23:15 Mon Apr 24, 2017
Those Evasive Northern Lights
The first five days of this shift were spent in the clouds before clearing finally occurred yesterday morning, April 23rd just before sunrise. Beautiful weather continued through the day and night with mostly clear skies overhead that made me rather hopeful of seeing a display of the Northern Lights Sunday night. Seeing the Northern Lights from here atop the Rockpile is not a common occurrence, although occasionally during a Solar Storm it becomes possible. Since I began work as a Nighttime Weather Observer one year ago, there have only been a few nights where I have actually been able to see this beautiful phenomena. Conditions rarely matchup between a significant solar event and fog-free conditions or clear skies. With that being said, last night there seemed to be a decent chance at seeing the Lights.
On April 19th, A Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) erupted from the sun and it was expected to miss earth; however, a glancing blow resulted and led to some beautiful auroral displays, especially near the Earth’s poles. This of course occurred while the summit was shrouded in the fog and our view more resembled gray, followed by black construction paper overnight. The solar storm associated with that CME subsided prior to last night, but a coronal hole (CH) opened up in the sun’s atmosphere facing earth. A coronal hole is a place in the sun’s atmosphere where the magnetic field peels away and allows solar wind to escape. Here on Mount Washington, we get some pretty serious winds, but they don’t quite compare to solar winds… With this particular CH, winds erupted towards earth at 700 km/s or (Thanks to Google conversions) 434.96 miles per second. Every time I start driving that fast I get a speeding ticket… I had to ditch my Honda Civic because speeds that fast just seem like you are cruising. On a more serious note – those winds carry gaseous material which are full of “negative polarity” magnetic fields. These fields connect to Earth’s magnetosphere and energize geomagnetic storms that appear to us as the beautiful dancing Northern Lights. Per the Space Weather Forecasters at NOAA, there is a 60% chance of G1 class storms tonight (April 24th-25th). I ended up not being able to see the Aurora last night and it seems as though the chances have waned slightly for tonight also. The KP index is just under a five tonight which makes the most likely area of Aurora Extent over extreme northern Maine. With this particular solar event, here on the Rockpile, we did not get to see the Aurora, but it is always exciting when there is a chance. Each observation takes me a bit longer as I stare northward waiting for my eyes to adjust in hopes of coding that illustrious AURBO (METAR code for Aurora Borealis).
It is important to note, that the Mount Washington Observatory does not forecast space weather, nor do we serve as a source for space weather information. We do however enjoy looking for the Northern Lights and occasionally capturing images/video so that we can share them with everyone. If you are seeking information on solar activity, you should visit www.swpc.noaa.gov. Several different phone application’s also exist which take your GPS location into account and interpret the Space Weather Prediction Center information for a more unique forecast at your location. I use “Aurora Alert” – produced by Eagle’s Orbit. This app does a great job at defining different Space Weather terminology, and at helping understand when the best chances to view the Northern Light’s will be. It also notifies me when there is an event underway on my off weeks so I can become jealous of my counterpart, Ryan Knapp.
Geomagnetic Storms (G1 tonight) – The geomagnetic storm scale is one of a number of scales created by the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center designed as a way to communicate to the general public the current and future space weather conditions and their possible effects on people and systems. The scale runs from G1 – G5 with G1 having the lowest impact and G5 creating the most extreme impacts.
KP Index – The KP index is the most indicative value of auroral activity. The range is between zero and nine with zero indicating no activity and nine meaning extreme activity. Essentially, the higher the KP is the further towards the equator the aurora is visible. Oftentimes when the KP is at least a five and all other conditions allow for it, the Northern Lights may at least faintly be visible from the Observation Deck here on the summit.
Caleb Meute, Weather Observer / Meteorologist
15:23 Sat Apr 22, 2017
It's Earth Day!!
Earth Day is a day to recognize the environment and raise awareness about pollution. The first Earth Day was in 1970 and was created after a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California in 1969. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin was the first to propose a national teach-in on the environment because of all the disregard for the environment. Originally, the earth day protest were geared towards college students so April 22nd
was between spring break and final exams. This protest actually brought many different types of people together including Democrats and Republicans, leading to the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). From 1970 to 1990, it was just an event that was recognized in the United States, but in 1990, Earth day became recognized internationally.
