Wind Chill Advisory/Warning is in effect until…” After hearing or seeing those alerts, you may think “what exactly does that mean?” I will explain the differences in criteria between both. But first, what is ‘wind chill’?

The National Weather Service (NWS) defines wind chill as “the rate of heat loss from the human body”. The combination of cool temperatures and wind creates wind chill. As the winds increase, heat is driven away from the body at a faster rate, as both the skin temperature and eventually the internal body temperature decrease.

When calculating wind chill up here on the mountain, we like to use the NWS’ wind chill chart (shown below). This chart helps us visualize what the potential range of wind chill would be, as well as the amount of time it would take for someone to receive frostbite.

Caption: NWS Wind Chill Chart Using Wind Speed and Temperature.

For the summit of Mount Washington, if the wind chill is between 35 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit below zero, a wind chill advisory will be issued. According to the chart above, one could expect to get frostbite within 10 minutes if there is any exposed skin.

If the wind chill is any less than 50 degrees Fahrenheit below zero on the summit, then a wind chill warning will be issued. The NWS Wind Chill Chart shows that you could get frostbite within 5 minutes if there is any visible skin.

The colder the wind chill is, the greater your risk of obtaining hypothermia is. If you or your clothes are wet, hypothermia will become even more likely.

For both alerts, it is important that you stay dry, stay covered, dress in layers, and stay informed. If you plan on hiking up to the summit, always check out our forecasts first on our website (https://www.mountwashington.org/experience-the-weather/higher-summit-forecast.aspx). That way, you will know how to prepare for your ascent!

Jillian Reynolds, Summit Intern

12:19 Tue Feb 13, 2018

Hold the Brie - Cheesy Valentine's Wishes from the Summit
Back in elementary school, Valentine’s Day kind of had a Christmas vibe to it - decorations, arts and crafts revolving around the holiday, the color red, card exchanges, and candy. For arts and craft time ahead of Valentine's Day, one thing that was big at my school was creating Valentine Boxes. We would bring a tissue box or shoe box a day or two prior to V-Day and decorate the box to reflect our personality and become the receptacle for V-Day cards when the pseudo-holiday arrived. Valentine Day cards would range from the personal homemade variety, to cheddar-tastic pop-culture referenced store bought cards. We would then drop the cards in our classmates little boxes and at the end of the day open all the cards, read way too much into what the various cards meant from crushes at the time, and then become revved up on Valentines candy and sweets prior to be shipped home.
Thinking back on those little cards I used to buy (yea, I wasn’t motivated enough to create my own) for my 15 or so classmates, I got to thinking - what would the cards look like if I had to design them around my current life on and around Mt Washington? I grab a few of my images over the past year and set out to create a few I think work. So, let's open Mt Washington’s hypothetical Valentine Box and see the cards I might have thrown in it...
Mt Washington Valentines Day Card 1
Mt Washington Valentines Day Card 2
Mt Washington Valentines Day Card 3
Mt Washington Valentines Day Card 4
Mt Washington Valentines Day Card 5

Ryan Knapp, Weather Observer/Staff Meteorologist

11:13 Mon Feb 12, 2018

An Experience of a Lifetime
Hi! My name is CareyAnne Howlett. I am a junior at Plymouth State University studying Meteorology. I was lucky enough to be the intern up here at the summit of Mt. Washington for two weeks in January doing research. What an adventure it been was!

Out of all the weeks I could have been there, I was fortunate enough to be there for two of the most exciting weeks in January! I was able to have a front-row seat for 2018’s first nor’easter, witness record-breaking cold temperature AND record-breaking high temperatures! Not many people can say they observed an 83-degree temperature swing in less than a week, but I can! The first week’s temperatures dropped down to a bone-chilling 38 degrees below zero and the next week, temperatures got up to 45 degrees above zero! You could say it was a weather roller coaster during my stay on the Rock Pile!

I was able to go learn the ins and outs of the operations on the summit. I learned how to make and submit observations, deicing the instruments, and even was able to do my first radio show! The research that I was doing during my time up there, was to find out how the transfer of air masses can change the summit conditions. If forecasters at the summit know what air mass is about to come through, they could potentially have a better forecast of the summit conditions.

I cannot thank the observers enough for giving me an experience of a lifetime. I would also like to thank the volunteers for making us dinners and being such great company.

CareyAnne Howlett, Winter Research Intern

15:34 Sat Feb 10, 2018

Just Your Average Weather Predicting Groundhog

One week ago at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, a spritely groundhog by the name of Phil scurried out of his cozy tree-trunk home, saw his unsightly shadow, and proclaimed the impending extension of winter by a terrifying six weeks. How accurate is a groundhog at predicting the end of winter? And where did this arguably equal parts bizarre and endearing tradition come from?

February 2nd, Groundhog Day, dates back in its significance to the ancient celebration of the midway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. The Celts originally celebrated the day as Imbolc, which marked the beginning of spring. Later, as Christianity spread through Europe, the celebration evolved into a day called Candlemas. Belief held that if the day of Candlemas was sunny, it foretold of another 40 days of cold and snow.

The German people took this belief on step further, proclaiming the day could only be considered sunny if small animals such as badgers were able to see their shadow. As German immigrants made their way to Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries, they brought this tradition with them, favoring the native groundhog as the source of their springtime proclamation.

Image from Wikipedia.

The first Groundhog Day celebration took place in 1887, the idea of newspaper editor Clymer H. Freas. As the story of “Punxsutawney Phil’s” predictive prowess propagated, the nation became enraptured with the rodent, and the day became etched in American history.

