08:36 Mon Nov 20, 2017
My First Week, Part 3: Summer with Just a Dash of Winter
Among this series of stories of first weeks on the summit mine will be the most recent. Just this past summer, I began my journey on this mountain that I now call home. Much like Mike, I grew up in central New Jersey. Surrounded by farmland and neighborhoods, the mountains were a foreign environment for me. However, my passion for extreme weather and drive to experience new things lead me to apply for this internship. Fresh out of college and ready to experience the world, I drove 8 hours to New Hampshire, a state I was very unfamiliar with. This was the first “road trip” I had taken alone. I settled into my hotel room for the night, anticipating what tomorrow, my first day, would bring. A flood of emotions took over as I questioned how crazy I was for taking an internship on top of a mountain coined “Home of the World’s Worst Weather”.
The next morning I ventured to the base of the Auto Road and waited for my shift to arrive. I was a strange mix of nervous and very excited. I was happily pleased when meeting everyone, seeing that the other two interns were just as excited and nervous as I was! In no time we packed the van and headed up the mountain for our first week. My first drive up the mountain had beautiful undercast blanketing the lower elevations, allowing surrounding mountain peaks to pop out of the clouds like islands in an ocean. I was already taken aback by the stunning surroundings.
Figure 1: Undercast coating lower elevations with peaks of higher summits emerging through.
My first day began with meetings where I learned about the inner workings of this organization. While I did not understand most of what was being discussed I was still very interested and honored that I was invited to be a part of the organization. As quick as I was thrown into the frenzy that was shift change I was then met with calm. The other shift had left for their week off and the building had closed for the day. This is when it sunk in that I was not just visiting, I was there to stay.
Things did not settle for long, the calm then became excitement as a line of thunderstorms approached the summit. Here is an excerpt from my own personal blog written about that day.
“With a forecast of scattered thunderstorms I knew that the odds were that the storms would avoid the meteorologists as they seem to always do. However, we got very lucky and had a direct hit of a line of thunderstorms. As a young girl, I had always had a fascination for lightning and thunder. I would be drawn to the windows with no chance of distracting me from the storms that erupted outside. Not much has changed since then.”
Thunder and lightning engulfed the summit and I was bubbling with excitement. For once in my life, I was not the only one fascinated by what was happening outside. I was surrounded by a group of people who shared a similar passion and drive. We all stood huddled around the windows waiting for the next lightning strike. It is a moment that made me feel at home, I had found where I was accepted and I loved it.
Figure 2: Hail samples taken from the thunderstorm that occurred on my very first day!
Later that week the conditions seemed to flip a switch with ease. We went from warm conditions with thunderstorms to below freezing with rime ice. This set the tone of how quick weather could change on the summit. I was able to enjoy a taste of winter on Mount Washington in the middle of June. If extreme weather is what I was looking for I had found it; from one extreme to the other.
Figure 3: Things quickly changed over from summer to winter and within days we were collecting the precip can in icy conditions.
After one short week I knew I had lucked out with finding this internship. All of the nerves that were so present when I showed up to the mountain were blown away in the winds (pun intended). I had found where I belonged. I was, and still am, hooked on the thrill that Mount Washington brings. You not only get to forecast, broadcast and observe the weather, you get to live it. I am very lucky to have gotten to call MWObs home for the past 6 months and I hope this internship is not the last I’ll see of Mount Washington!
Figure 4: Enjoying the views from my new “home away from home”.
Nicole Tallman, Summit Intern
15:29 Fri Nov 17, 2017
My First Week, Part 2: Long Drive, Quiet Week
The first time I have ever really been east of the Mississippi River was coming to New Hampshire for my internship here at the Observatory. I had grown up in Colorado and gone to school in North Dakota but Mount Washington was always something that I paid attention too and was very excited to learn that I was given the opportunity to come out here for a few months and experience the weather first hand!
Moving out to New Hampshire happened really fast. I had applied for the Fall of 2015 internship Mid-July of 2015 and started my first week August 19th, 2015. At the time, I had just finished school and was still living in North Dakota helping out with some research projects as well as a few part time jobs. I had to put my two weeks’ notice at all the places I was working. Luckily I was staying at a friend’s apartment for the summer while their current roommate went home for the summer so I didn’t need to worry about breaking a lease or anything since I had to move out at the beginning of August anyways.
