17:20 Wed Oct 18, 2017
Obs Life Off-Summit, Part I: Suburban to Sub-Alpine
Time passes in a whole different manner up here at 6,288 feet. Perhaps it's the 20% less oxygen, although that might mean residents of Denver, Colorado would be empathizing more often. On the contrary, the week on/week off routine gives the word schedule a new meaning, although any summit staffer would refer to it as more of a lifestyle than a schedule. The fog-ridden world of an observer gives ample opportunity for regular periods of introspective inner-dialogue, particularly when the hustle-and-bustle relents and the isolation of a mountaintop rushes back in to its rightful niche.
Over 9 years have passed since my tenure at the Observatory commenced, and I find myself reflecting on how staggeringly my personal life has changed since my first steps onto our observation deck. I've most likely described in previous blog posts, comments, etc., about changes in my professional track with MWO, but indulge me for a few paragraphs as I cogitate upon the off-summit life of a long-time observer.
At 22 and right out of college, I had never really lived outside of central New Jersey. The suburbs were home, the city was always a stone's-throw, and the mountains were a mystical mysterious setting generally relegated to my condescension (this was purely out of ignorance, so I hope my fellow mountain residents can forgive my young naivety here!). "You're moving where?" most of my closest friends would ask when I told them of my internship in New Hampshire. "But…there's nothing up there" they would elaborate. While I spoke in my defense, unspoken were uneasy thoughts of concurrence.
Even throughout my first year as a visitor of the White Mountains (I would hardly consider myself a resident at that time), I felt like a stranger in an almost foreign land. What did folks do for fun around here? Where are all of those folks? How am I supposed to get around with these mountains in the way?
Caption: My first ever hike to the summit of Mount Washington, in the summer of 2009.
After nearly a year, I decided to make a change and pack up my belongings for a new off-week life in Burlington, Vermont. My college years—part II—is the label I throw on this, and I soaked up every minute of this exciting and vibrant city! It felt more like the home of old, although with a lake and a few (albeit less impressive) mountains as backdrop, the scenery was strikingly disparate.
After three years as a Burlington resident, I found my personal life changing once more, and a move back to the north country of New Hampshire became imminent. The odd situation of a summit observer is an intriguing one, as even though I had been an Observatory employee for four years to this point, I never felt like a New Hampshire resident. Sure I spent most of my time at the crux of the tallest mountain in the state, but down below was simply "the valley"—it had no real meaning to me, no personality of its own, no personal significance.
Then, I hit the trail.
Caption: Ascending the Glen Boulder Trail, overlooking the Gulf of Slides, with Boott Spur up above.
Although I had hiked on-and-off during my previous four years in New England, it was simply another activity to fill the time. If a friend wanted to hike, I would hike. Otherwise, there was no legitimate temptation. However, once I began hitting the trail regularly and savoring the true mountain experience, my entire frame of reference on New Hampshire, and even life in general, changed dramatically. Suddenly, I was not simply biding my time off of work until I returned to the summit of Mount Washington. I was out there, I was meeting some of the finest folks I ever have, and becoming part of a truly unique and gratifying culture that I was completely ignorant of up until this point. I gained a newfound respect for the environment around me, it's beautiful and tender fragility, and the nuance of each individual stretch of White Mountains trail. There was no need to have an excuse to speak with folks while out on the trail; although everyone had their own individual reasons for being out there, they all relished in the backcountry experience in their own inimitable manners, and learning more about these motivations and sharing similar experiences provided personal connections that could last a lifetime!
Now, after nine years of life in New England, at 31 years old I'm lucky enough to be engaged to the love of my life! And I know my passion for this mountain, the White Mountains in general, the hike life, and my motivation to seek out new personal connections is what led me to this most recent and exhilarating development of my life to date. In fact, my fondness for the mountains has grown so deep that I proposed to her on the summit of West Bond mountain, at the heart of the Pemigewasset Wilderness, where our mutual passion for the backcountry is best epitomized (in my humble opinion). If it were not for all of the trials, trails, and tribulations of the past nine years, both personal and professional, this moment may have proven wildly different.
Caption: Proposing on the summit of West Bond at sunset.