So, how does the prophesizing groundhog fair upon making his prediction? Not too well, I’m afraid. He averages just about 38% percent accuracy when looking back at each yearly verdict since 1887! While we don’t forecast the length of winter up here on the summit, if you’re heading out and about in the White Mountains, or just find yourself curious about the weather, check out our 48 hour higher summits forecast! It’s produced twice daily at 5 am and 5 pm, and can be found on our website at mountwashington.org/forecast.

Taylor Regan, Weather Observer

14:31 Thu Feb 08, 2018

(Don't) Blow Me Away!

If you Google images or video for the Mount Washington Observatory, you’re going to find a lot of clips and pictures about our observers being blown backwards, knocked flat and pushed around. As fun as is this is to watch, it does raise a few questions concerning safety. During my first week here, I’ve heard some specific questions asked and, not originally knowing the answers myself, I wanted to share them with you all!

Has anyone ever been blown off the mountain?

Despite how high the winds can get at the summit, no one has ever been blown off the Rockpile. With the winds blowing horizontally across the deck and the force of gravity acting downward, movement is also downward. Because of this, a gust of high wind won’t pick your body up and throw you through the air; instead, it’s going to knock you down and push you along the ground like a curling rock. In one particular YouTube video, observer Mike Dorfman jumped into 100+ mph winds and was immediately punched back to the ground! Since the Observatory deck (where we perform observations) is railed, you can’t be pushed over the side once you’re down. There are also structures on the deck, such as the instrument tower and the A-frame, that allow observers some shelter from the wind if it’s interfering with their observations.


Observer Mike Dorfman taking a falling leap.

Why don’t you tie yourselves down?

We don’t wear lines when we go outside because a rope would actually present more safety issues than if we went out untethered. If the winds are high enough to knock people over, then they’ll also whip the rope around, where it could snap back and hit us. Worse, it could trip us up or get tangled around us, potentially becoming very dangerous.

So what precautions do you take?

One of the main concerns in high winds is the temperature. With the average yearly temperature at the summit being below freezing (27.3F!) and the average yearly winds hitting 35mph, wind chills can drop dangerously, posing a risk of frostbite to any exposed skin. Observers go out dressed in several wind- and water-resistant layers with their hoods secured beneath the straps of their goggles and any loose strings tucked in so that they don’t whip around.

Another hazard is flying rime ice, and this is where the goggles are vital. Rime ice is very light, and it can break off and fly around in large chunks. If there’s ice flying around, the observers will wear helmets, and the goggles keep small, high-speed ice slivers out of their eyes.


Observer Caleb Meute de-icing the tower instruments.

You don’t have to work at the top of a mountain to experience frostbite and flying debris, and with the unpredictability of New Hampshire’s mountain weather, it’s always wise to check the weather before venturing out onto the trails. It’s better to be over-prepared than under-prepared.

Working at the Observatory can be physically taxing and unpredictable, but with proper training and safety considerations, the rewards are fantastic: an 85-year long (and growing) collection of weather data, stunning pictures and the exhilaration of experiencing weather that few people see in their lifetimes. There’s nothing like standing at the summit of the Northeast’s tallest peak and daring the weather to do its worst!

Sarah Schulte, Summit Intern

14:13 Thu Feb 01, 2018

Three Snowstorms, Two Arctic Outbreaks, One Big Challenge

This winter has thus far been another typical New England roller coaster ride, with snowstorms and rainstorms, arctic outbreaks and record high temperatures, clear days and cloudy ones, high winds and even some flooding.

After a snowy start to the Winter of 2017-2018, January brought with it the proverbial thaw that is steeped in the oldest of New England traditions. Although there were a few snowy and chilly exceptions, on the whole, January saw the near-total desolation of our finely-built snowpack that December so kindly bestowed upon the White Mountains. The finely packed powder has unfortunately turned to a pervasively slippery and sloppy mess throughout the region, creating challenges for backcountry adventurers and day-to-day commuters alike.

Change is on the way, however.

The next week of weather has summit meteorologists honing their forecasting chops, as a big challenge lies in store in the days to come.


After today (Thursday's) minor snow storm, an arctic cold front will blast through New England, bringing a swift return of bitterly cold air. Temperatures will fall steadily on top of Mount Washington through the day on Friday and into Friday night, bottoming out in the 25-30 below zero F range overnight. Strong winds will accompany too, sending wind chills down to 65-75 below F territory during the wee hours of Saturday.


Although temperatures will be "warming" (using this term generously here) through the day on Saturday, they'll remain chilly enough to pose lingering dangers to anyone caught outdoors unprepared. With freezing fog and breezy conditions remaining in place, Saturday will be a coldly-challenging day in the Alpine Zone with 10 below F just out of reach.


A large system will move out of the Great Lakes and speed towards the eastern seaboard on Sunday. In it's advance, light snow will begin to fall along a frontal boundary extending northeastward from this system. The system will intensify though as it draws closer, spreading snowfall across most of New England (with mixing possible in coastal locations) late Sunday through the overnight and into early Monday morning. There is still a good deal of uncertainty in the track of this storm, but a significant Nor'easter type event is a decent possibility to wrap up the first weekend of February.

Caption: Sunday Night's Potential Storm


As Sunday night's storm system quickly exits to the east, another push of cold air will rush in behind the low, bringing another brief cool-down along with some breezy conditions throughout the Northeast. The newly fallen and snow, gusty winds, and chilly temperatures will bring the recently-lacking wintertime feel back with a vengeance.


Tuesday may be the only somewhat nondescript day weather-wise, as high pressure makes a brief appearance over New England. Clearing skies, calming winds, and moderating temperatures will be a brief respite before…


…If it's Wednesday, it must mean another storm! Although it's still nearly a week into the future, computer models are hinting at another significant round of snowfall through the day on Wednesday.

Let the ride begin! 
Caption: Wednesday's Potential Storm

Mike Carmon, Senior Meteorologist & Education Specialist


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