Driving to NH took about 3 days, though I took a more scenic route because I would be able to visit more states. I also took a detour through southern Canada as well. It was really neat driving by several of the Great Lakes as well as seeing Niagara Falls. The longest part of the Drive was after I made it to New York and drove to Lincoln NH in one stretch. I was not used to the slower speed limit as well as all the slow downs in all the little towns that you go through. I way underestimated how long this section of the drive would be.
I had about a day to settle into the apartment before I needed to head up to the summit for my first shift. Meeting at the base for shift change, the temperature was already in the 80s at 8:30 in the morning so I could not wait to get to the summit with the natural air conditioning from the higher altitude. The feeling that I was going to live up there for a whole week didn’t really set in until all the tourist left for the day and it was just the Observers and a few State Park employees left on the summit.
A few days into the shift, I finally got to experience my first cold front passage. There were a few thunderstorms that approached the summit but none of them made a direct impact. We did get a few heavy rain showers with it. Behind the front, temperatures dropped into the upper 40s with winds gusting over 50 mph. At the time, I thought it was really intense, but now it is barely a breeze after several winters up here. After the cold front, temperatures warmed back up into the upper 50s with a few showers for the rest of the week that barely made the ground wet.
Towards the end of my first week, we had some shallow fog that resulted in a weather phenomena that I had heard about but not seen. Early in the morning with the sun at my back, some banks of fog rolled up the side of the mountain, with a brocken spectre that surrounded my shadow. This is caused by back scattering of visible light by the small water droplets in the fog. All in all, it was a good week to ease into Mount Washington. I really hoped for worse weather on my first week but at least I was able to get out and explore a bit on the trails in the evening!
Adam Gill, Weather Observer/IT Specialist
15:44 Wed Nov 15, 2017
My First Week, Part 1: A New Jersey Fish Out Of Water
This coming Saturday, November 18th, the Mount Washington Observatory celebrates another important date in our history: the date of our first recorded weather observation atop Mount Washington’s summit. In honor of this historic occasion, our shift has decided to regale you with tails from each of our individual first shift-weeks on the job. It’s been quite some time for a few of us, and maybe a little less for others, but one thing’s certain: we’ve all transformed in many ways since we took our first steps into the fabled world of the Rockpile.
I personally began my tenure as a summit intern back on August 27th, 2008. Bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and whichever other clichéd terms you’d like to list, I knew this experience would be transformative, but I didn’t fully comprehend the day-to-day life I was in for as a summit staffer. Growing up in central New Jersey as a primarily “indoorsy” type of guy with little (if any) exposure to mountainous terrain, this area was a gigantic and foreboding mystery to me. As I spent the night at a local North Conway hotel the night before my first upgoing Wednesday shift change, my stomach was queasy, my knees were knocking, and my mind was running away in a thousand different directions. I was excited, nervous, optimistic, unsure, intrigued, anxious, and likely many other complicated emotions, all somehow simultaneously. I knew I was ready for probably the greatest challenge of my young life, but the uncertainty of what to expect with such an exceptional job was throwing my overthinking tendency into hyper-drive.
Caption: My first undercast was a cool convective spectacle (taken: August 2008).
My first upgoing shift change was a blurry haze, but I would soon come to realize that Wednesdays generally are this way regardless of whether you’re a first-timer or a seasoned vet. The shift change meeting covered a whole host of topics which all sounded more than foreign to me, but I became fascinated by the seemingly endless layers of intricacy that weave into the operation of a mountaintop weather station. My first day on the job as an intern also necessitated some of my time be spent working in the summit retail shop, which was a wholly new experience. At 22 years old, I had never held a retail job of any sort in my life, so this experience proved a good one for me to have under my belt as I very quickly settled into this job task.
After the dust cleared from Wednesday shift change, summit life quieted down considerably. Still, I quickly jumped to the conclusion that this was not a job I would really want in the long term. It was too different, too foreign, and too far away from everything I’ve ever known and loved. While I knew this internship would be a good one for me, I swore it would remain just that: temporary (Spoiler Alert: stay tuned for a major change in my tune).
