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Observer Comments

17:45 Mon Sep 26, 2016

Time Spent on the Summit

As I am writing this post I am closing in on the end of my second shift on the mountain. Mt. Washington has always been known to me as having severe weather and is not to be taken lightly. Having grown up in the area I have experienced the mountains by hiking in the summer time or skiing Tuckerman’s in the spring.  I never knew much about the weather or how to forecast for that matter.  Fortunately for me the observers on my shift have taken me under their wings.  I am trying to absorb all the information I can and have begun to write my own forecasts and gain a better understanding of meteorology thanks to the observers.  

 
 

Now for a little explanation as to how I wound up here on Mt. Washington working for the Observatory.  For the past seven years I have been living on the seacoast of New Hampshire. There I completed my undergrad degree and am currently wrapping up my master’s degree in mechanical engineering.  While there I had talked to some people who had worked on the summit and was really interested in this unique opportunity.  After applying for the internship and while going through the interview process I wanted to be very clear that I didn’t know much about the weather but was excited to learn all that I could.  Apparently they thought I was alright and the next thing I know I’m living on the summit of Mt. Washington for the fall realizing this unique opportunity was actually mine.

 
 

Knowing the history of the area and the hiking trails makes it easy to interact with all of the visitors on the summit while giving tours or when people start asking questions in the museum.  Regardless of what experience I have I will tell you though, I don’t think anyone person can ever experience the mountain in its entirety. Every sunset and sunrise is unique and the view doesn’t get old. Some nights the stars and Milky Way look so perfect it doesn’t seem real. Even the northern lights can be seen if one is persistent, lucky, and willing to have your fingers go numb while trying to take a few too many long exposure shots.

 
About 60% of the time we end up socked in the fog and you find yourself looking out the window into the inside of a ping pong ball. So when we have the view we take full advantage of it. Being socked in isn’t all bad though if it’s below freezing and the winds are high enough we can get rime ice forming on the building and instruments. This means it’s time to climb the tower and bang all the ice off. Which is exactly as much fun as it sounds. I don’t think I will ever tire from doing that task. Feel free to ask me again in December after I have been here for a few months but I think I’ll still have the same amount of excitement for being up here.
 
 
 
So far working with this shift has brought a 101 mph wind gust, a direct lightning strike to the summit, the first frost of the season, stunning sun rises and sets, seeing the summit shadow, a rime ice event and a glimpse of the northern lights through the camera lens last night. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the season brings!
 
 


Ben Brownell, Summit Intern
  

13:29 Sat Sep 24, 2016

Winter is Coming

We're currently in the midst of the first significant cold snap of the season.

Tonight, we're expecting temperatures to fall to around 20°F on Mount Washington, possibly even dipping into the upper teens. These will be the coldest temperatures experienced on the summit since May 17th—131 days ago—when we hit a daily minimum of 18°F. And yes, a chance of a light snow shower does exist, although it is a remote possibility.

 The staff's guesses for our coldest temperature with this cold snap.

Our descent into the winter season usually does kick off in September, which on average harbors the first measurable snowfall of the season. Our average temperature for the month sinks to 41.6°F.

October is (arguably) considered the first month of winter on Mount Washington’s summit, though, with an average monthly temperature that sinks below freezing to 30.2°F, and an average monthly snowfall total of 17.6."

 Snowfall on the night of October 10th, 2015.

October is typically the month in which the Sherman Adams State Park building closes up, the Auto Road usually closes to the summit, and we pack up shop down in our summit museum and gift shop. Additionally, preparations for the Snow Cat are in full swing, and wrap up sometime in late October as we prepare for the decidedly more eventful winter work commute.

 First shovel-able snow of the season last year on October 18th, 2015.
 
Chains become a staple in our vehicles during the month of October as well, as we prepare for the up and down on those days with icy road conditions. Our bulletproof storm windows are installed in October in preparation for a winter of ice chunks careening across the summit at high speeds, the heat is inevitably flipped on, and the crew dusts off their heavier layers and traction devices after a summer's worth of dormancy.
 
With today being September 24th, it's safe to say the infamous phrase...winter is coming
 
 


Mike Carmon, Senior Weather Observer & Education Specialist
  

20:01 Thu Sep 22, 2016

First Snow Storm?

