Observer Comments

20:33 Sat Mar 23, 2019

In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb?

“In like a lion, out like a lamb.” It’s a common saying, and one that is often ascribed to the somewhat tumultuous weather often peppering the month of March. In the Northern Hemisphere, this is often due to the March being the “turning point” between the months of winter and spring. Many times, anecdotes or sayings like these are passed down between generations, stemming from observations made prior to scientific data being readily available. They were passed along to help people understand the whims of nature, and often stemmed from tangible evidence of their occurrence or passing.

March is our snowiest month, on average, on the summit of Mount Washington. With a “skewed” set of seasons up here that seem to favor winter, I wasn’t sure what impact the transition to meteorological spring would have on our weather, so I decided to do a little digging. Here’s what I’ve found:

I split the month of March into two blocks (the first half, and the second half) and picked three variables that were good indicators (to me) of the intensity of winter conditions on the summit: temperature, wind speed, and average daily snowfall. In all three categories there was a significant spring-like turn between the beginning and ending of the month, as seen below.

March 1-15

Average Temperature: 10.0F

Average Wind Speed: 42 mph

Average Daily Snowfall: 1.7”
 
 Figure 1. March 9th 2018

March 16-31

Average Temperature: 14.9F

Average Wind Speed: 39 mph

Average Daily Snowfall: 1.4”

 Figure 2. March 20th, 2017

As you can see, the temperature increased, while winds and daily snowfall amounts decreased. Of course, there are always fluctuations year to year, but this analysis definitely has me thinking spring! It won’t be long now before we’ll be removing our winter storm windows and preparing for summer!



Taylor Regan, Weather Observer/Research Specialist
  

10:37 Sat Mar 23, 2019

Wild Places

I like going outside. I do it every day, often two or three times a day while volunteering on the summit. I call it my “weather fix”. I do it when it’s clear and calm, when it’s foggy, or after dark on a clear night to look at stars and planets. I do it on rainy days, when the precipitation is coming down horizontally, when rime is forming on rocks, signs, and even on my goggles and outerwear, and on days when the wind is roaring and you get pushed around like you are weightless. It is during these times outside, especially when it is wild that I seem to connect, not with the summit, but with the wildness of this place and its history.

We need wildness as a species, but as we get more numerous and expand into more places on Earth, the wild places get fewer and fewer, and we are less because of that. Mount Washington is no big wilderness, not with millions of people living only hours from its base, but there is no doubt it is a wild place. When you stand in the wind that gusts to seventy or eighty miles an hour, or go outside to feel what sixty-five below zero wind chill is like, you are experiencing wildness at a primal level. You can’t do that unless you are living at the top, and can feel the forces just outside your door. You know the same forces were in play when the Crawford family guided people here on horseback, along the southern peaks. As you stand there, you know it wasn’t any less windy or cold, or wild. These people lacked the windproof insulated gear that makes it possible to go outside. You also know that the wilderness doesn’t care if you live or die. The decisions you make determine how safe you will be. That hasn’t changed much since the earliest people came here. Feeling that wildness connects you to those people who came before, and to the forces that focus here in such strength, and will continue to do so long after people are gone.



Bill Ofsiany, Summit Volunteer
  

09:19 Thu Mar 21, 2019

Our First "Spring" Snowstorm!

Our first “spring” storm of the season is set to begin across the White Mountains this evening, lasting through most of Saturday. Although we’re officially into astronomical spring as of yesterday, we’ll be observing plenty of wintry weather from this system over the next 48 hours. This will be an interesting system in terms of strength and also the complicated features that are already coming together to make the storm.

Two weak areas of low pressure already merged overnight across the Carolinas, with one moving from the Ohio River Valley helping to begin the strengthening process of the coastal storm. Widespread heavy rainfall is moving north through the Mid-Atlantic as of this writing, with a few embedded thunderstorms. A third system tracking through Ontario and Quebec overnight Thursday will begin merging with the coastal low, leading to a period of more rapid strengthening as the storm moves into New England. The track of the storm will be critical in terms of determining how much warmer air changes over our precipitation to rain or a mix, but as of right now the storm should stay just east of the region and we’ll remain just cold enough for almost all snow.

 GFS model mean sea level pressure (MSLP) anomaly showing two distinct areas of low pressure (dark blue shading) Thursday evening before the systems merge into a more powerful storm Friday into Saturday centered over Maine.