Caption: A sunset from my first week on the Rockpile (taken: August 2008).
A few days later, winds ramped up to about 70 mph. I look back now and chuckle a bit at how excited I was that day, having now experienced the incredible weather I have since that first week. At the time though, this was the loudest I’d ever heard the winds, and the most adrenaline-inducing overwhelming sensation being tossed around in the midst of them. My opinion of the summit was starting to transform.
During the length of my internship, our shift was undermanned. There were only two full-time observers, which opened the door to a whole host of opportunities as I worked the day shift solely with observer Brian Clark. After intense yet successful training during my first week, many of the duties of a summit observer were essentially bestowed on me by Brian (with his close supervision of course), and I became more and more excited by the tours, forecasting, observations, and data checking that came with this awesome responsibility. Little did I know, I was hooked.
At the conclusion of my first week on the summit, I was excited to get back to the valley, rest up, and explore New Hampshire at lower altitudes. But I was concurrently counting the days until I would be back up at my post on top of Mount Washington, all the while perhaps not even realizing how drastically my opinion had changed in just a week.
This pivotal week jump-started my career with the Observatory and the field of meteorology in general. Given the fact that it’s now November 15th, 2017, and I’m still composing observer blog posts, we can safely say that the rest is history.
Caption: My first week at the Observatory vs Today. I've changed a bit (jeans are now only for special occasions).
Mike Carmon, Senior Meteorologist & Education Specialist
13:18 Mon Nov 13, 2017
The Evolution of a Summit Intern
Life can be a series of repeating patterns. This sounds comfortable and boring, but when you apply it to a different viewpoint, it’s how you seek your adventure. It’s about jumping into a new environment, learning and building yourself up, persevering, and then looking back at how you have grown. Being an intern on Mount Washington follows this process, as much as it did in that first job out of school and school itself.
I filled out my intern application right on the deadline for the fall. It was nearing the end of my season as IT support at Acadia National Park, and needed to find a position to get into my desired field of meteorology. To hear back and later receive the internship was a great opportunity. Having never visited or even viewed the summit of Mount Washington, I was excited about what the future held. I had that burning question, what exactly does an intern do?
Well, intern things. Meaning, its wide open. During the fall, there is a fairly equal share of tasks related to building duties and weather. Ideally I wanted to go straight in and tackle the weather tasks, all of them. Then I realized there was more than weather to be learned on this internship, adapting to something new each week.
The Extreme Mount Washington Museum is open during the summer that tells the 85 year history of taking weather observations in some of the most extreme weather on Earth. In addition to the museum, there is a gift shop selling all things Marty and weather. During these summer months, a dedicated museum attendant will work the register in the gift shop. The intern will also take time to relieve the attendant and expedite clean up at closing time. This was my first experience in retail, unless you count the time I assisted in a concession stand at my cousin’s baseball game some 10+ years ago (probably eating more candy than selling). It was fun interacting with visitors to the summit, and sharing what stories I had already made.
Figure 1. A sun pillar highlights a sunset at the end of an overcast and snowy day.
Interacting with visitors turned out to be a big theme for the greater part of the internship. My first assignment in the observation room was shadowing the observers giving tours of the facility for members and their guests. This includes three main stops, the topographic map, the observation room, and the tower. The observers were eager to pass it off to me, but there was a lot of history and facts to learn! After getting a rhythm down, I learned that this was a great networking opportunity. Similar hobbies and career paths crossed and it was fulfilling to see visitors from around the world feeling the wind go over the parapet. Still working part time at Acadia, I found myself spilling my tour information in casual conversation as it all became second nature!
My first weather task was creating the 48-hour higher summits forecast. It wasn’t until the first day that it dawned on me what I was forecasting for, the tippy tops of 5000’ mountains. This becomes a challenge because unless you have local knowledge of weather patterns, numerical models can nullify these peaks. The current main suite of weather models do not have high enough resolution to fully detail and resolve possible conditions here. Harking back to the WxChallenge, a collegiate weather forecasting competition, I remembered cities around mountains were always a real challenge. Thanks to the observers on my shift, they were constantly pointing out tips and explaining patterns or numbers that leaned towards this weather condition rather than the other. A week or two into generating these forecasts, the process became quicker and my confidence climbed as the conditions verified. Sure there were ‘busts’ but I was learning, and that’s what interns do best. With the seasons’ change, snow forecasting has taken over as the next fun challenge!