It will finally be cold enough on the summit this weekend to support the possibility of some snowfall! It has been since June 22 since we have last seen some snowflakes falling on the summit and we will typically see the first snowfall around mid-September and average just over 2 inches of snow in during the month. Last shift I was up we had the first freeze up on the summit with a thin layer of frost that covered everything for a few hours before the sun melted the ice.

This weekend we have the first real cold front of the fall season with temperatures possibly falling all the way into the teens! Even though this sounds like really cold for late September but at this elevation, it is not uncommon. Our record lows at this time of year are down in the low teens and upper single digits!

Right now we are sitting at a toasty 54 degrees which is way above average (39 degrees) at this time of year but the cold front is quickly approaching from the northwest and should arrive tonight. Temperatures will fall through the day Friday but most of the precipitation will be done by the time the really cold air arrives. With the mountain, this does not always mean we will not get snow though. Last year I had busted on an early season snow storm because computer models had all had precipitation ending hours before the cold air arrived. Early in the season the ground is still warm and has quite a bit of soil moisture (though this year with the drought there is not as much soil moisture) which can lead to some upslope snow showers over the presidential range. We had tiny little snow showers that developed right over the summit and dissipated right away but it happened over and over again until we got measurable snow. I believe this could happen again behind this cold front so we could get our first accumulating snow this weekend even though it may not be much!



Adam Gill, Weather Observer/IT specialist
  

07:06 Mon Sep 19, 2016

Skew-T Plots

There’s never a shortage of things to learn on the summit. Due in part to Mt. Washington’s location and surrounding topography, this mountain is ideally situated, and those living on the summit, uniquely fortunate, to experience some very exciting and very extreme weather phenomena.

Predicting weather is no easy task, nor, one could argue, is observing it, on the summit of New Hampshire’s tallest peak. So, what sort of tools are used by meteorologists and observers in order to get a better handle on just what the atmosphere is up to? One such forecasting aid is a skew-t plot.

A skew-t plot is one of four thermodynamic diagrams that are often used to assist in forecasting and weather analysis. [1] It was developed in 1947 by N. Herlofson as a modification to the emagram, and is primarily used to plot radiosonde soundings, giving the vertical temperature and dew point profiles of the atmosphere up to the 100 mb level. [1, 2]                                                                       Example Skew-T Plot [4]

Being able to look at the temperature and dew point vertical profiles has several advantages. These profiles, and their comparison, allow one to assess instability in the atmosphere, as well as characterize severe weather and observe a variety of weather elements as they occur in each layer of the atmosphere. [2] Additionally, information gathered through radiosonde data and its plotting on a skew-t plot can be used to develop large-scale forecast models, by allowing the forecaster to look at a vertical “slice” of the earth’s atmosphere. [2]

A few caveats to be aware of when looking at a skew-t plot are that, as the data is collected via weather balloon ascent, the profile is not truly vertical, as there is some drift associated with the “float” of the balloon downstream, and that it is also not truly representative of an instant vertical slice of the atmosphere, as there are several minutes consumed by the ascent of the balloon, but it is typically close enough that these assumptions can be made. [2]

A plethora of information is contained in these somewhat-convoluted plots, and understanding the plot design helps in interpreting the data it contains. Firstly, the solid horizontal lines represent isobars, or areas of equal pressure. The pressure axis goes from 1050 mb, or roughly sea level, to 100 mb, plotted on a log scale. [3] Additionally, there are isotherms, or lines of equal temperature. These slope from the bottom left to the upper right, and their skewed nature is the namesake for the plot itself. Other reference lines on the plot include saturation mixing lines, adiabatic lapse rates, and wind speed and direction. I’m looking forward to learning to identify specific weather conditions through analyzing the skew-t plot!

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skew-T_log-P_diagram

[2] http://www.theweatherprediction.com/thermo/skewt/

[3] http://www.atmos.millersville.edu/~lead/SkewT_HowTo.html

[4] http://wx4cast.blogspot.com/2011/10/how-to-read-skew-t-log-p.html



Taylor Regan, Summit Intern
  

17:02 Sat Sep 17, 2016

Talking about Turbulence

While talking with intern Taylor a bit about the weather today, she brought up a simple, yet very complex question: why do we see wind gusts? The short answer is turbulence, but what makes the air and our wind turbulent gets more complicated.