This year, the March for Science has been organized to bring recognition to the importance of science in political decision making and the creation of policies. I personally would have attended a local rally if I was off of the summit because I enjoy learning now things and solving problems, thus the reason I got a degree in a scientific field! I hope this event will help inspire people as well as well as help increase funding for all sciences. Most research that is done takes years to finalize the results and so it is difficult to fund a project where the results are not immediate. The outcome of the project may not support the initial hypothesis proposed but disproving a hypothesis is still a scientific discovery, even though it may be seen as a waste of money. One thing that has come about recently is crowd funding and it will be interesting to see how that evolves in the future. Here at the observatory, due to how expensive operations are, we have been crowd funding for many years with our membership to help support the research we do! Thank you to all who are members of the Observatory!
Since it is earth day, what are some of the things that we do to help lessen our impact on the environment? We are on top of a mountain in a delicate environment so we must be careful in everything that we do to prevent damaging the ecosystem as much as possible. One thing is that we pack away all of our trash and take it down the mountain and separate out all the recyclables. The Sherman Adams Building was switched to grid power not too long ago so there are not generators running constantly anymore, but still used in the case of a power failure. We also do educational programs that teach about the climate. The Weather Discovery Center has a large solar array on the roof that produces quite a bit of power, you can check out the data here! One thing that I do personally, during the summer, I will usually try and get out for a small hike once a day. While on that hike I make sure to stay on the trail and not walk onto the alpine tundra. I also will pick up any trash that I find along the trail to try and keep the summit slightly cleaner.
Adam Gill, Weather Observer/IT Specialist
13:30 Thu Apr 20, 2017
Distance Learning: Connecting with Classrooms from Mount Washington
I often joke with friends and colleagues about the amount of job titles I retain that are thrown around quite frequently. One such title that gives me the greatest fulfillment in my work life has to be my role of Education Specialist. Among other education-related tasks, the ability to connect with classrooms around the world via Distance Learning programs is one of the most unique aspects of my job, and by far one of the most rewarding!
Through our Distance Learning programs, we connect with classrooms utilizing the web-based software platform Zoom (https://zoom.us/) and share the incredible challenges and intricacies in maintaining a working weather station amidst the Alpine Zone that encompasses the summit of Mount Washington. We're able to share our own personal experiences of living and working in such an extreme and unforgiving environment, and the nature of calling such a foreboding location home every other week.
Add in plenty of awe-inspiring images and dynamic video content of the extreme weather, instrumentation, facilities, and wildlife, and the result is a truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for students to interact with a scientific professional in the field, and hear firsthand about the trials of observing the weather on Mount Washington.
Distance Learning programs are generally 1 hour in length, although this can be customized to fit into any classroom's time constraints. The programs always conclude with a Q&A session, giving the students the opportunity to have their questions answered directly by a knowledgeable and well-versed summit meteorologist! Our programs are geared towards a wide range of age groups and educational backgrounds, and can even be customized to fit into a teacher's specific curriculum.
If you're interested in seizing this opportunity for your students, visit mountwashington.org/distancelearning to find out more and learn about how to set up a program soon!
All you need is a web browser, a reliable internet connection, and some eager-to-learn students!
We very much hope to see you classroom connecting with the summit sometime very soon.
Mike Carmon, Senior Weather Observer & Education Specialist
06:12 Tue Apr 18, 2017
Pack It In, Pack It Out
There are a lot of things to like about spring hiking. Warmer temperatures means less layers, shorts, t-shirts, etc making for more comfortable hiking and slightly less items weighing down my bag. Footwear goes from crampons to MicroSpikes to eventually summer boots. Birds are singing their spring chorus in the woods adding a natural tune to the air. Everything smells great, especially as plants start budding. A palette of color starts to return to the scenery. And days get longer allowing for even more time to be out and about. However, there is one downside I all too often come across - rubbish left by hikers over the course of the winter.