Another weather task was broadcasting to the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) huts, via radio, the 48 hour higher summits and valley forecast. We create these forecasts for a reason; weather up here can get dangerous, fast. Experienced adventurers can predict weather out a couple hours by looking at the sky and current conditions, but the magnitude or strength of the impending conditions can remain an unknown variable. By relaying our forecast to hiker huts across the White Mountains, we fill in this number for hikers by warning about approaching hurricane force winds, dangerous -50 degree wind chills, or the chance of pop-up thunderstorms. Although there is little to no feedback, this was one of the most rewarding tasks on the shift because you were helping people complete their hiking task for the day (or night) throughout the White Mountains. That hike can be for day leisure or a milestone accomplishment in their life!
Figure 2. Look closely and trail cairns of the Lawn Cutoff can be seen scaling above Tuckerman Ravine, one of many trails that summit Mount Washington.
The regularly scheduled tasks are fun, but sometimes the most challenging tasks are those that just happen. Due to morning scheduling recently, I was tasked with calling into a radio show to share our forecast for the summits and valleys. The hosts were great and guided me through the normal procedure. Other times, I will occasionally step outside and start ‘slinging’ aka gathering the wet bulb and dry bulb temperatures with a sling psychrometer. This must accompany each hourly observation unless we are in the clouds (fog). When temperatures drop below freezing, sometimes the moist cloth can freeze and cause the wet bulb to read higher. This is when you, “just keep slinging,” until the proper evaporation takes place, sometimes 10 minutes later. Another fun task is removing the RM Young anemometer when rime ice formation is in the forecast. Our heated pitot-static anemometer is capable of inhibiting ice fairly well, but the RM Young has a prop that can jam with icing conditions. This puts wear on the bearings as well as gives inaccurate wind speed readings. This process means climbing to the very top of the tower with a big pipe wrench to dismount the sensor after carefully stopping the prop from spinning.
While witnessing the extreme weather of Mount Washington is a big draw, it is just icing on the cake of these other core experiences the internship offers. I was excited to add operational weather forecasting to my resume at the conclusion of the internship, but this truly has been a great example of it all being about the journey, not the destination!
Greg Cornwell, Summit Intern
12:08 Wed Nov 08, 2017
Best Day Ever, Part 4: First 120+ mph Wind Experience
I’ve had quite a few days that have been very exciting up here on the summit over the last few years. I remember most days where we have gotten over 120 mph, but the day I first experienced it as an intern was the most memorable. It was on October 30th, 2015 when we had the remnant low of Hurricane Patricia pass near the summit. The high winds caught us off guard because the forecast only had gusts up to 110 mph since the 850 mb level (5000ft in the atmosphere) winds were not too terribly high. Shortly after getting up to the weather room at 6 AM, we had our first gust over 100: we had hit 101 mph. After that, the winds were trending down and at the time I was disappointed that we didn’t get to 110 mph as predicted. At 7 AM, I had to read the AMC forecast over the radio and of course, the winds were going back up and I could hear the gusts hitting the building but I could not get up to see what we were hitting. I rushed through reading the forecast and was finally able to check out the Hays Chart to see what the wind gusts were. We were getting over 6 inches of water on the Hays, which equates to gusts to 110 mph! I was ecstatic that we were getting the forecasted gusts! I rushed outside and as soon as I rounded the corner of the building I got knocked off of my feet and had to crawl my way back to the door.
