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Observer Comments

13:11 Thu Jul 20, 2017

The AMC Hut System: A Cornerstone of the White Mountain Hiking History and Experience

As an intern at the Observatory, one of my most important day-to-day tasks is writing the short term (48 hour) forecast in the afternoons that gets posted online on our website. It is easy to forget how crucial this information can be for hikers on the multitude of trails in the White Mountains higher summits. Similarly, every morning, an intern uses the radio system to report out the morning forecast to the Appalachian Mountain Clubs famous hut system as well as other notable White Mountain organizations such as Randolph Mountain Club and the U.S. Forest Service. As a serious hiker myself, I have spent several nights in various huts around the Whites and Ive been able to notice how the Observatory forecasts are communicated to backcountry hikers. This partnership with the AMC dates back decades to the founding of the Observatory in 1932. In fact, the huts outdate the Observatory itself.

Placed along the Appalachian Trail, at intervals of six to eight miles, they benefit casual hikers as well as thru-hikers who are hiking the length of the AT. The AMC was founded in 1876 by a group of like-minded outdoor enthusiasts, and over the course of the next century, eight huts were built. From west to east: Lonesome Lake, Greenleaf, Galehead, Zealand Falls, Mizpah Spring, Lakes of the Clouds, Madison Spring, and Carter Notch.

Figure 1: Huts of the White Mountains. Source: outdoors.org

I am thankful for my off weeks at the Observatory. In late June, I spent a night at Galehead and more recently, I was able to spend a night at Zealand Falls with my mother. Both times, we experienced the characteristic dinners and breakfasts prepared by a passionate croo, and heard informational talks by the naturalists. Before leaving, we got a chance to check out the Zealand Falls and the hydropower turbine that supplies much of the huts electricity demands. It is always incredible to see how the huts generate enough electricity to power themselves while reducing their demand to nearly a fraction of that of the average American household.


Figure 2. Looking down Zealand Valley at Carrigain, Carrigain Notch, Mt Lowell, and Mt Anderson

At breakfast both stays, I overheard the Observatorys weather call over the radio and, since cell service was limited, the most updated and reliable forecast pertaining to my hike that day was dependent on the Observatory. Thankfully, it seemed that a quick hike down to Crawford Notch would keep us dry before the incoming afternoon showers. I had a newfound appreciation for the important forecasting that the Observatory creates because they are clearly depended on each and every day.


Figure 3. View of Zealand Falls before breakfast.

Elizabeth Perry, Summit Intern

13:27 Tue Jul 18, 2017

Aurora Borealis
Also known as “Northern Lights”, the Aurora Borealis is one of Nature’s greatest spectacles. It is the result of electrons colliding with the upper parts of the Earth’s atmosphere (NOAA, 2017). The electrons are energized through acceleration processes in the downwind tail of the magnetosphere. The accelerated electrons follow the magnetic field of Earth down to the Polar Regions where they collide with oxygen and nitrogen atoms and molecules in Earth’s upper atmosphere (NOAA, 2017). In these collisions, the electrons transfer their energy to the atmosphere thus exciting the atoms and molecules to higher energy states. When they relax back down to lower energy states, they release their energy in the form of light. When oxygen atoms are excited, they emit red and green light (NESTA, 2012). Excited nitrogen molecules emit red, blue, and violet light. You can expect to see the brightest lights during the nighttime, with clear skies, and with little to no light pollution.

Earth’s magnetic field guides the electrons such that the aurora forms two ovals approximately centered at the magnetic poles (NOAA, 2017). During major geomagnetic storms these ovals expand away from the poles such that aurora can be seen over most of the United States. One indicator of the magnitude of a geomagnetic storm is called the Planetary K-index (Kp-index). The Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) uses the K-index to decide whether geomagnetic alerts and warnings need to be issued for users who are affected by these disturbances (SWPC, 2017). K-index Warnings are issued when NOAA estimates Kp-indices of 4-7. K-index Alerts are issued when NOAA estimates Kp-indices reach 4-9. Stronger geomagnetic storms can start to disrupt satellite and radio communication.