But it wasn't. It was what exactly perfect, and I am eternally grateful for the moment, my wonderful fiancé, and all of the future alpine moments that surely lie before us.
"The mountains are calling, and I must go." – John Muir
Mike Carmon, Senior Meteorologist & Education Specialist
17:43 Mon Oct 16, 2017
The North Atlantic Oscillation
Last night, during our live forecast discussion on Facebook, we were asked a question about the North Atlantic Oscillation, or NAO. So, what is the NAO, and why is relevant to our weather discussion?
To understand the NAO we need to first take a look at the atmosphere, particularly over the North Atlantic Ocean. Here, an area of permanent low pressure sits over Iceland (known as the Icelandic Low or Subpolar Low), and an area of high pressure sits over the Azores (known as the Azores High or Subtropical High). The location and intensity of these pressures overhead influence both the direction and strength of westerly winds which eventually make their way to Europe.
Figure 1. Graphic Depiction of the NAO. (Image from Wikipedia)
Variation in strength of these two pressures is known as the North Atlantic Oscillation and plays an important role in the climate of the Northern Hemisphere, particularly in winter. The NAO affects not only the strength/direction of westerly winds, but also the location of storm tracks across the North Atlantic.
The strength of the NAO can be determined or quantified by looking at the difference in seasonal average air pressures between stations located within each of the two stable pressure areas. If there is a large difference in pressures, it is considered a positive NAO (NAO+). This is associated with cooler summers and mild and wet winters in Central Europe. Conversely, when the North Atlantic Oscillation index is low, the westerly winds are suppressed, and as a result, northern Europe experiences cold and dry winters. Storm tracks instead move more southwards towards the Mediterranean Sea. As a result, southern Europe and North Africa see increased rainfall and storm activity.
Figure 2. Positive and negative NAO schematics. (Image from muchadoaboutclimate.wordpress.com)
So, how does this impact our forecasts in New England? Well, in the winter, when the NAO is very strong (NAO+), the low over Iceland dictates a strong south-westerly pattern, preventing Arctic air from being as influential in the region. As a result, the Northeast can see significantly warmer winters. Conversely, when the NAO index is low (NAO-), the eastern seaboard is more often subjected to blasts bitter cold Arctic air heavy snowstorms.
One way to better visualize the effects of the NAO is to imagine a baseball pitching machine. I know, it sounds a little crazy, but hear me out. The baseball pitching machine works by feeding a baseball through a gap between two quickly spinning wheels. This gap is just smaller than the ball, and the wheels grip the baseball and force it to move, eventually releasing the ball, sending it on its way to the batter waiting to hit a homerun. In baseball, you can change the speed the ball is released at by increasing the speed the wheels turn, and you can change the trajectory of the ball, or its path through the air, by adjusting the speed of the wheels relative to one another.
Figure 3. Baseball pitching machine. (Image from pitchingmachinesale.com)
Now, replace the top wheel of the pitching machine with the Icelandic Low, and the bottom wheel with the Azores High. In this case, the prevailing westerly wind and storm tracks are represented by the baseball. Changes in the pressures of the Subpolar Low and Subtropical High (both on their own and with respect to one another) influence the speed and also direction of the airflow between them.
Taylor Regan, Weather Observer
16:12 Sun Oct 15, 2017
It’s founding day! What does that mean? Well, it is the day that we at the Mount Washington Observatory celebrate the beginning (founding) of our organization. And this year, it’s a big one! Today we celebrate 85 years up on the summit!
While scientists embarked for a summit expedition in the 1870s, and the Signal Corps maintained a presence on the summit through 1892, it wasn’t until 1932 that Bob Monahan, Sal Pagliuca, Alex MacKenzie, and Joe Dodge set up a permanent presence on the summit. Using funds obtained from a research grant and a few private donors, the Mount Washington Observatory was formally established, with a mission of advancing the understanding of weather, climate, and the mountain itself.
Photo 1. Original four observers
Just two years later, on April 12, 1934 the Observatory captured what was then the fastest surface wind speed ever observed by man, at 231 mph. This thrust Mount Washington into the spotlight, and highlighted the value in having a mountaintop weather station that was continually performing research and taking weather observations.