When I go out on hikes, I typically carry along a small trash bag and a few pairs of neoprene gloves to pick up rubbish (the gloves are also handy to have on hand in case medical reasons occur). Some of this rubbish is the variety I can slightly forgive - maybe the winds ripped the items from a hikers hands and was carried away faster than they could run. Some of it is a head scratcher as items are exposed from melting and were obviously left there making it somebody else's problem or they think snow is a magical decomposer. But the most common items I come acoss are the remnants of fruits people discarded - banana peels, apple cores, or orange peels being most common. And this isn’t a summit of Mt Washington issue; I come across all of these on pretty much every popular trail I hike on in the White Mountains.
When it comes to fruit remnants, it is simply trash regardless of it being biodegradable. First off, one man's trash is another animal's food. This might sound like a good thing but by introducing an apple core let's say, you are introducing an alien food group to an animal's diet. This could affect their health as it might not sit well with them. Or it could give them a new craving making them starve as they stop eating their natural diet. It could also have them moving into urban areas to seek their fix. This then has repercussions as food chains could become disrupted if an animal dies or seeks food elsewhere. So in general think, would this [insert biodegradable item] be here for animals if I weren’t?
Affecting wildlife is one thing but it is also an eyesore and one that will be around for awhile, especially in the alpine zone. The notion that “If it comes from nature, it will eventually return to nature” is true but decomposition takes significantly longer in the alpine zone. While picking up a banana peel and orange peels around the summit this week, I began to wonder, “how long do these really take to decompose up here?” In doing research I found numerous articles about a cleanup effort on Ben Nevis
, Scotland - the UK’s biggest mountain and a mountain environment that is similar to ours. In one cleanup effort in 2009, 55% of the trash was made up of banana peels. In another, 10 out of 18 large bags of trash were made up of banana peels. The problem with banana peels was so bad that there were even some individuals that would dress in banana costumes
at trailheads to try to spread the word. I don’t think the White Mountains have reached this point in either quantity or the need of costumed awareness, but the decomposition stats the John Muir Trust
found are worth noting to prevent us from getting to that point.
In ideal conditions in compost piles with hot/humid environments, banana peels might take 3 to 4 weeks to break down. Above treeline, Banana peels take two years or more to break down. Orange peels? What takes 6 months in ideal conditions takes again 2 years or more to break down above treeline. Apple cores? Two months in ideal conditions can take 6 months to a year above treeline. So before you huck, drop, or bury a peel or core, think of it as trash and carry it out with you and leave no trace
Looking up at Mt Washington from a recent spring hike
Ryan Knapp, Weather Observer/Staff Meteorologist
12:44 Mon Apr 17, 2017
What Winter Has Left Behind
It was quite a mild Easter weekend for the entire Northeast. Temperatures soared well into the 80s up and down the Eastern Seaboard. Boston’s high temperature Sunday climbed all the way to 86 degrees, one shy of the daily record, and five degrees warmer than Sunday’s highs in both Miami and New Orleans. Here on Mount Washington, we reached 49 Sunday. Not a record by any means, but enough to set off spring fever. The long snow covered landscape of the summit transitioned to one of mainly wet rocks with only patches of snow remaining.
Although the weather is starting to make a turn towards more summer like conditions, a long cold winter on the Rockpile has left behind many reminders of its impact. In the more sheltered areas, there’s still plenty of snow left, including on sides of the Observatory building that do not receive as much sunshine as others. One particular spot that was pretty hard to miss was just outside of the sub door to the tower. A five to six foot mound of primarily glaze ice sat in the corner of the building. The ice buildup was so high that it almost exceeded the height of the door.
Compacted snow and ice against our submarine door to the tower. The top of the door is roughly 6 feet off ground level!
Myself and observer Tom went out to try and chip away at it, but the thickness and depth of the mound proved to render the job unrealistic. Judging by its size, combined with the fact it is located in a sheltered area, this pile of ice will more than likely last through all of May, and perhaps even well into June. The hope is that it will melt slowly over this duration; otherwise flooding within the tower may become a concern.
As far as the next few days go, it appears temperatures are going to come back down to more typical readings for mid-late April. I’m sure most would agree that it was nice to get a brief taste of summer, but it is still only April. Even if additional snow and ice for the coming weeks is kept to a minimal, it’s going to take a long time to erase all that a Mount Washington winter has left behind.