Up here on the summit, we did have a chance to see the Aurora this past Sunday night. The Observatory crew and I kept checking the weather for after sunset and how strong the geomagnetic storm was throughout the day. We have received some Warnings issued from NOAA for the Kp-indices earlier in the day. Some of us stayed up late and went up to the observatory deck to keep an eye on the sky. The sky conditions were mostly clear and we could see stars. Unfortunately, we were unable to see the Aurora that night. One of the reasons for this was that the strongest levels of Kp-indices were seen before sunset (as seen below). It was still too light out to see anything. We were all upset, but are still hoping to see the Aurora some other night before the summer is over!


Jillian Reynolds, Summit Intern

17:25 Fri Jul 14, 2017

Mountain Thunderstorms

Let's set the scene: It is a beautiful day in the valley with blue skies, calm winds, and warm temperatures. You and some friends happily decide to take a hike up to the summit of Mount Washington. Your hike begins fantastically with beautiful conditions but the closer you get to your destination the more the weather is changing and the clouds are beginning to appear, some looking more ominous and darker than others. Why is it that in the mountains clouds and thunderstorms tend to appear out of thin air? How could these clouds and storms appear when it was such a beautiful day in the valley?

Let’s take a look at how storms and clouds can form in the mountains. Thunderstorms form when moist, unstable air near the surface is lifted. Mountain regions can aid in the formation of thunderstorms by several terrain induced mechanisms (Whiteman, 114). The most important mechanism for Mount Washington being orographic lift. This is when air is forced to rise over a surface and this rising can induce cloud formation as well as a potential thunderstorm. Clouds are formed when the relative humidity of an air parcel reaches 100%, or in other words, the air temperature and dew point are equal. In a mountain terrain, air rises buoyantly above the summits, cooling as it ascends. When the air cools to its dew point, temperature water droplets begin to form and clouds will arise. The droplets will continue to ascend and cool even more. Some droplets will freeze and grow by taking the water from other cloud droplets. As these frozen particles grow and become too heavy for the cloud they will begin to fall, colliding with other particles as they fall which can create electrical charges within the cloud and lead to lightning (Bishop,2).

           It is very important to be prepared for the weather wherever you are. However, because mountain weather is subject to rapid change and may be very different than the valley weather, you should always check the forecasts before entering the mountains. While being on the summit I have been lucky enough to see two thunderstorms. The most intense of the two was on my first day as an intern. This storm lived up to its expectations and brought hail, rain, 60 mph winds and lightning! Since the summit is the highest point in the area and has metal towers near our building we do see direct lightning strikes to the building when thunderstorms come about. The second thunderstorm I was able to experience was on my last shift. This thunderstorm brought a lot of excitement when a downburst came right over the summit. A downburst is an area of strong downward flowing air within a thunderstorm that can result in heavy rains and winds. We experienced a large increase in the intensity of our rain and winds maxing out at 90 mph. I had never experienced a downburst before so this was very exciting. Having the winds fluctuate from 25 mph all the way to 90 mph and then back down is a very good example of just how fast the weather can change.


Bishop, Jim. Mountain Thunderstorms Their Formation and Some Field-Forecasting Guidelines. , 2007

Whiteman, Charles David. Mountain Meteorology: Fundamentals and Applications. New York: Oxford UP, 2000

Nicole Tallman, Summit Intern

10:13 Thu Jul 13, 2017

We're Seeking Our Peak: No CAPE Without CIN

With Seek the Peak 2017 approaching faster than a speeding bullet, I'd like to take a little time and chat about our shift's 2017 fundraising team, debuting this summer.


The shift of myself, Adam Gill, and Caleb Meute have been a unit since late April of 2016, with various interns, museum attendants, and summit volunteers coming and going throughout that timeframe. The exact makeup of a shift of observers is vitally essential, as a cohesive team can act to ensure the success of summit operations from week to week. We all have strengths and weaknesses alike, and when these individual attributes are complimentary amongst each other, summit operations and summit life become a well-oiled machine capable of tackling even the most challenging of circumstances.

While my passion for education keeps me busy with the Observatory's various educational program offerings, sometimes news in the realms of meteorology gets away from me. No matter, as observer Adam Gill is always there with a short and obscure factoid regarding the weather from his encyclopedic knowledge base of meteorology. And if morale is in a downswing because of a particularly chaotic day, Adam, myself, and the interns can always count on a humorous boost from our charismatic night observer, Caleb Meute, upon his afternoon awakening. If a particularly cumbersome thunderstorm synoptic observation has Caleb pulling out his hair, Adam and I are there with our collective METAR knowledge and experience to assist in counting the frequency of lightning flashes.