To this day, we continue taking hourly weather observations, and are proud to say we have expanded on the initial reach of the observatory, offering connections to classrooms, weather station tours, and programs at our Weather Discovery Center in North Conway!
Photo 2. Present day observers
While we at the Observatory are extremely proud to celebrate our rich 85-year history, it is only a fraction of what makes the day so special. None of it would have been possible without the support of our members! Thank you to everyone who has had a hand in making the Observatory what it is today, we genuinely couldn’t do it without you!
Mount Washington Observatory Staff, Weather Observer
11:59 Sat Oct 14, 2017
The Story of the Seasons
It’s been a fall-like summer and a summer-like fall this year, with the trees all out of sorts and calendars themselves questioning what month it really is. But how did the seasons become as delineated at they are? In Greek Mythology, the story of the seasons originates with Demeter, the Greek goddess of harvest.
According to the myth, Demeter, the goddess responsible for ensuring the harvest, had a young and joyful daughter named Persephone. Unfortunately, Persephone drew the attention of Hades, ruler of the underworld. Zeus granted Hades permission to marry Persephone, and so, whilst out picking flowers, Persephone was whisked away in Hades’ golden chariot, and taken to the land of the dead.
Demeter, wrought with grief over the disappearance of her daughter, cast aside her duties as goddess of the harvest, and searched the world for her beloved Persephone. Crops withered, fields dried up, and the world was at risk of famine as Demeter mourned the loss of her daughter. The drought was so severe that even traditional offerings to the gods were being neglected, because there simply wasn’t enough food. Zeus attempted to lift Demeter’s spirits by promising her all manner of gifts and powers, but nothing could assuage her anguish.
Seeing that he must act, Zeus sent Hermes to the land of the dead to retrieve Persephone, who, in her own grief, had neither eaten nor drank anything whilst being held in the underworld. While Hades knew he must follow Zeus’ orders, he still managed to trick Persephone into eating a few pomegranate seeds prior to returning home. While Demeter was overjoyed at the return of her daughter, she grew dismayed when she found out that Persephone had eaten while under Hades’ rule. The Fates had proclaimed that anyone who eats anything in the land of the dead must remain there. However, because she had eaten only seven seeds, she was destined to spend only seven months of the year in the underworld, and the other five she could return to Demeter.
The myth continues that, for the months that Persephone is with Hades, Demeter rules lonely and sad over the harvest. As Demeter morns, trees lose their leaves, cold returns, and fields lie fallow. However, when Persephone returns, Demeter rejoices, plants spring up from the ground, flowers sprout, and life returns. And that is the story of how the seasons were brought about.
Figure 1. Diagram showing the tilt of Earth vs. sunlight. (Image from Wikipedia)
In actuality though, the seasons are caused by the tilt of the Earth, which is roughly 23.5 degrees, relative to the surface formed by the Earth tracking a path around the Sun. In the winter, when the Northern Hemisphere is tilted away from the sun, cold air builds up over North America, Europe, and Asia. The light that does reach the Northern Hemisphere is spread over a greater surface, and therefore less warming is felt.
The Northern and Southern Hemispheres always experience opposite seasons, this is because as one pole tips towards the sun, the other is tipped away, and that hemisphere receives less incoming sunlight. Between the seasonal switches, there are two instances when the Sun is directly overhead at the equator. These are known as the equinoxes, and denote the time when day and night is equally divided between the hemispheres. The March Equinox marks the beginning of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere, and Fall in the Southern Hemisphere, whereas the Autumnal Equinox marks the beginning of Fall in the Northern Hemisphere, and Spring in the Southern Hemisphere.
Figure 2. Diagram depicting sunlight vs. the season. (Image from Wikipedia)
While other features such as storm tracks and proximity to water account for some seasonal variation, the largest factor governing the differences we experience between the seasons is due to the axial tilt of the Earth. It certainly isn’t as colorful a story as the Greek myth, but pretty interesting nonetheless!