Nathan Flinchbaugh, Summit Intern
13:38 Sat Apr 15, 2017
High Winds on the Horizon
High winds will be once again returning to the summit beginning tonight and lasting all the way through Monday morning. As we head further into spring these high wind events become less frequent, with April seeing a monthly average wind speed of 35 mph and average winds decreasing in May to just 29 mph.
Former Observer Michael Dorfman leans into hurricane force winds in 2016
The culprit for our high winds is actually two areas of low pressure tracking through southern Canada in tandem. A warm front from the first area of low pressure will sweep through overnight Saturday, with strong low level winds (what meteorologists often refer to as a low level “jet”). Rain showers will accompany the front, even on the summit, with temperatures climbing into the lower 40s by Sunday morning.
Sunday should be an interesting day on the summit, with hurricane force winds expected for most of the day and a few isolated thunderstorms even possible. With the summit firmly in the clouds along with rain and temperatures in the 40s we’ll likely be melting what little snow we have left, with just patches of ice remaining by the end of the day. Temperatures in the surrounding valleys will be climbing into the 70s, with some breaks of sunshine ahead of an approaching cold front helping to build instability. Overall thunderstorm chances are not very high, but for many areas across New Hampshire it could be the first rumble of thunder heard in some time. A thunderstorm would definitely add some excitement to our afternoon tomorrow on the summit!
Regardless of any thunderstorms, we can almost always count on high winds on Mount Washington. Just how high of winds are we expecting? Depending on which model you look at, we’re expecting winds sustained between 75 and 95 mph, with gusts possibly near 120 mph at the height of the event around 7am Sunday. A second peak in the wind will also likely occur sometime during the predawn hours Monday, with wind speeds slightly lower, in the range of 100-110 mph. With summer just around the corner we’ll certainly enjoy our more winter-like winds while they last!
Hays Wind Chart from Dec 27, 2016 with a peak gust of 125 mph. Hopefully tomorrow's chart will look very similar!
Tom Padham, Weather Observer/Education Specialist
08:36 Sat Apr 15, 2017
Life Cycle of a Cumulus Cloud/Thunderstorm
With the recent spell of warm weather (the summit made it to 50 degrees Fahrenheit this past week); I have been reminded that we are well on our way out of the winter months, and moving full speed ahead towards spring and summer. While winter on the Rockpile brings its challenges: transportation, higher winds (on average), epic snow and riming events; the spring and summer months bring their own unique challenges to collecting weather data up here on the summit. One challenge in particular is a thunderstorm.
Just for everyone’s peace of mind, when there’s an active thunderstorm impacting the summit, which can occur nearly two dozen times over the season, the observers do not go outside. Most of our hourly observation can be done in this case from the safety of indoors, and what we can’t observe by being outdoors (such as collecting the precipitation can) can be deferred from a 6 hour to 12 hour observation. It’s not ideal, but it is an option. Being so remote up here, safety is paramount, and not something we take lightly.
Figure 1. Cumulonimbus overhead.
This Sunday, as a cold front moves through the region, the summit is beginning to see indications that there is the potential for severe weather, particularly, thunderstorms, looming on the horizon. What is a thunderstorm? And how does a small puffy cumulus cloud turn into something so violent?
Figure 2. Cumulus clouds of little vertical development. Photo by Thierry Lombry.
The cycle of a thunderstorm begins with a humble cumulus cloud. The word cumulus comes from the Latin cumulo, meaning “heap” and reflects the nature that cumulus clouds build from the bottom up. Typically these clouds begin at relatively low altitudes (around 3,000 ft) but given the right conditions they can grow upwards in excess of 60,000 ft.
A cumulus cloud is fed by a warm updraft that forces increasing amounts of water vapor to cool and condense. As the cumulus cloud grows, it becomes a cumulus mediocris cloud, which is to say, a fluffy cumulus cloud that is beginning to look like it is growing upward. At this stage, the cloud is not yet producing precipitation, but it is well on its way to becoming a more developed cloud.
The primary stage of the thunderstorm is a cumulus congestus cloud, or towering cumulus. At this stage the cloud is rapidly growing, and beginning to sport the iconic cauliflower like bubbles. The cloud is now taller than it is wide. At this point, the cloud is capable of producing showers and the air within the cloud is dominated by updrafts, rapidly feeding warm moist air into the cloud.