Throughout this past winter, which was long, snowy, and full of unplanned early departures and extended shifts, the cohesiveness of our shift and our ability to pick up slack when necessary was paramount to our success.

Adam Gill hails from Colorado Springs, CO. Starting out as a summit intern in the fall of 2015, he decided to stick around and was elevated to full-time observer in the winter of 2016. His unmatched enthusiasm for the world of meteorology, and his passion for the Observatory and its mission, shows day in and day out.

Caleb Meute of southeastern PA joined the team for the first time as an intern in the summer of 2014. After having to depart from the summit that following winter due to an unfortunate injury, we were excited that an opportunity opened up for Caleb to rejoin the summit staff full-time in April of 2016 as night observer/staff meteorologist.

Caleb, Adam, and myself remain committed to the mission of the Observatory, and the summit station in particular, which is why we "Seek the Peak" this year. Our team this summer, No CAPE Without CIN, appreciates any and all donations to any one of our members to support the mission of the historic Mount Washington Observatory. 


We thank you for your support, and we hope to see you at the kick-off party on Friday night at the Weather Discovery Center, on the trail on Saturday, or at the after-party on Saturday afternoon!

Mike Carmon, Senior Weather Observer & Education Specialist

06:36 Wed Jul 12, 2017

Cooking in the Clouds


It's only been a week,

but now it's time to go.

We've seen all kinds of weather,

but unfortunately, no snow!


(However, we have placed our bets

on the Mt. Jefferson patch,

when will it finally melt?

Will my guess be the match?)


As we prepare to leave the mountain,

it's time for us to say,

how much we've enjoyed our time here,

and thank you for our stay.


The weather is amazing,

the clouds, the wind, the sun.

But it's the crew that has been the key

to creating all our fun.


We haven't seen much of Ryan,

he sleeps most of the day.

But we know that he is working,

while we all hit the hay.


He's got a thing with Marty,

they are a loving pair.

And we appreciate the forecast,

that with everyone, he shares.


AJ works downstairs,

curating and selling gifts.

But when he comes for dinner,

everyone's spirits, he lifts.


Taylor is amazing,

she's an engineer,

there clearly is no project

that will bring her any fear.


She's made us feel at home here,

and doesn't take up much space,

and she is overwhelmed with joy.

when the cars begin to race.


Margaret is a vegetarian,

she doesn't eat any meat.

But for all that are around her,

her presence is a treat.


She loves to be with people,

and she's got a lust for life,

Even though there's a lot going on,

she deals with all the strife.


Julia clearly loves the work

of being a forecaster.

She studies and she researches.

Of weather, she's a master.


Elizabeth does so many things.

and she is quiet and strong,

We can see that in this place,

with everyone, she gets along.


Despite her time in Paris,

eating fancy food,

she never puts her nose up,

even if the meal is crude.


And Tom has been our steady guide,

showing us what to do.

He'll answer every question,

And never tell us "Shoo!".


He loves to track the lightning,

the winds and the rain.

He warns us of the dangers,

so that we may live to hike again.


So thank you all once again,

we hope to see you soon.

To the Mt. Washington Observatory,

you're a tremendous boon.

Elizabeth Seabury and Steve Hempel, Summit Volunteers

14:39 Mon Jul 10, 2017

Weather Myths: True or False?

Here at the Observatory, we enjoy not only educating others on meteorology, but also learning! No matter your age, I’m sure you’ve heard (and maybe even believed!) some of these weather myths:

Myth #1: Toilets flush the opposite way in the Southern Hemisphere because of the Coriolis Effect.

Verdict: FALSE!