Taylor Regan, Weather Observer
06:43 Thu Oct 12, 2017
Misery Hill: A Look Back at the Saturday Evening Post March 14th, 1942
on the summit, we have the tremendous fortune of a well-preserved archive of
not only our hourly weather observations but also various journals and missives
from those observers and visitors who have spent time up here all throughout
the Observatory’s 85 year history. It makes the frequent foggy evenings the
perfect time to turn through the pages of history and read about what life was
like in the years previous up on the summit!
In the early years of the Observatory, weather observations were kept in log books that also contained short comments about life on the summit. Oftentimes, these short notes were in regards to visitors to the summit, or rare(ish) events like an aurora sighting. One night, reading through some of the old log books, one comment caught my attention:
“March 13, 1942 -
Saturday Evening Post article on ‘Misery Hill’ received with general disapproval displayed most violently by John and Uncas!!”
Dating back to 1728, the Saturday Evening Post is an iconic American publication, notable not only for its blend of fact-based journalism and fictional stories, but also for its cover illustrations by Norman Rockwell. To hear not only that the Post published an article on “Misery Hill” – a nickname I assumed to refer to the “Rockpile,” but that it was received with general displeasure by the summit staff, I was intrigued.
Cue the modern day convenience of the internet. After a few minutes of searching, I was able to find the publication date and issue of the Post that featured the article on “Misery Hill”. Shortly thereafter, I discovered one copy online available for sale! Feeling like a modern day treasure sleuth, I placed my order, and a few weeks later, a package arrived.
Figure 1. Saturday Evening Post featuring an article on the Mount Washington Observatory
After carefully unwrapping six layers of meticulous cardboard and wrapping paper (the previous owner taking careful steps to preserve the volume) I had in my possession the mysterious tome in question. Flipping past ads for Philco Radio-Phonographs promising “Music on a Beam of Light!” with an “Exclusive Tilt-Front Cabinet!” and Chevrolet’s “Car Conservation Plan” imploring proper vehicle maintenance, I finally turn to the article “They Call It Misery Hill” by Martin Sheridan.
The article started out by referring to the observers as hermits, a trend which continues throughout the piece. Is that the most flattering term? No, probably not, and I imagined the annoyance of the observers mentioned as they read the descriptions of themselves. To be fair though, stints on top of the summit in those days could last quite some time. Much longer and less regimented than today’s standing 8 days on, 6 days off schedule. Hermits? Maybe not, but definitely dedicated to their work at a remote mountaintop weather station.
Figure 2. “A 150-mph blast here propels hermit John A. Brown.”
As I continued reading, I noticed that several passages rang particularly true, regardless of the time that has passed.
“…winter on Misery Hill is never written off the calendar until July fourth and may return on July fifth.”
“Scientists rank this godforsaken outpost as one of the most difficult assignments a weatherman can receive, classify the weather at the summit as the world’s worst, comparable with the Arctic and Antarctic Circles, yet only 155 miles from Boston!”
It’s true that the summit of Mt. Washington has recorded measurable snowfall in every month of the year, and sees roughly 300 inches annually. Other passages genuinely captured the unique challenges faced in operating a manned weather observatory atop a mountain during World War II.
“A few hours after the blizzard disappeared seaward the Weather Bureau announced the discontinuance of the publication of detailed weather reports because of their value to the enemy. Ask a meteorologist what he considers the most important weather-observation point in the East, and nine times out of ten he’ll answer, ‘Mount Washington.’”
And reminders of the difficulties faced in those days:
“Few can last out a long winter on Mount Washington without succumbing to mountain psychosis, a blend of cabin fever, melancholia and delusions blamed on the lack of sunshine and the continuous high winds.”
“’The trip to the valley is more difficult this winter … since all ham radio operators have been barred from the air lanes. Prior to that ruling … before returning to the summit we would always ask the observatory for a report on the conditions there. Today we run the risk of encountering the sudden blizzards which frequently hit the mountain.’”
Figure 3: Collecting the precipitation can.
And reminders that things are definitely easier now:
“His first duty is a half-mile visit over jagged, icy rocks to the three rain and snow gauges on the north, west, and south sides of the summit. These are invariably frozen and must be melted before the first of the seven daily readings can be made.”