We live beneath an ocean of air that makes up our atmosphere, with all of this air constantly flowing over the terrain features that make up the surface. Mountains, lakes, forests, fields, etc. are all constantly altering the air immediately above by often slowing it down due to the greater friction at the surface. This leads to a general increase in wind speed with height.

 “The Kite Test” shows how turbulence from obstructions on the surface makes a kite fly erratically until a point where a more smooth flow takes over above the barrier. A good average height for this level is three times the height of the obstruction.

Turbulent, or chaotic motions of the air, are constantly occurring due to the air rising and sinking with the terrain (mechanical turbulence), and due to the ground being heated from the sun (convective turbulence). Since the atmosphere is almost transparent to incoming solar radiation, we heat pretty much from the ground up, but not equally! Different types of terrain and elevation differences lead to some areas like an open field or parking lot heating up more rapidly from the sun than say a lake or ice cap. This leads to thermals, or updrafts of relatively warmer air rising from the surface to higher elevations. What goes up must come down, and circulations of rising and sinking air (to varying degrees) form.

Bringing it all together, these rising and sinking air currents take what would otherwise be a steady flow of wind and mix everything up. Rising motions tend to lead to lulls in the wind speed at ground level, while sinking motions pull down the generally stronger winds seen aloft. When we see conditions that lead to very unstable air masses (during severe thunderstorms for example), very strong winds from several thousand feet up may be able to transfer momentum all the way to the surface resulting in very strong wind gusts. All of this chaotic mixing of the air makes meteorology a complex science; and forecasting the weather, especially on Mount Washington, no easy task!

 
Hays Wind Chart June 9th, 2004 showing a 122 mph gust during a downburst event from a severe thunderstorm. That’s a lot of turbulence!

Tom Padham, Weather Observer/Meteorologist
  

18:26 Sun Sep 11, 2016

Strong Winds and Lightning

Today was one of those days that makes it really exciting, and sometimes stressful, to work here. This morning when I woke up, there was lighter winds than I was expecting and the storm was much further north than what was forecasted. I was bummed we may not see high winds. Things started changing when severe thunderstorm warnings began being issued in Vermont with a nice squall line marching toward the summit. Eventually a severe thunderstorm warning was issued for the summit along with much of the state. When the storms first arrived, there was not much wind with gusts near 75 mph and little lightning. After about 20 minutes of rain, suddenly the winds hit with gust near 90 and lightning was occurring more frequently.

Just as the storm began moving off, we suddenly had a bolt strike the building creating a bright flash and an immediately boom, and then complete silence. No matter how much grounding you do, somehow lightning still finds a way to cause our UPS to fail and shut down causing the server and all of our computers to shut off. It is a moment of panic being the IT specialist on the summit when all the power goes off without notice. Luckily with the help of staff on vacation and on their week off helped get the servers back up and running and making sure all the instruments are recording data properly. Once that was done, it was back to watching the winds continue to increase.

Observer Adam Gill leaning into winds gusting to 98 mph 
 

Even though the storm was moving further north than anticipated, it was stronger than what was forecasted so that helped keep the winds from being lighter than forecasted. Winds peaked during the early afternoon with a gust to 101 mph! It has been since early May since I had last seen 100 mph winds! I am quite excited for winter to return to the summit! It is only a month away before we start to see frequent snow storms and ice storms!



Adam Gill, Weather Observer/IT Specialist
  

13:33 Fri Sep 09, 2016

High Winds on the Horizon

Now that we've turned the calendar into September, signs of the impending winter are starting to appear in the computer forecast models. September is by no means considered winter for us, but on average, the weather begins to take a decided turn that direction during this ninth month of the year on Mount Washington's summit.

For instance, August's average monthly temperature is 48.1°F, while September's monthly average plummets to 41.6°F. While the lowest temperature ever recorded (since MWO started gathering data in 1932) in the month of August is a cool 20°F, the lowest ever observed in September is a decidedly-chillier 9°F

The average monthly snowfall for August stands at a mere 0.1 inches.

September's monthly average? 2.2 inches.

Which means our first measurable snowfall for the winter season, on average, does tend to occur in the month of September.

Then we arrive at wind speed.

In short, big winds are coming.

The on-summit staff has been paying particular attention to a surface low pressure system forecasted to develop over the Great Lakes region tonight. As the system moves northeastward towards New England, an associated upper-level trough will deepen, which will likely result in rapid intensification of the surface low as it charges through southern Quebec. Also, a ridge of high pressure will simultaneously strengthen over the Ohio Valley in the wake of the low, which will result in an exceptionally tight pressure gradient over the northeastern United States.