The truth: The way a toilet spins when it flushes has nothing more to it than the way the plumbing and toilet itself is built. The Coriolis Effect does exist: it is the deflection of an object due to the rotation of the Earth. However, the Coriolis force does not affect an object’s trajectory unless it is traveling quite a long distance, such as hundreds of miles. Hurricanes and other low pressure systems are large enough and travel far enough to be affected: hurricanes of the Northern Hemisphere rotate counter clockwise, whereas they rotate clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere. This leads to an idea called the Buys-Ballots Law: if an observer’s back is to the wind, the low pressure system will to be the left, and the high pressure to the right (in the Northern Hemisphere). Unfortunately, the reason that some drains may spin the opposite direction in Australia is just a matter of plumbing.


Figure 1: A schematic of how the Coriolis force affects a parcel’s path (Image from the University of Illinois WW2010 Project)

Myth #2: A clear day with blue skies and high temperatures can be the most dangerous: watch out for heat lightning!

Verdict: Mostly false.

The truth: When most people think about the term “heat lightning”, they think that high temperatures and dry air can lead to spontaneous lightning. While heat alone cannot cause this, lightning can travel over 5 miles from the storm it originated from. This means that while there may be blue skies overhead, there is still a very, very slight chance that lightning may jump from a nearby storm cell to an area barren of clouds, but you would most likely have already seen this storm somewhere on the horizon, and heard the thunder.

Myth #3: If there is less than a foot of water across a road, you can safely cross by speeding quickly through it.

Verdict: FALSE, and very dangerous!

The truth: Flash flooding is one of the most dangerous consequences of severe storms. It only takes 6 inches of water to reach the bottom of most passenger vehicles, and this causes a loss of control and possible stalling. More importantly, it is nearly impossible to accurately estimate how deep water is, especially by sight alone. It may look like only a few inches, but drivers often end up stranded, or worse, when they underestimate water depth. When water depths reach 12 inches, cars and small SUVs will float, surrendering all control to the danger of the waters. Adding speed only decreases control you have over the car. Two out of three flash flooding deaths occur in vehicles. When you encounter water on a roadway, whether it’s standing or moving, remember: turn around, don’t drown!

Myth #4: Tornadoes never occur in New England.

Verdict: FALSE!

The truth: While it is certainly true that tornadoes occur more often in the area of the United States known as “Tornado Alley”, tornadoes have occurred in all 50 states. A line of severe thunderstorms on July 1st of this year caused 5 confirmed tornadoes in eastern Maine—certainly not located in the Midwest! Any region of the country can see tornadoes, so always have a preparedness plan in place, no matter where you live.

Figure 2: Historical paths of tornadoes in New England (Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tornadoes_in_New_England#/media/File:New_England_tornado_paths.png)

Myth #5: Meteorologists only work on television and the radio.

Verdict: FALSE!

The truth: Meteorologists come from many different backgrounds and places. While some are the friendly faces you are accustomed to seeing on the nightly news, others are rarely seen on any screen. Many meteorologists work as forecasters for the National Weather Service, cruise lines, airlines, sports teams, and beyond. Some prefer to crunch numbers and do analyses, working on research with the government, private companies, or universities. Others like to do a bit of research, but also work as professors, helping to make the meteorologists of tomorrow. Forensic meteorologists work with historical data, satellite imagery, and eyewitness accounts in order to piece together a past weather event, often for court cases or insurance claims. Many meteorologists work for the US Air Force, as knowing and being able to predict conditions in the upper atmosphere is crucial to our armed forces. Here at MWO, our work has a little bit of everything: working with the media, educating people of all ages, working on our ongoing research, and forecasting for the White Mountains region.

Figure 3: It isn’t all work at MWO: on June 11th, I had a chance to enjoy hurricane force gusts while the summit was in the clear.

Have you heard of any strange weather myths you’d like to know a little bit more about? Let us know!

Margaret Jividen, Summit Intern

06:53 Sun Jul 09, 2017

The Jefferson Snowfield

Up on the summit of Mount Washington, we are somewhat proud of the fact that we can see measureable snowfall in any month of the year. The “fine print” however, is that most of this snowfall doesn’t actually stick around! Between the scouring that occurs as a result of fierce winds continually pummeling the summit, and the warmth of the sun, much of the snow that falls either melts or is blown off the summit. It is not unusual to see a barren summit by May, and, save for a few short lived snow or ice events, have the summit and its neighbors in the Northern Presidentials remain mostly snow-free through the summer months. There is, of course, an exception, fondly known by summit staff, skiers, and hikers alike, as the Jefferson snowfields.