“… whenever the wind reaches hurricane force … the building begins to shake. Chairs move and dishes sometimes break. Rime forms on the interiors of windows and terrific drafts fan the furnace. A particularly strong gust will force open the furnace door, throwing out a long tongue of flame and red-hot ashes.”
Reading through the article, I notice that while the life and happenings on the summit are covered extensively, less is said about the active science and research going on. Additionally, a large portion of the article focused on a search and rescue effort turned search and recovery, to highlight the perilous nature of the summit and the potential consequences to those who visit. Perhaps these were some of the reasons the crew was less than enthused about the publication, but truthfully, I don’t know for certain.
One thing was clear though, and that was the sense of camaraderie amongst shiftmates, a theme which continues to this day. After reading the article, I still had many questions, but was glad for a glimpse through time. But what was Sockey?
“In their offtime, Brown, Blackwood, and Elsner hunt rabbits below the tree line, fish through the ice in the Peabody River, and ski. They have contrived a game they call Sockey and play it for hours nightly. A homemade table-tennis set offers a change from Sockey, and a dozen packs of cards are worn out by the end of a season. The three have formed an antiswearing pact, with a nickel fine for every cuss. The treasury now holds more than five dollars, and the hermits blame it all on the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.”
Figure 4. Observers and guests playing cards.
Taylor Regan, Weather Observer
21:03 Tue Oct 10, 2017
Hot in Here
Thanks to a strong and stubborn upper level ridge that anchored itself over the northeastern United States this shift, well above seasonable air has continued to stream into the White Mountains Region. Generally, at this time of the year my winter gear comes up to the summit with me as we begin to battle the snow and ice but so far that has not been the case. At the beginning of our last shift, I wrote a blog discussing the anticipated heat wave which would likely break consecutive daily record highs. Sure enough, the second half of our last shift (Sep 20 – Sep 27) had three record highs set and then one equaled.
September 24th - Previous record: 62°F set in 1961
New record: 65°F, 2017
September 25th – Previous record: 62°F set in 2007
New record: 64°F, 2017
September 26th – Previous record: 59°F set in 1961
New record: 67°F, 2017 – This one surpassed the record by 8°F!
September 27th – Tied record: 62°F set in 2014 and now tied in 2017
After this stretch of record setting days, the other shift took our place on the summit and the temperatures normalized a bit, with the average temperatures in the 30s through much of their shift prior to 40s the last two days. These last two days with average temperatures in the 40s was Mother Nature preparing for our shift to return. Sure enough, once we got back up the mercury began to rise to unseasonably high levels. For early October, average daily temperatures should be in the low 30s. This week, that was not the case…
A return of a large ridge over the northeast coupled with increased energy punching northward along with Hurricane Nate allowed temperatures to soar towards daily records. This time around, records were not reached, although it was close. Since we arrived, the temperature departures from where they should be are as follows:
October 4th: 15°F above average
October 5th: 8°F above average
October 6th: Only 3°F above average
October 7th: 12°F above average
October 8th: 18°F above average!
October 9th: 19°F above average!
00z Model run from October 8th showing the warm air mass streaming northeast ahead of Hurricane Nate. Shown here are 850 mb temperatures which give a rough estimate as to what we can expect here at summit level. 850 mb roughly depicts an elevation of 5,000 feet.
Now the ridge is breaking down as my shift prepares to go down for our off week, and below freezing temperatures are back in the forecast for our counterparts. As Nelly would say, “It’s hot in here”. We really are the warm shift lately.
Caleb Meute, Weather Observer / Meteorologist
17:22 Sat Oct 07, 2017
We are Live!
Over the past year or so, we have been periodically doing facebook lives to test it out and see how feasible it would be to do. Originally we were just able to do the facebook live broadcast from the weather room because that was the only place we had Wi-Fi. We then were able to use a spare router and put it up in our tower so that the deck could get coverage. We did a few Q and A’s from the deck on nice weather days. The reason the observatory never did a facebook live during severe storms was because we were using our personal phones and with the high winds and moisture, we didn’t want to risk damaging them.