Figure 3. Towering cumulus schematic. Photo from.srh.noaa.gov
In the second phase of the development of a thunderstorm, the towering cumulus continues to build, rising to heights of 40,000 to 60,000 ft. This is now a mature cumulonimbus, and the cloud often possesses the characteristic anvil or flattened top. At this stage, both updrafts and downdrafts persist, and the cloud is capable of producing extremely dangerous weather, such as frequent lightning, tornadic activity, large hail, heavy precipitation, and high wind gusts. This is typically the most dangerous stage.
Figure 4. Mature cumulonimbus schematic. Photo from srh.noaa.gov
The third and final stage of a thunderstorm is the dissipating stage. At this point, the downdrafts have cut off the upward flow of warm, moist air, and the storm loses its fuel. As a result, it continues to expend what energy it has left until only the remnants of the anvil top remain. Light rain and weak winds are typical at this stage before the storm is just a memory.
Figure 5. Dissipating cumulonimbus schematic. Photo from srh.noaa.gov
Taylor Regan, Weather Observer
09:30 Wed Apr 12, 2017
"Will They Believe It?": The Story of Big Wind Day
"Will they believe it?" – Weather Observer Sal Pagliuca
Winds are at a meager 20-35 mph on Mount Washington's summit today, with gusts to perhaps 60 mph expected later this afternoon.
However, 83 years ago, atop this very mountain, a storm for the ages was taking shape. An intense area of low pressure was traveling up the coast of New England, while a formidable high pressure center was building in from Canada. This is an all-too common list of ingredients for high winds on the summit of Mount Washington, but an additional element proved to be a deciding factor between just another Mount Washington high wind day, and what would become a world-record wind on the surface of the Earth. That element was the direction of the wind—the track of the impending low pressure system was such that it sent winds rushing towards Mount Washington's summit from a southeast direction. While the notorious "funneling effect" of wind from our most common wind direction (west) acts to accelerate winds as they pass over our summit, this effect is amplified further from the southeast due to the terrain off that direction. The corridor of Pinkham Notch acts as an effective and much more drastic "ramp" up to the southeastern flank of the Presidential Range, with Mount Washington as a proverbial target directly in its center.
Fast forward to today's Observatory, and I currently find myself composing this blog post in a steel-reinforced concrete building, rated to withstand winds upwards of 300 mph. Unless a storm-of-the-millennium sets its sights on the White Mountains, we're safe and secure within the confines of this building in all manner of Mount Washington weather. These accommodations have come a long way since 1934, however, as the early Observatory was housed in a decidedly smaller wooden building located on the southeastern periphery of the summit proper. The building was effectively chained to the ground in an effort to secure it to the very mountaintop upon which it sat.
However, the force of 200+ mph winds is quite brute—in fact, it's essentially unimaginable for most individuals. It certainly can be enough to decimate large structures, as was evidenced from the destructive force of Typhoon Haiyan back in 2013, which devastated the Phillippines with sustained wind speeds (1-minute) as high as 196 mph and gusts estimated to 235 mph at landfall. In the locations directly hit by the full force of these winds, the devastation was total and complete.
So, one can only imagine the fear running through the heads of the dedicated mountaintop weather observers in 1934 as these high winds were buckling the very structure protecting them from the brute force of the winds they were present to observe and study. Nevertheless, the hearty observers continued to meticulously record their weather observations through it all—a testament to their firm belief in the importance of what they were doing amidst the momentous situation that they found themselves in on that fateful April day.