The storm is then expected to stall and churn its way slowly across Maine for much of Saturday, leading to a prolonged period of snowfall that will substantially add to our totals here in the White Mountains and across the higher terrain of the greater Northeast. With the central pressure expected to reach near 980 mb or even a little lower, this will be a pretty powerful storm especially for late in the season. The pressure gradient between building high pressure to our west and the storm will lead to winds in excess of 100 mph for much of Saturday and even into Sunday. Whiteout conditions are also likely from the fresh snow being kicked up.

So how much snow are we potentially going to see? This will likely be one of the bigger snow storms of the year for the summit. March is actually our second snowiest month, and so we’re no stranger to major snowstorms during this time of the year. Taking a look at many of the models, this storm will likely yield anywhere from 10-20” of snow for the summit through Saturday night. The range for this storm is high due to the potential for still some mixed precipitation (possibly even briefly plain rain) to reach all the way up to 6,000 feet. Snowfall will also initially be heavy and wet, but by Saturday will become much more light and fluffy as temperature fall through the teens above.

 
NAM-3KM model snowfall roughly 1-2 feet of snow for the higher terrain of New York, Vermont, and the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Images courtesy of Tropical Tidbits.

It’ll be very interesting to see how this storm plays out across the Northeast. Parts of far northern New York, including the northern Adirondacks, could be the big winners with this storm with nearly 2 feet. This could be the last major (snow in excess of a foot) snowstorm for us this season on the summit, although there’s always the potential for a big storm lasting even into May as I’ve witnessed in my time here. It’s already been an incredible winter season, with 171 mph winds and about 260 inches of snow. Despite this, I’m always looking forward to more snow and high winds on the summit!



Thomas Padham, Weather Observer/Education Specialist
  

11:53 Tue Mar 19, 2019

Freezing Fog and Rime Ice; what are they?

I’ve recently had a few people ask me what the difference between Freezing Fog and Rime Ice is, or more generally, what each of them is. It can certainly be confusing. The term Freezing Fog intuitively sounds like it is fog that is freezing but in actuality it isn’t freezing at all, at least not yet. The National Weather Service defines Freezing Fog as tiny, supercooled water droplets in fog when air temperatures are below freezing. In fact, it is possible to have supercooled water droplets suspended in the air down to temperatures as low as 40° F below 0° F (-40° F = -40°C). That doesn’t make sense, does it? Everyone knows water freezes at 32° F. Well, this is true as long as the water droplets have something called ice-nucleating particles to freeze on.

Higher in the atmosphere, these ice-nucleating particles become more sparse. Without some small particle, water droplets will stay in the liquid phase. Scientists have conducted many experiments exploring this concept, which has resulted in a number of results. I would like to point out a couple here. These ice-nucleating particles can be comprised of a bunch of different things. They can be dust particles, tiny sediment particles like different minerals (silica, feldspars, micas, etc), bacteria, and so on. These all have different properties which can have an effect on how and at what temperature water will freeze on these particles. Another finding is that pressure perturbations and atmospheric dynamics can also affect how water freezes. Not to get too deep, but water droplets suspended in the atmosphere can even freeze above 32° F if the force of impact is high enough altering said pressure perturbations and the surface properties of the water. Why is this important? Well, cloud formation is a massive undertaking when it comes to understanding them and how clouds precipitate out (rain, snow, hail, etc). These seemingly small factors are entrenched in better forecasting precipitation rates and accumulations. So if the weather world is to better forecast snowfall and rain rates, understanding cloud formation and how ice nucleates in the upper atmosphere is essential. 

That being said, let’s bring it back to Freezing Fog and Rime Ice. We now know that Freezing Fog is not frozen and that it is actually tiny, supercooled water droplets suspended in the atmosphere, in a cloud, without anything to nucleate on. This is where Rime Ice comes into play. When these supercooled water droplets come into contact with something that also is below freezing, they now have something to nucleate on. For example, our weather tower and its instruments act as a nucleating catalyst. Down at the sea-level or anywhere else for that matter, it may be a mail box, tress, or powerlines. It could be anything. On the summit of Mount Washington it is the rocks, buildings, and anything physical, even us observers! So, Rime Ice is a by-product of Freezing Fog and is a fractal structure that builds with time in the direction of where the wind originates from. The colder the temperatures, the softer and whiter the Rime tends to be. As you approach the freezing mark, the Rime becomes harder and becomes more translucent until you have Glaze Ice, which is clear and extremely hard but deposited in the same fashion. While Rime Ice can be stunning and invoke some serious wondrous eye sights, it can also be very dangerous. It can dislodge from its surface and become flying debris, it can take down tree limbs and power lines, cover exhausts, and create black ice, so be aware of your surroundings when it’s around. On that note, I will leave you on a high point with a beautiful picture of it on our Precipitation Light, a picture taken by a past observer.