I could not play outside in the winds too long because we had another radio show to finish up. I was ok with it at the time because once again the winds were on a downward trend. However, while I was in the radio room around 7:45 AM, there was a sudden roar! Luckily the radio show had not started yet so I ran back over to the Hays Chart and we had hit 121 mph! Now the winds had really ramped back up, and we were getting consistent gusts over 115 mph with intermittent gusts to the low 120’s. Luckily the second radio show lasted only a couple of minutes, so as soon as it was done, all the observers and I dressed up to head outside and try our luck at the century club with winds sustained at 105 mph and gusts up to 122 mph. As soon as I got onto the deck and out of the sheltered area, I got knocked down again, resulting in a failed attempt. One of the other Observers, Mike Kyle, was able to successfully complete the walk around the deck and be admitted into the club. We all stayed outside for about 10 additional minutes, at which point we became all too exhausted to try and battle the winds anymore.
Once back inside, I checked what the highest gusts we experienced while outside, and that was 123 mph! That ended up being the peak gust of the day as winds quickly diminished back down to just barely hurricane force gusts. I learned a lot of lessons that day, like how strong 100 mph winds truly are and how good of a leg workout it is to try and stay standing, much less walk with winds that high.
Since then, I have experienced winds much higher than that with almost equally exciting days. The Pi Day Blizzard earlier this year that Mike talked about is a close second for me due to how loud the sound of the winds got inside the building, as well as being able to feel the floor shake in the stronger gusts. This past weekend, on October 30th, I came up off-shift and experienced winds up to 133 mph. That was definitely the warmest I have ever seen it up here with high winds, as usually it is quite cold during high wind events!
Adam Gill, Weather Observer/ IT Specialist
17:40 Mon Nov 06, 2017
Best Day(s) Ever, Part 3: Backpack Birthday Cake and the Number 127
Not to sound like a broken record, but my girlfriend Molly is kind of a big deal. People know her. She has many leather bound books and her apartment smells of rich mahogany (With a hint of cat… We have two cats). One of my most memorable days working on the Rockpile was my birthday July 16, 2016. It was Seek the Peak! Molly had raised money for the Observatory and would be summiting Mount Washington that day in honor of Seek the Peak, (and my birthday). I was a bit worried, because she had never hiked above treeline before, but I certainly trusted her to hike up here more than I trusted myself. It was a raw day on the summit with thick fog and drizzle coupled with “breezy” 25-35 mph winds and temperatures maxing out around 50 degrees. I went to bed early that morning so I could wake up by the time she got to the summit around noon. Upon waking up, I nervously checked my phone and saw when she had left the base that morning and figured she would be reaching the summit shortly. Almost as if we planned it this way, when I got up to the weather room I found her walking through the rotunda and DIRECTLY into my arms. Turned out that I could not squeeze too hard because she had an entire birthday cake cut up and sectioned into Tupperware, which was carefully upright inside of her pack. Yes… She hiked up Mount Washington on my birthday to spend the day with me AND she brought up my favorite cake. I could not even act as if I was not impressed. The rest of the day was awesome because I was able to show her how everything operated up here, and then before she went to bed later she accompanied me outside for a couple of my night observations. It was a very memorable day for me, and one that I will never forget!
Now I feel like I need to discuss a memorable day that was memorable for weather-related reasons, and not because of Molly and birthday cake. Mike was being a bully again and took my favorite and MOST memorable storm (Pi day blizzard) but countless others come into mind (Again – Mike is not actually a bully and this is not a cry for help. He is actually a pretty good guy!).
January 28 – January 29 I developed an immense appreciation and respect for the number 127. Separated by exactly 24 hours we received peak gusts of 127 mph, both of which occurred during my night shift. The following is an excerpt taken from a previous blog that I wrote after this stretch of powerful air movement:
While looking at the needle, we suddenly noticed the winds seemed to dampen, despite the noise being the same magnitude outside. This meant that our good pal, rime ice, had built up and was restricting the Pitot Tube from making accurate measurements. During these days of strong winds, we had been deicing the tower every 20-30 minutes to keep up with the rapid accrual of ice, so immediately I knew I had to head up top. I suited up along with Adam and Sharon to go up and battle the winds that were frequently gusting in excess of 120 mph.