 

The tighter the pressure gradient (in other words, the larger the change in pressure over a smaller distance), the higher the winds. When summit meteorologists see New England squeezed between a 1024 mb high and a 986 mb low, it is a sure sign to us that the first high wind event of the season is very much in the cards!

At this time, Sunday afternoon and evening look to harbor the highest winds, with sustained speeds on the order of 60-90 mph possible, and gusts in excess of 100 mph looking ever more likely.

Winter is indeed on its way.



Mike Carmon, Senior Weather Observer & Education Specialist
  

04:56 Wed Sep 07, 2016

Three Common Questions & Answers
Over the past week, we have been getting several emails, social media messages, and comments inquiring about three common things: operating hours, nights above treeline, and the Aurora Borealis. I always heard in college, "If you have a question, ask it out loud because odds are someone else in class is wondering the same thing and just not speaking up." So, if we are getting these inquires over and over again, odds are, several other people are wondering the same thing but just not asking.  So to help those individuals out, here are the answers to three common questions:

1. Are you still open?
 
Yes! All summit facilities and methods of getting here are still OPEN. Operating hours/schedules are available as follows (just click on the highlighted words):
 
New Hampshire State Park
The Cog
Mt Washington Auto Road
 
Additionally, if you are on social media, be sure to follow their various pages for any last minute announcements they might have along with additional Mt Washington content.

If coming to the summit, please remember that conditions can be drastically different than at the base. As my coworker mentioned yesterday, we typically see freezing temperatures and freezing/frozen precipitation later this month. So, be sure to check the Higher Summit Forecast page and our Current Conditions page to help prepare. And if hiking up, backcountry conditions can be found HERE. Please be mindful if hiking up that days are getting shorter (as of today, there's nearly 2 hours less daylight than the first day of summer back in June). A headlamp should be in your pack and people should be mindful that operating hours will be adjusting to the shorter days and variable weather conditions.

2. How do I get to be above treeline at night?
 
There are a few ways to be above treeline after hours. The first is to hike. Unless a trail is closed for storm damage, avalanche risk, or repair, all trails within the White Mountains are open 24/7/365. However, while trails are open, to protect the fragile alpine vegetation, camping is NOT allowed anywhere above tree line anywhere in the White Mountains; including the summit of Mt Washington. Further guidelines can be found HERE.

Another option to be above tree line after hours would be to stay at an AMC or RMC hut or tent platform. These designated platforms and shelters are allowable ways to stay above treeline. However, be advised that several huts close or go to limited operations in Sept/Oct (AMC calendar HERE).
 
Another option, if a member of the Observatory, is to volunteer for a week on the summit. More information about this membership perk can be found HERE.

3. How do I see the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights)?
 
While being above treeline can help in seeing the Aurora Borealis, it isn't always necessary. And just because you are above treeline during any given night doesn't mean you are guaranteed to see the Northern Lights. I have lived/worked in NH for nearly a decade and have only seen them about two dozen times on and off the summit. That means on and off the summit (I stay on the same night schedule in my off-time), out of 3650 nights let's say, I have only seen it roughly 24 times! For NH to view them, predicted Aurora activity has to be strong (typically Kp 5 or greater for this latitude). Additionally, there needs to be clear skies to the north (no high/mid/low clouds, fog, or haze) and little to no moonlight present. So essentially a lot of elements have to all come together to see them from anywhere in the state, especially on the summit where we are in the fog 60% of the year.

Like many of you, we don't know they are coming either; Mount Washington Observatory is a weather observatory and does not measure or monitor for Aurora Borealis or any space related activity. However, there are several websites that can assit in forecasts like spaceweather.gov, solarham.net, University or Alaska Fairbanks, or softservenews.com (which also has some social media apps that can alert you in Facebook or Twitter). Additionally there are several smartphone apps that can help notify if you search the Apple/Google stores for "aurora." Be mindful that just because they are forecasted doesn't mean you will see them as forecasts might be incorrect or the weather/moonlight might block their viewing.