Rime Ice on the Precipitation Light outside of the Observatory. Image taken by past Observer.


Jay Broccolo, Summit Intern
  

17:14 Sun Mar 17, 2019

Trip Season coming to an End

As we head into mid-March, our winter trip season is coming to an end. This year has been really fun with all the groups that have come up to spend time with the summit staff and learn about what we do. This year many of the trips got very lucky seeing a variety of weather from magnificent sunrises to howling winds, topping out at 171 mph for one lucky trip! I would like to thank everyone who came up to the summit this winter and helping support what we do!

We do have a few climbing trips left over the next few weeks but snow cat trips will be done on Monday with our last Day trip. Temperatures are starting to creep up and with a high sun angle, snow and ice are melting off of the summit on sunny days even if the temperature is still below freezing. It is only a matter of time until we will be back to truck and van for summit shift changes as well!

Now it is only mid-March here so winter is not quite over yet for the summit even though the valleys will start to see warmer temperatures and most of the snow will melt over the next few weeks. We usually will see regular snow storms into Mid-May, sometimes having our biggest snowstorms, like in May of 2017 where we received 33 inches of snow! We will start to lose our snow pack though as more frequent warm ups occur along with rain becoming more frequent. The lower part of the mountain will melt first so usually starting in late March or early April, we park the snow cat part way up the mountain and drive up before moving all of our gear into the cat. Over the next few weeks, the snow cat will slowly be moved up the mountain until the road is completely melted out then it will be truck and van all the way to the summit.

My favorite season is winter so it is always sad to see all the snow melt. The one thing that I do look forward to is to be able to get up and down the mountain quickly. The longer days are nice as well because it allows time to get outside for a bit after the shift is done.



Adam Gill, Weather Observer/IT Specialist
  

06:01 Tue Mar 12, 2019

Summit Wildlife
The summit of Mt Washington provides an endless supply of subjects to photograph. Beautiful vistas, wild and unique weather phenomena, plants and flowers, insects, geology, people, and on occasion, wildlife. Wildlife in the winter time is extremely limited. The most common wildlife seen are the Ravens that circle the summit riding the wind currents and occasionally landing if they seeing something that catches their eye. On occasion there might be a rogue rodent scampering above the snow or the cameo appearance of a red fox. Apart from this though, wildlife viewing is scarce during the winter. And that is why I look forward to summer as wildlife starts returning to the higher terrain. But even then, most of the wildlife up here is small and skittish so wildlife viewing can still remain scarce in summer months too.
 
Raven flying by summit of mt washington at sunsetRaven at sunset in winter
 
Birds tends to be the most common to try and look for as their songs can be heard during the mornings when it is calm enough to hear them. While they can be heard, seeing them becomes a challenge because apart from the large Ravens, most of the birds that pass over the summit are about the size of a golf ball. Some of them stand out but others have dark colorations to blend with the rocks making it even more difficult to spot and photograph them. Some of the more common little birds are slate-colored juncos, white-throated sparrows, magnolia warblers, yellow-rumped warblers, and yellow-bellied sapsuckers. I am sure there are even more, but I am not a birder by any means, so I just know the handful I see most often.
 
slate colored junco on a cairn on mt washingtonJunco on a cairn
 
Rodents (small mammals) would be the next most common thing to look for. Deer Mice and voles tend to be most common but chipmunks, red squirrels, gray squirrels, and flying squirrels can be seen running around on the rocks, especially early and late in they day. When they are outside, rodents are fine in my book, and in many cases, pretty adorable. But as soon as they find their way inside, well, then they can say hello to my little friend (Marty Kitty).
 
red squirrel on rocks on the summit mt washingtonRed Squirrel on the rocks
 
Then there are the larger mammals. In our old museum, we used have an exhibit that had two parts. The first was a stenciled question that read, “What is the most common mammal above tree line?” Then the second part was a mirror that had stenciled on it, “You!” While humans and Marty Kitty would be the two most common ones seen up here, they are not the only mammals that have on occasion visited the summit. Others include: red foxes, black bears, raccoons, weasels, a pine marten, a moose, a bobcat, a porcupine, a skunk, and a beaver. When I say, “on occasion,” what I mean is for most of these is, I have seen them only once grace the summit in my 13+ years. And in most cases, they got here by accident as most have no reason being here. But I like to think they are just like us and want to say they summited the highest point in the northeast. So while I am outside, I’ll just snap a pic of them as a reminder of their accomplishment.
 
red fox on the snow in winter on the summit mt washingtonRed Fox in winter on the summit


Ryan Knapp, Weather Observer/Staff Meteorologist
  

10:48 Sun Mar 10, 2019

Out of the Fridge...And Into the Freezer

After today’s Facebook Live forecast discussion I thought I’d take a little more of an expanded look at the longer range forecast for the majority of this month of March. March is commonly referenced to have weather “in like a lion, out like a lamb” as we progress out of the last hurrahs of winter and into spring. Things looks a bit more complicated than that as far as the longer range models are concerned.