Opening the door, my ears popped instantly and the noise was indescribable. I climbed up the ladder and hurled myself onto my back with each of my feet propped against one of the poles to keep me from sliding around. Once I attempted to stand up, the winds drove me into the railing and quickly I took a few swings at the poles holding the instruments and the ice came free. The process that followed of turning to face the winds and climb down the ladder was the most difficult part. Making that turn, you are essentially relying on your arm to catch onto the ladder and then you can make your way down. When we got back to the weather room, we checked the gusts and saw that the peak while I was on top was 125 mph!
Working on top of Mount Washington has given me a tremendous amount of amazing memories that will stick with me forever. I will be forever grateful for my time spent here on the summit of Mount Washington!
Caleb Meute, Weather Observer / Meteorologist
16:27 Sat Nov 04, 2017
Best Day Ever, Part 2:Sandy's Little Brother
Let’s take it back to October 29th, 2012. I was a few years younger but equally as passionate about the weather. As a high school senior the top thing on my mind when I heard about Hurricane Sandy was the possibility for school closing. I was very excited to get a break from classes and get to relax at home, but I was ignorant of how powerful this storm was going to be.
Hurricane Sandy drove right into the coast of New Jersey, the state I call home, bringing destructive storm surges and impressive winds to the coast. I lived far enough inland to not be affected by the storm surge but the winds were another story.
Figure 1: Winds from Hurricane Sandy blew a tree onto my house.
Even at the age of 17 I was an avid extreme weather enthusiast. So when the winds started picking up, I ran towards them. I can remember staring out the windows and occasionally stepping outside to experience them first hand and thinking to myself that this was the most intense wind storm I would ever experience.
I was wrong.
Fast forward 5 years to October 29th,2017. It was the anniversary of my highest winds ever felt yet I stood in calm weather. I was off shift from my internship at MWObs taking in the relaxing New Hampshire views but all I could think about was the storm that was forecasted to hit our area over the next 24 hours. A mid latitude low pressure system was trekking across the country about to make it's way up into New England. At the same time, the remnants of Tropical Storm Philippe were also making their way to the New Hampshire area looking to merge with the low pressure system and create a hybrid of the two systems. The timing of this storm was eerie yet fascinating. Forecasted to hit on the exact anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, which is where my nickname “Sandy’s little brother” stemmed from.
Figure 2: NOAA's Tropical-Storm-Force Wind Speed Probabilities chart for Tropical Storm Philippe. Notice New Hampshire in the indirect path of the storm. Effects of this storm would be felt throughout the state.
If these two systems did meet as forecasted, it would create the potential for some very high winds and the possibility of large amounts of rain for the valleys and the summits. This chance of severe weather had me very excited. I was in the right place to be a part of it however, I was itching to be in the worst of it, on top of Mount Washington. Although it was our off week from the summit, my co-worker Adam and I arranged plans to be brought up to the summit for the chance to experience the full forces that were about to come down on us from this hybrid system.
I packed up for the trip and headed up the mountain on the afternoon before the highest winds were expected. It wasn’t long before the excitement spread and everyone was anticipating what could potentially be some of our highest winds ever experienced. A wind gust guess game broke out amongst us and it seemed as though there was a separation between the guesses. I however was hopeful for high winds and guessed 131 mph.
Figure 3: Wind gust guesses made by everyone on the summit.
Winds quickly increased through the evening and my energy was stirring. I could not wait for the peak of the storm to hit. Winds were expected to be at their worst in the early morning hours which meant that I was forgoing sleep to be able to experience the extremes that I so anxiously was awaiting. It was 3 am and many had called it a night, however I stood at the Hays chart, listening to the whistling of the winds and watching as the needle rose and lulled with the gusts of the winds. That’s when the needle looked to sky rocket, jumping from calm winds to the highest gust of the night, 133 mph!
Figure 4: The Hay's chart for the peak of the storm. The Further the red line records from the center the higher the wind speeds.
This was a new personal wind record for me, strongly surpassing my previous high winds seen exactly 5 years ago during Hurricane Sandy. I was elated to be able to observe and be a part of something so powerful.
Rain came down in buckets and winds howled into the morning but I went to bed the happiest I have ever been. I came to Mount Washington to see extreme weather and this storm gave me the opportunity to surpass anything I've ever seen before.