If they are going to happen, head away from city lights, head to the south side of a pond/lake/large field or head to a knoll/hill/mountain with clear views north, once there look north, allow for at least 15 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the darkness (the longer the better and avoid looking at smartphones/smartwatches/tablets/light or you have to start over), dress warmly, and bring something to do as it could be a long wait. And don't try looking for what you see in photographs, they rarely look like that - it will be closer to a blob of "alien gray/green" that looks like light pollution to most (it could in fact be light pollution if you're unfamiliar with an area's typical night sky view). However, if strong enough, the glow gets brighter and that is when you see pillars/curtains and movement; but not always.

Lastly, northern NH isn't the only place to see them. I have photographer friends and people that I follow that have regularly shot them in Maine, southern NH, VT, and upstate NY with a few strong events shot in MA (as far south as the Cape) and northern RI. In really strong events, I have seen people photograph them in Arkansas, Texas, and Arizona. Personally I have seen and photographed them near Portland, ME, Chocorua Lake, NH, Head Pond, NH, and Killington, VT. So Mt Washington is far from your only option to see them if and when they are possibly viewable.

Ryan Knapp, Weather Observer/Staff Meteorologist
  

18:05 Mon Sep 05, 2016

A Busy Weekend on the Summit!

Summer is beginning to slowly blend into fall as the upper 50 degree temperature range slowly slips out of normalcy here on the summit! We are even starting to see patches of yellow in the valley, although the drought in the area may be playing a role in some premature turning of leaves. Labor Day Weekend, one of the summit’s biggest weekends of the summer and always an indicator that fall is on its way, has come and gone.

Fall is a dangerous time of year on the summit. While temperatures still hover in the 60s and 70s in the valley, summit temperatures can dip well below freezing. We typically see our first rime even in early September and our first snow event in the middle of the month. Even for the most seasoned outdoor adventurer, it’s easy to underestimate very cold temperatures, which often combine with very brisk wind, above tree line. If you do plan to venture into the mountains, be sure to check our higher summits forecast before you go!



Michael Dorfman, Weather Observer/IT Specialist
  

16:42 Sat Sep 03, 2016

Tropical Storm Hermine

Although the impacts on northern New England may turn out to be minimal, Tropical Storm Hermine has been very interesting to watch develop and is still an ongoing challenge for forecasters as of this writing. The storm is expected to strengthen overnight even though it has now lost its tropical characteristics due to interactions with an upper level system diving south out of the Great Lakes. As the storm stalls south of Long Island, NY a prolonged period of high surf and coastal flooding will be likely from the New Jersey coast north into southern New England, along with winds likely sustained above tropical storm force (39+ mph) at times.

High pressure will hold firmly over northern New England over the next several days, providing the summit with very light winds and dry conditions heading right into next weekend. Low pressure tracking through Canada will finally sweep what’s left of Hermine further out to sea, but the system could still track very near Cape Cod bringing one last shot of some much-needed rain, along with gusty winds for the tail end of the workweek. Early September is typically right at the peak of hurricane season, and while there isn’t anything immediately developing in the tropics even at the top of New England we’ll remain vigilant!

Hermine moving up the Eastern Seaboard 9/3/2016
Photo courtesy of NWS Boston 


Tom Padham, Weather Observer/Meteorologist
  

15:18 Fri Sep 02, 2016

Week One from the Summit

Hello from the summit of Mount Washington! My name is Taylor Regan, and this is my first week as summit intern. My path is a bit round about, being a mechanical engineer with an appreciation for weather. I have my B.S. and M.S. in mechanical engineering from the University of Massachusetts – Lowell.

Weather has always interested me, it encompasses my first memory (a “gustnado”) and a multitude of others, including, as a child, watching the radar so my dad could mow the lawn without getting caught in a thunderstorm. The neighbors used to say they could always tell when rain was on the way because they would hear the lawn mower.

I had the opportunity to work with the Observatory for my undergraduate capstone project, analyzing the response of the pitot-static anemometer. It was a great experience, and one that stuck with me through my few years working in industry and completing my Masters. An appreciation for weather, as well as fond memories of the capstone experience led me to apply for the summit intern position, hoping to expand my knowledge of weather and the mountain. It’s already been exciting, with the summit breaking from the clouds last night to offer a glimpse of the star-filled sky and an awesome display of the northern lights. I’m looking forward to what the rest of my internship holds!

 
Sunrise from the summit through the fog September 2nd, 2016 


Taylor Regan, Summit Intern
  
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