Behind this storm system which will affect Mount Washington with 6-8” of snow and yet another round of 100+ mph winds, we’ll see another batch of cold air. We’ll likely bottom out just below zero on the summit early Tuesday, roughly 10-15°F below average for this time of year.

Then comes a brief, but significant warm up for the Northeast. Low pressure looks to rapidly develop over the central Plains Thursday, with a deep flow from the Gulf of Mexico surging ahead of the storm. The storm itself appears to mostly fall apart before reaching New England, with a light rainfall expected. The bigger story will be the very mild, spring like temperatures. Here on the summit we’ll be looking at the first 40+ degree readings of 2019, possibly reaching the mid or ever upper 40s. This combined with rainfall and summit fog will likely lead to a significant melt out. Readings in the valleys of New England will possibly reach 60°F Friday in a few spots, a welcome sign for many of our winter-weary residents!

 GFS model surface temperatures for Friday, March 15th showing very mild readings across the Northeast. Image courtesy of Tropical Tidbits.

So should we break out the shorts and say goodbye to winter? Not quite yet. Especially for northern New England, all signs point towards below average temperatures for much of the remainder of March after this brief warm up Thursday-Friday. This looks most certain for the middle of the month, when the National Weather Service 8-14 day outlook has below average temperatures for the entire eastern 2/3rd of the country. On the summit there is no sign of any additional above freezing temperatures as far out as we can see. I’ll be looking forward to the brief taste of spring, but I’m also always in favor of some more snow and cold at the “Home of the World’s Worst Weather”!

 


Thomas Padham, Weather Observer/Education Specialist
  

13:39 Fri Mar 08, 2019

Deja Vu

My last shift, the summit experienced the highest winds in over 30 years and a record-setting wind speed for the month of February at 171 mph. The shift before that, the summit saw, at the time, the highest winds in over a decade at 148 mph. Now looking at the upcoming system this weekend, the summit is poised to see winds gusting over 100 mph, which would be the highest winds since the 171 mph storm. So for the past three shifts, we experienced one high wind event amidst many relatively calm days. This peaked my interest and I decided to delve a little deeper into it. I pulled up some historical surface weather maps and my interest only grew.

First I looked at the 148 mph storm about a month ago that occurred from Thursday to Saturday with the peak winds occurring Saturday morning. Below is the surface weather map for Friday morning.


Surface weather map for the morning of February 8th, 2019. Courtesy of NOAA.

Looking at this map, the first thing to notice is the two low pressure systems straddling New England. When the storm presents this way, it is called a double-barrel low pressure system, due to the two low pressure areas. These low pressures eventually moved north and joined together, creating a stronger single low-pressure. This strong low-pressure then created a steep pressure gradient with an incoming high pressure which resulted in the 148 mph winds. It is also interesting to note that the stronger of the initial two lows, the left one on the map originated from the Great Lakes region. This set up is unlike the typical nor’easters that New England is known which will originate in the mid-Atlantic region.

Next I looked at the surface weather maps from the more impressive 171 mph storm two weeks ago. This storm affected New England from Sunday-Tuesday with the peak wind gust occurring Monday evening.


Surface weather map for the morning of February 25th, 2019. Courtesy of NOAA.

This storm was also a double-barrel low pressure system. You can see the two lows straddling New England, just like the previous storm. The lows followed a similar trajectory, combining in the Canadian Maritimes and producing a very tight pressure gradient. The lows in this case were stronger than the 148 mph storm, which resulted in higher winds. In addition, there was a very strong temperature inversion just above the summit, serving to cause further amplification of already very strong winds by the terrain of the Presidential Range.

Now, when looking at the upcoming weekend, I see a similar pattern emerging in models.


Surface weather forecast for the morning of March 11th, 2019. Courtesy of Tropical Tidbits.

Once again, it seems like a double barreled system is headed our way. I added red arrows to point out the lows as it is a bit tougher to see on this map. It is clear that especially the secondary low to the south does not look quite as strong as in the previous two storms which will means we will probably not see winds anywhere near as high. However, the distinctive double barrel shape is present once again. Considering this storm looks like it will affect the region Sunday-Monday and the setup of the lows, it certainly feels a bit like deja-vu from the most recent storm. For the past few shifts, we have seen strong double-barreled storm spaced out almost exactly two weeks apart and this trend seems to be continuing this week. As I previously mentioned this type of storm is not the typical nor’easter that New England sees which makes the current frequency particularly interesting.