This summer, we were able to upgrade the internet that we have on the summit and make it much faster as well as have a lot more bandwidth. Now we are able to stream live video in a much better quality as well as be able to do work at the same time because of less bandwidth restriction. We are even able to have public Wi-Fi on the summit now similar to an airport, but the money goes to help improve the technology up here at the Observatory.
This weekend we have been trying out doing Facebook lives to see how well they will do and to test out some of the software that we have up here now. Right now, it takes a bit to set up before we do one but as we get used to it, it will become easier to get ready for a live shot. We are hoping to be able to do a live segment every day! One thing that is needed is an IP based mobile camera so we can easily move outside and do some live shots from outside. The only glimpses people get to the outside is through our webcams right now and it will be really cool to be able to show the weather from the ground!
Adam Gill, Weather Observer/IT Specialist
19:34 Thu Oct 05, 2017
And So the Fun Began
Have you ever wondered what it is like to be on top of Mount Washington in high winds? It feels like a strong man pushing against you and fighting your ability to walk forward. And just as you think you've gotten enough strength to push through it, the winds drop and you fly forward. Seconds later they pick back up and send your momentum backward. You catch your balance and continue to read into where you think the winds will blow you next, swaying in their force like a flag in the wind. This game of push and drop was what I experienced when standing out in my first 100 mph gust yesterday night.
Before accepting this internship I had never experienced the true force of the wind. The strongest winds that I had felt were those of Superstorm Sandy as it reached my house, however these winds were broken up by buildings and trees and did not truly feature the immense power that winds can have.
Accepting to live at the Home of the World’s Worst Weather meant that it was inevitable to experience things I never had before. Every passing day living on the summit I have hoped for the most extreme weather possible, itching to learn about it's power and to experience the forces of nature first hand. Wednesday, the fun began.
Wednesday’s are typically a bit hectic with the two shifts switching out on the summit. The day is filled with meetings and briefings about what is to come for the next week on the summit. In one of these meetings we discuss the potential weather for the upcoming shift. It was mentioned that there was the potential for high winds Wednesday night and I lit up with excitement. The highest winds I have seen on the summit so far was from a 90 mph downburst within a thunderstorm. However, the thunderstorm was producing lightning which kept us from going outside to actually experience this downburst. But the winds forecasted for Wednesday night had a good possibility of being ones that we could go outside and enjoy!
As the day went on winds slowly began to rise and by about 8 pm they were increasing more rapidly. As the winds skyrocketed so did the energy of the staff. We all threw on our shoes and jackets and ran outside to feel the winds as they rose. Some of the staff members were only excited to see these winds because it was the first chance at an 100 mph wind event since May. However, I was genuinely thrilled to finally be able to say that I have experienced some of the World’s Worst Weather. The force of the winds was something I had only heard about but had never felt personally. It was a mixture of exhilarating, jaw dropping and slightly terrifying to be able to lean full force into the winds and still be pushed around.
Adam and I had taken this opportunity to climb to the very top of the weather tower and give me a test run of what it will be like come winter. As part of my internship I will be climbing back up that weather tower in just as strong winds and deicing our instruments. Getting this test run of standing up in these intense winds was eye opening to how challenging that task can be! I now have a new respect for the observers who can go up the tower and deice in over 100 mph winds.
Overall Wednesday night’s wind event was something I will never forget. It was the highest winds I have ever felt in my life, it was my first true sample of the Worst Weather on Earth, and it was a small look into the power and beauty this mountain beholds. I cannot wait for winter weather to begin and for more wind events to occur!
Nicole Tallman, Summit Intern
16:47 Tue Oct 03, 2017
I Can See The Light!
As the About Us
page on our website states, “Mount Washington Observatory is a private, nonprofit, member-supported institution with a mission to advance understanding of the natural systems that create Earth’s weather and climate. It serves this mission by maintaining a weather station on the summit of Mount Washington, performing weather and climate research, conducting innovative science education programs, and interpreting the heritage of the Mount Washington region.” And as a meteorologist (the study of weather), the Observatory is a great place to experience Earth’s weather first hand. However, being the night Observer up here for over a decade, the night sky is a nice little side hobby I have learned to enjoy.