"Will they believe it?" exclaimed in the Observatory log book by on-duty Observer Sal Pagliuca, who took the actual reading that calculated to 231 mph, which was simultaneously observed and confirmed via radio by observers at Blue Hill Observatory near, Boston, MA. As implausible as it was, they would certainly believe it, and after confirmation that the Heated No. 2 Anemometer was within calibration and functioning properly both before and after the big wind, a new world record for surface-based non-tornadic wind speed was emblazoned in the record books with the moniker "Mount Washington, NH". This record stood proudly for Mount Washington, the White Mountains, and all of New Hampshire for over six decades, adding to the lore and allure of this truly special part of New England. However, on April 10, 1996, nearly 62 years later, Tropical Cyclone Olivia delivered a 253 mph punch to Barrow Island, Australia, which assumed the world record wind speed title (officially in 2010) after years of confirmation. The station was an automated one, however, and no actual human beings were present to experience this wind speed reading. Hence, although not an official title in the record books, Mount Washington can still claim the highest wind ever experienced by a human being on the face of the Earth. An impressive title nonetheless!
83 years later, here I sit, having the privilege of composing a blog post from the very location in which this extraordinary event in White Mountains and New Hampshire history took place. It's exceptionally special to ponder the long history of the hearty observers that came before us, their dedication to the same cause in which we also work so tirelessly to support, and the more shoddy living conditions that accompanied the same pressures under which we also face. We have the luxury of infinitely more snug living quarters, with reliable heat, a firm foundation, and the comfort that our building will always be standing the next day. The honor of working for such a storied organization, in a breathtaking and awe-inspiring location such as the summit of Mount Washington, NH, is truly a special one.
Here's to the day we reclaim the world record wind speed! We're more than ready for it.
Mike Carmon, Senior Weather Observer & Education Specialist
07:25 Mon Apr 10, 2017
So. Much. Weather.
Well this has sure been a spring-like week here on the Rockpile with plenty of different conditions featured. On our trip up last Wednesday, the Snowcat encountered some massive snowdrifts which resulted from nearly a foot of snow that fell on Tuesday. As the day progressed on Wednesday, temperatures climbed above freezing, reaching a high of 36 degrees Fahrenheit. These above-seasonable temperatures remained intact through Wednesday night prior to dropping just below the freezing mark on Thursday.
If you remember my comment from the last shift, I talked about glaze ice and how Adam and Mike had to deal with significant glaze ice accrual during the day which I luckily missed out on. I then mentioned that I hoped to not jinx myself into having to deal with much glaze this week. Turns out, I in fact did jinx things. On Thursday night, Mother Nature comically threw a whole lot of glaze my way. Freezing rain combined with freezing fog and thick glaze coated the summit, several inches thick. Typically, during the transitional months, storms progressing through New England will lead to a mixture of precipitation with freezing rain and glaze ice a common occurrence.
Caleb Meute, Weather Observer & Meteorologist
Sun poking through the clouds and thick glaze and rime ice encasing the A-Frame.
Full-fledged winter conditions returned during the day on Friday, with an extreme upslope snow event that quickly turned the summit a powdery white again. Persistent bands of snow showers set up directly over the Whites, and snow fell all day on Saturday dropping a total of 11 inches before tapering early Saturday night. Strong winds accompanied the falling snow leading to dense blowing snow that dropped visibility as low as ten feet at times. Massive snowdrifts returned and made things quite interesting for us, especially when venturing to the precipitation can. Generally, when we go to collect the precipitation can, we exit through the main entrance of the Sherman Adams Building, and the building acts to block the wind for a portion of our walk when the winds are from the west or northwest direction. Yesterday when I opened the front door, the snow was more than halfway up the door. This creates problems for us because walking through compact snowdrifts is, well, impossible. The alternate path to the precipitation can takes us out through the observation deck and around the Sherman Adams Building, which is entirely exposed to the winds when they are blowing from the west or northwest. When the winds are not too strong this is not a big deal, but last night when I ventured to the can the winds were sustained around 80 mph with gusts exceeding 100 mph. On top of this, the visibility had dropped to around 10 feet which was extremely disorienting. Along my path to the can, there were snowdrifts scattered across the summit cone that were well above my head making navigation difficult. GPS kept rerouting me… When I made the decision to return to working for the Mount Washington Observatory, I was obviously hoping for some extreme winters. The winter of 2016-2017 has certainly not let me down!
Snow drift at the main entrance of the Sherman Adams Building.