Lastly, I just want to briefly mention the setup of the record-breaking 231 mph storm back in 1934. Although technology was not quite good enough to say for certain what the setup of the storm was, based on surface weather maps that were produced once a day back then, it looks like there is a very high probability that the storm was once again a double-barreled system.


Historical surface weather map of April 12th, 1934, the day of the 231 mph wind gusts. Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Weather Bureau.

The more I look at setups of some of the largest wind storms in the Mount Washington Observatory’s history, the more it seems like this particular setup is most favorable. The frequency and timing of these storms for the past month is fascinating to me, and is contributing to a higher than average wind speed this winter. We will see how this upcoming storm pans out, but as it stands right now, the next few days will be pretty interesting and should continue this captivating trend!



Chloe Boehm, Summit Intern
  

11:24 Fri Mar 08, 2019

A February Edutrip Adventure

On our first attempt, we had trouble getting to the top of Mount Washington … a week later on our second attempt, we had trouble getting to the bottom of Mount Washington …

Many words come to mind when attempting to describe our February EduTrip adventure: awesome, spectacular, record breaking but the word that seems to describe the trip best for me is humbling. We like to think we have control of our own destiny but it’s humbling to realize that although we were outfitted and well prepared, the mountain and the weather had the final say. Our group experienced disappointment the first week when we had to turn back before reaching the summit, elation the next week upon reaching the summit and then got to top it off with an additional three nights on the summit. What did we do with all that time?

We got to know our fellow adventurers, observers and volunteers. Learned that Panhandle Hooks actually do exist … although named differently outside of Texas. Witnessed the February record gust of 171mph. Wore crampons for the first time (very cool). Learned mountaineering concepts and techniques from one of the best. Ate very well thanks to some amazing cooks. Trekked around the summit in winds that ranged from calm to over 100mph. Most importantly, I gained an appreciation and respect for Mount Washington and the weather that have made it, the observatory and its observers so famous.

I was asked when I returned to San Antonio if I ever felt unsafe on my trip in subzero temperatures and 100+ mph winds … Absolutely … as a Texan experiencing a Boston two lane traffic rotary for the first time. My apologies to those numerous Bostonians who honked the other day.

What could have possibly improved my adventure of being stranded on the top of a mountain with howling winds and a blinding snowstorm during the middle of winter? … A copy of the SHINING to watch!!!



Rob Schaefer, San Antonio Texas, Winter EduTrip Adventurer and Boston Rotary Survivor
  

16:16 Wed Mar 06, 2019

Getting More From Mount Washington

Hiking in the White Mountains last summer I saw an “Extreme Mt Washington” poster showing winter mountain views, rime ice and a snow cat. It got my imagination rolling and after becoming an MWOBS member I signed up for a Mountaineering Overnight Edu trip.

 

The adventure started in the fall as I began to collect the extensive list of equipment to prepare for potential -40F temperature and wind chill. As the trip approached excitement was tempered by every person challenging me to why I would want to go to such a cold place in February. With nerves in check and a pack of cold winter clothes ,we got on the Snow Cat Feb 16th following a storm that blanketed the valley with 6 finches of fresh snow. Cresting the 4.5 Mile mark on the access road the sustained winds had transformed the blanket of snow into 15 foot drifts dramatically slowing progress to the summit. At 3:30 the call was made to turn back for safety as a cloud cap socked in the top of the mountain.

A week later we made a second attempt with the bluest of skies, unseasonably warm temperatures and an absence of any persistent winds. As I admired the beauty of the Presidential Range I reflected on the extreme difference from the week before and embraced the speed of the snow cat to the top.

Once our gear was unloaded we started our itinerary of mountaineering basics, that included getting to know our equipment, emergency self-arrest, snow shelters and avalanche preparedness. With the combination of the learning and great weather we made the most of a beautiful day not concluding until the sun fully set on the horizon. Looking at the forecast before bed we expected an early rise then hike to the tree line before concluding our trip.

 

Next morning after a great breakfast (a special thanks to Evelyn and Diane, both volunteers at the observatory) we started to get ready. As we put our gear on there was a consistent increase in wind speed and decrease in visibility. By 9AM word was we would be not leaving the mountain top today, and a look at a massive low pressure system we should expect to get comfortable as record winds in excess of 140 mph and lows of -65F wind-chill that would be in place the next few days.