Now, I will be the first to admit that I barely know constellations or exactly what I am looking at on any given night. If someone were to ask me what such-and-such thing is in a direction of the sky, I would flat out not have a clue most of the time. But if I have my cellphone, my Sky Map
app is a great place to start as it provides augmented reality and displays the name of stars, planets, and constellations. Where that app might fall short though, I can look up the rest of my inquiries online and usually find the answers with a bit of research. I also subscribe to several great newsletters and review a few webpages for pointers about what I am looking at, or what I should look for over the course of a night, a week, or a month's time. My three favorite sites that I frequent are earthsky.org
, and space.com
Last month I received a reminder to keep an eye out for the Zodiacal Light. The Zodiacal Light occurs twice a year; for the northern hemisphere is it seen after dusk in the spring and before dawn in the autumn. Since it is autumn, this means it is visible during astronomical dawn and a bit into nautical dawn or in simpler terms, 90 to 180 minutes prior to sunrise. It appears as a hazy pyramid of dim light in the eastern skies and for NH and New England, it will tilt southward (at the equator it shoots straight up and in the southern hemisphere is leans north). In a quick summary, it is formed by sunlight reflecting off space dust the size of 1-300 micron (or 0.001-0.3 mm) in a plane spanning between Mercury and Jupiter. (If you want to learn more, head HERE
, or HERE
Over the past month, I kept seeing it during the last few weather observations of my night shift but weather (clouds and winds) always kept me from getting a good picture of it. Then on one night last shift, we had a complete undercast (blocking city lights below), completely clear skies overhead, relative humidity in the teens, no moonlight, and calm winds making for a great opportunity to get out and photograph the Zodiacal Light. So I took 15 minutes and wandered around the summit photographing it from a few different spots (see results below). During most years, I typically get to see it a handful of nights in Sept/Oct before it is gone. This year though, New England has had a couple strong high pressure ridges over the past couple of weeks allowing for generally clear skies resulting in additional viewings both at work and around where I live down below when off-summit.
If you want to view it, here are a few pointers: First, it needs to be clear skies to the east. A few high clouds are OK, but the clearer your skies, the better. Second, make sure there is little to no moonlight (hard to do now as the moon is nearly full; but it will be waning soon enough. Third, get away from any and all light pollution - the darker the skies around you the better. Fourth, go someplace with good views to the east - a rise in land, a cliff, a hill/mountain top (it doesn’t need to be Mt Washington, just one good with great extended views east), a lake/pond, or the ocean. If going near a body of water or someplace where fog can form, be mindful that this could dim or block things. Fifth, allow your eyes time to adjust. That typically means 5 to 20+ minutes of not looking at any light - that includes your cell phone! The longer you allow your eyes to adjust, the easier it will be to view the night sky. Even then though, for most people, “averted vision” or “peripheral vision” works best to see it. This means you look slightly left or right of due east to see the glow at its best as the eye’s rod detectors away from our central vision are more sensitive and can pick up on this dim light.
Lastly, since it is fall, dress in a couple warm layers as the mornings have been getting down in the 30s for most areas. And that is about it. You can watch it grow taller and brighter over time prior to eventually giving way to the blue of dawn and then sunrise. If photographing it, you will need a tripod or sturdy surface, a wide-angle lens, a large aperture, increased ISO, and and extended exposure done by either a shutter timer or remote (if you need additional pointers, one of the articles I linked to above has additional information for photographing it). I hope this helps and that you get a chance to see if for yourself. If you miss it this go around though, don’t fret as it’ll be back in spring after dusk.
Zodiacal Light with the Mount Washington Observatory instrument tower and NHSP Sherman Adams Building
Zodiacal Light and a coin-operated viewing scope
Zodiacal Light with stratus clouds and the Carter-Moriah-Wildcat Range
Zodiacal Light over the Mt Washington Auto Road
Ryan Knapp, Weather Observer/Staff Meteorologist
05:56 Sun Oct 01, 2017
Things To Know Before You Go
This week we went from warm and muggy summer-like weather to cold and snowy winter-like weather. During the times we weren’t in summer/winter mode, looking down into the valleys below provided all the indicators of Fall (foliage) developing all around us. With the looks of Fall and today's winter-like weather, it is a great time to take a minute and point out a few things that come with the changing seasons. Some changes are already in effect and others will be coming in the following weeks.