Pictured below are the summits of Jefferson, Adams, and Madison, from left to right. (Mt. Clay is cutoff on the left edge of the frame.) The date of the picture is February 21st, and as you can see, each of the peaks, including the summit cone of Mt. Washington in the foreground, are pretty thoroughly covered in snow and ice.


February 21st, Jefferson Snowfield

Significant melting and scouring continued, and in the next series of photos, the disappearance of snow is very noticeable, all except in one location, dubbed the Jefferson snowfield. Can you spot it?


April 16th Snowfield


April 27th Snowfield


June 9th Snowfield


July 6th Snowfield

As of this writing, the Jefferson snowfield is still alive, albeit starting to thin. We on the summit are compiling our guesses for when we think the snow will disappear. What are your guesses for when we will see the melt out of the Jefferson snowfield?

Taylor Regan, Weather Observer

13:07 Fri Jul 07, 2017

Out of This World Weather

Although we are not an astronomy observatory, looking up at the night sky from the summit often makes me wonder what it would be like to observe the weather on other planets. Our home here on Earth is a pretty incredible place, and when you take a look at the harshness of weather on other planets it becomes apparent how lucky we are.

Views of the night sky and Milky Way from the summit 

Our closest neighbor Venus is only slightly smaller than Earth and maybe even had liquid water on its surface at one point in its distant past. Today it’s a scorching 860°F on the surface due to a runaway greenhouse effect, with about 98% of its atmosphere consisting of CO2. Because of the heavier greenhouse gases making up its atmosphere, Venus also has a surface pressure equivalent to 3,000 feet below the ocean on Earth. Even a relatively light wind on Venus would have a crushing force to it thanks to this pressure; I think I’d pass on trying to observe the weather here!

Mars has become a popular topic with recently planned missions and talk of manned habitation on the planet, meaning weather forecasting on Mars is within the realm of possibility! Mars actually sees changes in the seasons due to it having a similar tilt to that of Earth. In general, it is much colder due to its extremely thin atmosphere and further distance from the Sun. Temperatures range from roughly -225°F to 95°F; and so a very warm day on Mars is still warmer than Mount Washington’s record of 72°F. Mars doesn’t have precipitation of any kind due to there not being any significant water vapor in the air, but it does have frequent dust storms, some of which can grow large enough to cover the entire planet.

Mars from the Osiris space mission in 2013 

We certainly see some impressive weather extremes here on the summit of Mount Washington, but Neptune’s weather is on a completely different level than that of Earth. Neptune is the furthest planet from the sun, (sorry Pluto) but it actually has an extremely dynamic and complex atmosphere. Neptune produces 2.6 times more heat than it receives from the Sun, and the mechanism for this heat production still isn’t fully understood.

 Neptune viewed from the Voyager II mission as it passed by in 1989. Note the Great Dark Spot!

Temperatures near Neptune’s solid core may be as high as 9,000°F, with readings in the troposphere, where most of the weather occurs, falling off to an incredibly cold -360°F. This temperature difference fuels massive storms like the Great Dark Spot, similar to the Great Red Spot on Jupiter. Winds during the 1989 Voyager II flyby of the planet were remotely clocked at 1,300 mph, or almost twice the speed of sound on Earth! These are the fastest winds recorded in our Solar System. Taking a look around at the weather of our neighboring planets definitely helps to put it into perspective how harsh conditions can be across the vastness of space, and when it comes to Earth’s weather there’s no place like home!

Tom Padham, Weather Observer/Education Specialist

08:00 Wed Jul 05, 2017

Volunteering to Support MWO

So now the time comes to get the ride up the mountain I am sitting in the parking lot at 7am and a young man comes up and introduces himself he was an intern for the weather program he asked if I was a volunteer for the week, I said yes and he immediately began telling me about himself and the others and the experiences on the Rockpile. His enthusiasm and excitement for his work was fantastic. Soon the other interns, staff and my co-volunteer Rich Atkins arrived we loaded our gear and we were on our way.