While the universe delivered me a few extra needed days off of work, it also delivered some of the most awesome weather ever seen atop Mt Washington. We filled our day by looking, listening and feeling the incredible power of the storm. At 80 mph we would go out and lean into the wind, at 120mph we would stick our head out the door atop the weather tower like a ground hog looking for it shadow, at 140 go out a protected door and listen to the gusts and watch the blowing snow against the spot lights.

As the storm grew so did the excitement of the staff and those of us that unexpectedly extended our stay. We stayed glued to the Hays chart as the needle kept leaving the paper as winds exceeded 160 miles an hour and erupted with awe when the wind gusted to an astounding 171 mph Monday evening.

It took another day and a half for the winds to die and the sky to clear enough to leave. Over this time the staff, volunteers and fellow excursion goers kept each other engaged not just learning about mountaineering and weather but experiencing and internalizing what the experience was while acknowledging we are part of a very small group of people to ever see the full potential of Mt Washington from its blue sky’s to its record breaking winds.



Jamie Bourassa, Edu Trip Member, Saunderstown RI
  

18:40 Tue Mar 05, 2019

Broadening My Horizons on the Alpine Tundra

As an Education Observer up on the summit, often times I’m tasked with developing and delivering programs based on weather and Mount Washington. It’s something that I’ve become very comfortable doing over the past few months, and I’ve become very passionate about my work. I like being able to share my knowledge about weather, and doing so in such a way that people can understand and better relate to the summit makes me very, very happy!

Aside from learning the intricacies of mountain weather, I’ve fallen back on my schooling and the classes I taught at my previous job very heavily. So it’s not terribly often that I get to learn things outside of my wheel house, then attempt to present them as if I am an expert on said topics. I had this opportunity this past shift, and I learned quite a lot about the mountain as a result!

On Tuesday we had several distance learning programs connecting to the summit to learn about what it’s like to live and work on Mount Washington. But they were also expecting content about the Alpine Tundra, the ecosystem that exists here at higher elevations. And with that, there was to be a discussion about the different plants and animals who live up here year round, and how they have adapted to the harsh conditions we experience. I had never looked into this topic before, and while curiosity about the topic had presented itself in my mind a couple of times, I had no background experience in either flora or fauna, let alone in extreme environments. With the expectation that I deliver high quality and educational content on the subject, I dove right in and learned lots of fascinating things!

I won’t present everything that I learned and talked about in those DLs, as it is a lot and you may have heard a decent amount of it before. But there were 2 things in particular, one about flora and one about fauna, that were really cool! When speaking about it with Will Broussard, the Guru in my opinion, I think he was just as surprised as I was to learn about these things! That’s how I know these are really cool, fresh facts at least!

 

I’ll start out with this famous flower! Diapensia, which is the small, beautiful white flower shown above, is incredibly hardy and well adapted to the harsh conditions in the Alpine Zone. It’s a perennial flower, and it can continue to live and function even when it is buried beneath the snow! But what was amazing to discover is that the species will actually go through the pollination process twice! Between May and June, it will release pollen across the mountain to attempt to pollenate previously dispersed seeds. And then, it will repeat the process between July and August, basically to make sure that as many of their seeds were pollinated as possible! As far as my basic research could discern, not many plants are known to do this, or at least in such a specific pattern, and it seems to be a pretty rare occurrence that really makes this flower unique! I’m certainly impressed by its determination!

And what about fauna? Welp. It turns out that my “cool fact of the week” regarding animals comes from the Flying Squirrel…

 

These cute little guys were quite a handful for us to deal with this past summer. They glide (not technically flying) on the thermals that come up the mountain from below, to feed on berries, insects, and some of the small plants that grow across the tundra. And we had a TON of them up here, getting into the building, our food, etc. They’re very fast, and would leap and glide off the observation deck into the rocks below to hide and escape once they got what they were looking for. So what’s the big deal then? I mean, they are cute, and can be quite a nuisance. But what makes them so very special other than gliding?

Well folks, apparently these little buggers can glow fluorescent pink…

 

You read correctly. When exposed to UV light/a black light, these guy’s little bodies glow bright pink. And not much is known or understood about why exactly this is. Is it genetic? Does it come as a result of their diet? No one knows for sure. But the general consensus seems to be that, since these guys can see really well in UV light, this glow is used as sort of a signal/communication between squirrels. And on top of that, it apparently helps them navigate in the dark, snowy conditions up here on the summit. While the validity of this still isn’t 100%, it’s still incredible and really cool to see!