Nicole Tallman, Summit Intern
09:12 Fri Nov 03, 2017
Best Day Ever, Part 1: An Irrational Pi Day
It can be remarkably difficult to pinpoint one's most memorable experience in a place teeming with endless opportunities for once-in-lifetime events. Occasionally I’ll say to myself "I should seriously catalog these memories somehow," but in the same manner as these events pertain to, these thoughts are fleeting and become amalgamated in a haze of similar situations. Nevertheless, there are certainly a few weather events that stick out from the rest of the pack as far as their notoriety, and the subsequent level s of excitement that are achieved within the confines of our weather station.
My most notable day during my time on Mount Washington’s summit came just this past winter; a winter in which over 400 inches of fallen snow were recorded, making it the sixth-snowiest winter in MWO history. That amount of snow in and of itself presented a myriad of distinctive storm systems that could be contenders for my personal top spot, but there is, without a doubt in my mind, one event that has a clear edge over all the rest. That storm came on March 14, 2017, which we affectionately refer to as the "Pi Day Blizzard."
Pi Day is named as such thanks to the mathematical constant pi, which is the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter. This ratio is a constant for all circles, and is equivalent to a value of approximately 3.14, which has given all serious scientists a not-so-elaborate excuse to celebrate the date 3/14 with a few freshly-baked pies. But I digress.
The Pi Day Blizzard was the result of a strong coastal Nor'easter, which formed off the Carolina coastline, and was launched northward by an exceptionally strong and progressive upper-level jet stream. A bone-chilling air mass that had anchored itself over New England the previous few days set the stage for the snowstorm: the minimum air temperature just three days prior on the 11th was a frosty -35°F, and air temperatures struggled to climb out of the negative readings for the next few days leading up to the event, topping out at a mere 11°F the morning of the 14th.
Caption: Some of the first flakes that fell from the Pi Day Blizzard, captured on our snow board.
While the storm was still gathering itself around 1AM the morning of the 14th off the North Carolina coast, it rapidly accelerated and barreled northward in a remarkably hurried fashion, spreading snowfall into the White Mountains by 5AM. Light to moderate snow continued for a few hours, until some extremely heavy bands of snowfall began parading through the region by 10AM. The snowfall rates atop Mount Washington were tremendous, and by far the most significant I had ever witnessed in 9+ years of weather observations at 6,288 feet, at times exceeding rates of 3-4”/hour.
Caption: A satellite view of the Pi Day Blizzard on March 14th, 2017.
The chilly air in place drove up the snow-to-liquid ratios, resulting in a light and powdery snow that was easily picked up and blown about by the steadily accelerating wind speeds. As the center of the juggernaut system made its closest pass to the White Mountains, a region of intense low-level winds wrapping around the seaward edge of the rapidly-intensifying cyclone came surging onshore in a beeline towards Mount Washington, resulting in an abrupt spike in wind speeds atop the summit. Winds became sustained in excess of 100 mph from 3-5PM, reaching a maximum instantaneous gust of 138 MPH—equivalent to the force of a Category 4 Hurricane! This marked the highest gust I have ever witnessed in nine winters on Mount Washington's summit. The sheer volume of snow careening over top of the summit at super-hurricane force speeds was an incredible spectacle to behold. After calling this location home for such a lengthy time and witnessing countless "once-in-a-lifetime" sights over the years, it's fair to say that I don't utter "I’ve never seen that before" very often. This day not only brought with it a new peak wind speed for me personally, but by far the most incredible blizzard I have ever experienced in my lifetime. It was a special day, and one that rivals any other weather event I've had the privilege to observe in my 31 years of weather-watching.
Caption: A surface analysis of the storm as winds were at their maximum, around 4PM on 3/14/17.
If you're interested in finding out more about this Pi Day event, I'll be delving a little more into the observed data on Mount Washington, and at surrounding weather stations, next weekend at the Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop in Fryeburg, ME. My presentation, entitled April Fool's & Pi Day: Two Snowstorm Case Studies will look at two similar-tracked storms that produced different results in the White Mountains.
The conference takes place on November 11th; for more information, and to register for the workshop, check out http://www.esaw.org
Mike Carmon, Senior Meteorologist & Education Specialist