Once at the summit we linked up with the other volunteers and they showed us around the kitchen and explained how things worked. Within an hour after arriving myself and the other volunteer Rich felt right at home. We settled in and started working together right away and knew by the tour of the kitchen that we would not want for anything to provide healthy, wholesome and nutritious meals for the staff. The kitchen was fantastic and allowed us to not only be creative but also have fun with new receipts and learning to bake at altitude. We quickly learned that by providing this essential service it allowed the summit observers to focus on the tasks at hand which we could see involved not only weather observers but providing valuable information for the public about conditions on the mountain, teaching the craft of meteorology to the interns with invaluable hands on experience as well as interacting with the public.

By mid-week we were already emailing Mary Anne asking to sign us up for a winter week. The teamwork, friendship and comradery made this an incredible experience for us. 

Richard Briggs & Rich Atkins, Summit Volunteers

18:50 Mon Jul 03, 2017

History of Cats on the Mountain

One of the most commonly asked questions that I receive while working on Mount Washington is “So what is the story behind Marty the cat?” I explain when the tradition of having cats up here started and who Marty is. I never really knew much about the other cats, so I decided to research the history of cats on Mt. Washington.

The history of cats on the summit starts back in the early 1930s, along with the start of the observatory. During these times, cats were kept to keep the rodent problem under control and to keep the weather staff company. The first known cat is Tikky (Roberts, 2010). By 1934, logs recorded an amount of 8 felines kept in the observatory. Names included Oompha, Blackie, Ammonuisance, Elmer, Manx, and George.

As decades of passed since the 1930s, the summit cats have gained fame. Inga, a calico, was brought up the mountain in the 1980s. She was featured on T-shirts, posters, postcards, and other souvenirs (Roberts, 2010). The picture of Inga outside during a winter storm is seen on a poster and postcard in the Observatory’s gift shop. She passed away in 1999.


Next up was a cat named Nin. He showed up as a stray at the home of one of the staff in the valley in 1995, and was named after the writer Anais Nin. He watched ravens, had staring contests with a fox, hiked over boulders, purred on people’s laps and patiently watched as they played Scrabble (Roberts, 2010). Nin retired in 2007 and passed away in 2009.


After Nin’s retirement, an election was held for the next resident summit cat. The Conway Area Humane Society proposed three candidates that were in their care and they felt would be suitable (Roberts, 2010). Marty, our most recent feline, won with more than half of the 8000 votes. He quickly became a valued member of the summit community, and was very curious. He would always peek inside an open drawer or cupboard. During 2009, Marty had a few health problems which included infected teeth. Ten teeth were removed and made him much more comfortable (Roberts, 2010). After knowing Marty for a couple weeks, I know that he has free range of the entire summit building, as well as outside. He can usually be seen lying in his bed in the observatory.


Jillian Reynolds, Summit Intern

15:12 Sat Jul 01, 2017

Chance of Precipitation every day of the Year

Mount Washington sees quite a bit of precipitation annually, with an average of 97 inches of liquid falling on the summit! I was curious what the historical chance of seeing any sort of measurable precipitation on any given day of the year. One of the reasons that we see so much precipitation compared to locations in the valley is topographical lift as air is forced to flow up and over the presidential range. This will cause the air to cool adiabatically until clouds form then cool at a slightly slower at the moist adiabatic rate due to heat being released by the condensing water vapor. If the cloud is cooled enough before reaching the summit level, rain and snow will form and fall on the summit. As the air starts to flow down the lee side of the mountain range, the air will warm up and dry out.

Below is a graph of every day of the year (omitting February 29th) and the probability of receiving measurable precipitation (greater than 0.01 inches of liquid). Almost every day of the year has more than a 50% chance of seeing measurable precipitation!


We have much greater chances of precipitation in the winter than the summer with several days having historically a greater than 70% chance of seeing measurable precipitation! Several reasons for that is during the winter time, the storm track over the North East is much more active, thus why we also receive such high winds frequently in the winter. Also with the cold air in place, it is much easier for precipitation to be squeezed out of clouds as they pass up and over the Presidentials. During the summer, precipitation also tends to be much more showery due to convection so the chances of being hit by a shower or thunderstorm are lower. Even though we have a lower chance of seeing precipitation on any given day during the summer, it will usually be heavier with more moisture available to work with.

The final graph is the actual number of times each day has recorded measurable precipitation in relation to the amount of years we have operated.

Adam Gill, Weather Observer/IT Specialist


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