So while it’s cool to learn about the extreme weather up here on the summit of Mt. Washington, there really is a ton of cool things you can learn about our alpine ecosystem as well! This is just the tip of the iceberg and some of the cooler things I learned this week. But I highly recommend, as you explore the wonder this mountain has to offer, that you look equally into the crazy evolution and adaptations the species that call this place home have made. I know you won’t be disappointed, and there are a ton of cool things to learn!



Ian Bailey, Weather Observer/Education Specialist
  

02:01 Mon Mar 04, 2019

Not on the windy shift this Year

Last Monday on February 25th, the summit saw some pretty incredible winds and I was not able to come up and witness it myself! Since I have started working here in August of 2015, I have been hoping to see the wind go off the chart. I have come close on several occasions, even just recently on January 22nd when the winds got to 137 and gusted just to the edge of the chart but not off. This year we have had 2 storms, both of which were on the opposite shift as me where the wind has gone off of the chart (Even sustained off the chart with the 171 mph event!). So far this week has been a super let down with the winds on March 2nd averaging only 9.1 mph. We are getting a little bit of a Nor’easter this evening (March 3rd), that is bringing accumulating snow but without strong high pressure around, winds are a measly 30 mph.

It seems that every year there is one shift that gets all the big storms. For the last 3 winters, the peak gust for the year has occurred on my shift as well as many of the other high wind events. This year my good luck has run out spectacularly. It is still shocking that a wind event of this magnitude has finally happened again after 30+ years of not seeing any wind over 170 mph. Though on the bright side, in years in which we have seen 170 mph winds, they occurred multiple times in those years so I am keeping my eyes peeled for another significant storm on the horizon.

Looking ahead at the rest of this week up here, it is not looking much better for high winds. After this Nor’easter heads out to sea, we will see some elevated winds on the back side but it is not looking like we will even get to 100 mph. If we do not get to 100 mph this week, this will be the first week I have been up this winter without a 100 mph or greater wind gust, and as a fan of high winds, this is unacceptable!



Adam Gill, Weather Observer/IT Specialist
  

08:36 Sat Mar 02, 2019

A look into the wonky weather New England has been experiencing this winter season

Well, our shift does not have a crazy wind event or any kind of weather to write home about so I am going to discuss something that, I personally, think everyone should have some understanding of. This is a fairly intensive post so go grab a snack or a drink, strap in and put your thinking caps on! Also, this starts with a bit of text, but, I promise, there are pretty pictures further down.

If you have not noticed, it has been a bit of a strange 2018/2019 winter season, to say the least. The summit of Mount Washington has seen some extreme wind events and conversely, some extremely calm winds. Precipitation type and accumulations have also been quite wonky throughout New England this year as well. While Northern New England has not been too far out of the ordinary other than Caribou, Maine observing a whopping 147 inches of snow at the time of this blog post, southern New England (Mass, RI, and CT) has seen predominately rain with a severe lack of snowfall. Especially, coastal Southern New England, which normally sees the most intense snowfall rates and accumulations during Nor’easters. Currently, the snow accumulation total for said area is hovering around 2 to 8 inches, depending on where along the coast we want to pinpoint. For example, my hometown of Westerly, RI has seen 3 inches of snow and lots of rain with the month of November being the second highest precipitation amount on record. Here at the summit, precipitation amounts, at least for DJF, have been within the realm of the monthly averages, respectively, with average temperatures as well. So, what is the deal? Whats up with the weird weather this year?  Lets discuss one of the factors that influences the weather around New England, the oceans.

Well, the oceans and geology heavily influence the atmosphere. As ocean temperatures rise, sea level rises. Much like if you were to take a gallon of 40-degree water, heat it to around 180 degrees, you will then notice that you now have a little more than a gallon. While these changes in sea level are minimal, on the scale of single to double digit centimeters, they cause noticeable effects in the atmosphere. Therefore, a change in the temperature and a resulting change in sea level all the way down and over in the Eastern Pacific and Gulf of Mexico, affects the weather patterns here in New England and elsewhere. Let us put that aside for the moment though and I will explain as clearly and concise as I can why this matters. 

When there are warm temperatures surrounded by cooler temperatures, the atmosphere reacts because it wants everything to be equal (this goes back to my last post where I discussed “the balance” of everything). We know that temperatures at the equator are warmer than temperatures at the poles. We know that warm air rises and cold air sinks, and we know that there is varying amounts of moisture in the warm air masses and barely any in the cold ones. Therefore, warm and moist air generally likes to rise and move towards the poles and cold air from the poles likes to sink and move towards the equator. Where the two different air masses converge is where we observe low-pressure systems, or at the mid latitudes, extra-tropical cyclones. These cyclones are the atmospheres way of mixing the air masses and precipitation is the result a phase change from water vapor to rain or snow as the water vapor rises, cools, and condenses. I digress though, I’ll cover all of that in a later post. Let us get back to the warm waters and heat rising. The point is that, in the northern hemisphere, we have warm moist air moving from the south to north.