The first change to discuss is the operating hours of our Weather Discovery Center
(WDC) in North Conway. Starting today (October 1), the WDC will go to winter hours and be open daily from 10 am to 3 pm. While we’ll be closing earlier, everything else remains - two daily live connections with the summit, plenty of hands on exhibits, and our gift shop.
If hiking or outdoor activities are in your plans, it is time to start being more mindful of the weather. October temperatures will be in flux as we continue to transition from Summer to Fall (meaning some days will be mild and others frigid). Statistically speaking, average daily temperatures on the summit go from just above freezing at the start of the month to mid-20s by the end of the month. Snow typically starts to accumulate during the month and the 30-year average for snowfall for October is 17.6 inches. Hurricane force gusts (>73 mph) statistically become more common in October occurring 1/3 to 1/2 of the available days. In other words, it can be pretty brutal.
A common tale I hear every year - people started out on trails where conditions were clear, calm, and mild and they continued up and were caught off guard in fog, snow, and temperatures below freezing. But there is no reason in this day and age to be caught off guard and finding yourself unprepared, as there are plenty of resources you can check to know what to expect before stepping foot on the trails. For one, you can check our 48 Hour Higher Summits Forecast
which is updated twice a day by 5 am and 5 pm. Another option can be found on the NWS recreational forecast page HERE
. While automated smartphone apps are rarely if ever correct for the summit, some weather knowledge is better than no weather knowledge. And if you need help on how to pack and prepare, the Hike Safe
web page is a great place to start. And if looking for more information on hiking Mt Washington, the AMC page
dedicated to hiking the summit is another great resource. And if all else fails, ask someone (online or in person) before you go; there is no shame in seeking the advice of others.
If heading above treeline, note the operating schedules of AMC huts and shelters. Our closest neighboring hut, Lakes of the Clouds Hut, is closed for the season. Our neighbor to the north, Madison Spring Hut, is also closed for the season. And later this month, additional AMC huts will be closing for the season or going to self-service for the winter season. So, if you are thinking about staying at a high elevation hut or using one for water/shelter/etc, please check for their availability prior to venturing out. For a full rundown of AMC hut closures and availability, head HERE
. Or if an RMC hut or shelter is in your plans, their operations are available HERE
If heading to the summit of Mt Washington, it is important to check the operating schedules of the Mt. Washington Auto Road
and The Cog
. The operating hours of the Mt Washington Auto Road can be found HERE
. The Cog’s operating schedule can be found HERE
. Note that weather can affect the operations of both the Mt Washington Auto Road and The Cog. And both forms of transportation are independent from us, so please contact them directly or check their webpages/social media pages for the most current information and any changes that might occur to their operating schedules.
Trails to the summit can be used day or night. However the New Hampshire State Park (NHSP) Sherman Adams Building (ie, the building with bathrooms, water, food, shelter, etc) is day use only. Their operating hours can be found HERE
. And similar to the transportation methods, some of their operations are weather dependent. NHSP operates independently from us so please contact them directly or check their webpage for any changes to their operating schedules.
Why do the times change this time of year? The operating hours will be changing in response to the shorter days that come with Fall. This time of year, the summit receives less than twelve hours of daylight as the sun rises later and the sun sets earlier. So, if hiking is your means of transportation, an earlier start than what you would do in June is strongly advised. And while you should always have a headlamp with you no matter the time of year, with shorter days, it becomes even more important to have one this time of year. And if you hike up, you are fully responsible to get yourself down. Transportation methods can/do sell out and/or cease operations due to weather; so hikers should always be prepared to not only hike up but hike down too. Camping is never allowed within the NHSP boundaries. (Additional backcountry rules and regulations available HERE
I hope this information helps and everyone has a safe and enjoyable autumn ahead!
First measurable snowfall of the 2017/18 season - taken morning of Sept 30th
Ryan Knapp, Weather Observer/Staff Meteorologist