Okay, so, we have anomalous warm water and higher sea levels as a result. At the surface or interface where the water meets the air many things are occurring, but I’ll just mention a few. During the day, radiation from the sun evaporates some of the water and turns it to water vapor, air moving over the water picks up some moisture because of friction, and the water itself is warming the air through conduction as well, but this occurs mainly at night. Regardless, we now have a bunch of moisture in the air and its moving to the north. The added moisture to the atmosphere is a form of energy. Think of the water vapor as the storage of energy because it takes energy, in the form of heat, to cause liquid to change phases to vapor. The heat and moisture flux from the oceans provide one of the main energy sources for atmospheric motions so now, let us throw in one of these low-pressure systems.

When a low-pressure system like a Nor’easter is near the Gulf of Mexico, it sucks a lot of that moisture and heat into the system. Specifically, between the warm front and the cold front, and we call this the warm conveyor belt. This is what gives many storms the comma look when observed through radar. As the cyclone heads to our region, it carries all that heat and continues to absorb more and more moisture from the Gulf and once the reaches the Eastern Coastline, from the Atlantic as well, which brings me to my next point. Sea surface temperatures off the coast of New England have also been significantly higher, fueling and intensifying these systems with more moisture and heat. The last piece of the puzzle goes back to the storage of energy in the form of water vapor I was talking about earlier. As the water vapor rises in the atmosphere, it cools and condenses back to liquid form and depending on cold the air temperature is snow can form. When this phase change occurs, that heat stored in the water vapor is released into the air, which we call a latent heat flux. In order to change water vapor to water you have to pull enough heat out of the vapor for it to change back to water, similar to the boiling water. A good portion of the heat that we added to the water from the stove-top then is released into the air as the steam produced from the boiling water cools under the pot cover. All that heat warms the air preventing the formation of snow, at least, near the phase change. Further north in New Hampshire and Maine the air temperatures are much colder than they are in Southern New England so the latent heat released due to the phase change is not enough to warm the air temperatures above the freezing mark. Therefore, precipitation occurs as snow. 

Finally, it’s time for all the pictures to bring this all together...

Below, we can see the average sea surface temperature anomalies over the past 4 weeks.  Note that the SST's are significantly warmer off the east coast of the US, the Gulf of Mexico, and southwest of Mexico (El Nino Southern Oscillation, or ENSO). 
https://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/analysis_monitoring/lanina/enso_evolution-status-fcsts-web.pdf 
 
 Now lets take a look at whats currently going on with the ENSO.
 
https://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/analysis_monitoring/lanina/enso_evolution-status-fcsts-web.pdf"
 
The higher SST's correlate to a slight rise in sea levels seen below.  Note the significant rise in sea level around New England and less so in the Gulf of Mexico and southwest of Mexico in the Pacific.
 
"https://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/analysis_monitoring/ocean/weeklyenso_clim_81-10/wksl_anm.gif"
 
And finally, below is an image of precipitable water in the atmosphere with some skillfully drawn red arrows indicating the warm conveyor belt (WCB).
 
 
To conclude this post, I want to finish by saying a couple things.  Precipitation type doesn't just depend on sea surface temperatures and the amount of heat released by latent heat.  There are many factors that decide precip type.  One of the biggest factors is the track of the storm.  The further south the track is, the better chance for snow.  The last thing I want to bring up is that as I mentioned before the oceans are one of the main energy sources for the atmosphere.  When we talk about climate change we tend to discuss the atmosphere and state of the climate.  However, the ocean's have an incredible heat capacity and mass, which allow it to store up to 1000 times the energy that is found in the atmosphere for an equivalent rise in temperature.  So when we look at the state of climate change we also need to look at the oceans.  Now, just because the SST's are warmer this year because of an El Nino cycle, doesn't mean this is an indicator for climate change.  If it occurs year over year, decade over decade, and so one, it does become an indicator.  So I implore anyone to check it out, do your own research and see whats going on!
 
As always, I appreciate you all allowing me to ramble about my passion and reading it.  My hope is that it gives you all an idea of another avenue to look at when wondering about the state of the weather and climate.  It can be extremely overwhelming, for sure.  That being said, this post only describes one aspect of the wonky weather we have been having.  
 
Respectfully presented,


Jay Broccolo, Summit Intern
  
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