Now conditions atop the Rockpile are looking to make another significant turn with a major warm-up expected today and tomorrow. High temperatures will soar through the 40s, possibly reaching 50 degrees. The record high temperature for April 10th is 52°F which was set in 1945 and the record high for April 11th is 54° which was also set in 1945. As I am looking at the daily record highs for April, it looks like in 1945 there were 5 days straight (9th – 13th) with daily record highs set! I wonder what the snowpack was like on the summit April 14th, 1945…
This week has sure been interesting! We have had beautiful sunrises and sunsets, prolonged periods of freezing rain, rain and 30 consecutive hours of upslope snow showers while winds gusted over 100 mph. Now to conclude our shift, we are anticipating this major warmup with rain showers and the possibility of thunderstorms. Spring truly ushers in a very wide range of weather conditions here atop the Rockpile!
15:13 Sat Apr 08, 2017
April: In Like a Lion
April 2017 has already seemed to signal its intentions of going down a snow-covered path. Although most folks have immersed themselves in spring fever by the time we turn the calendar to April, up here on Mount Washington's summit, we must hold back on those balmier thoughts for a little while longer. On average, the month of April harbors 35.6" of snowfall at the rocky top of New England, with daily average temperatures still suppressed in the 20s for a large chunk of the month.
We’re certainly on the path to reaching the snowfall average figure this year: as of 2PM EDT this afternoon, summit meteorologists have recorded a total of 25.6" of snowfall only 8 days into the month--exactly 10 inches shy of the monthly average. Nearly nine inches of that snow has come in the last 24 hours, and has brought a return of impressive drifting of snow, one of which is pictured below with its enthusiastic discoverer Adam Gill.
In the days prior to this latest snowfall event, we found ourselves combatting a significant ice storm. While most valley locations were enduring the proverbial April showers, summit air temperatures lingering just shy of the freezing mark prompted that falling liquid precipitation to freeze on all surfaces on the Rockpile—instrumentation, decking, windows, rocks, and even outdoor-venturing observers. The accrual of ice was substantial and troublesome, leading to a laborious dig- and thaw- out yesterday, in advance of the current snowstorm gripping the higher elevations.
The winds of change are on the immediate horizon, however, as a strong high pressure system harboring the warmest air mass of the season to date is forecasted to build into the Northeast U.S. tonight and tomorrow. The result will be an abrupt and considerable warm-up across the White Mountains, including our mountain's summit. The mercury will likely skyrocket well into the 40s by Monday and Tuesday, which will have an enormous effect on the bountiful snow and ice we've accrued throughout the prior three days. It can be quite astounding how speedily a sizeable snow pack can disintegrate after only a few days of warmer temperatures. We're expecting a much more summery-looking Mount Washington’s summit by the conclusion of Tuesday.
Thereafter, well, the lion looks to make a return.
Mike Carmon, Senior Weather Observer & Education Specialist
15:34 Tue Apr 04, 2017
What is a Front?
Large masses of air are continuously moving about on the surface of the Earth, driven largely by winds aloft, a horizontal pressure gradient, and the Coriolis Effect. The figure below depicts the various major air masses around the globe. The naming convention is as follows. The first letter (m or c) describes the moisture properties of the air mass, and indicates whether the air mass originated over water (maritime and moist) or land (continental and dry). The second letter indicates the thermal characteristics of where the air mass originated from. T = tropical, P = polar, A = arctic or Antarctic, and E = equatorial.
Figure 1: Airflow across the globe.
Fluids with different properties (such as density or temperature) do not like to mix. Oil and vinegar in a salad dressing highlight this point. Recall how the two fluids separate, and the oil floats atop the vinegar. Vigorous shaking reunites the two fluids, resulting in a relatively homogeneous dressing, but only for a short while. Air behaves in a similar manner. As a fluid, even a small difference in density is enough for the air masses to resist mixing.
Because the air masses dislike mixing, when they are forced to interact (for example, when one air mass “runs into” another) and have significantly different properties, the result is often some type of significant weather. A front, in terms of weather phenomena, is the boundary that separates two different air masses at the Earth’s surface, and is the cause for most of the weather seen outside of the tropics. These air masses typically have different densities, temperatures, and humidity.
There are four main types of fronts, which are named according to the temperature of the advancing air in relation to the temperature of the air it is replacing: warm, cold, stationary, and occluded. In the Northern Hemisphere, cold fronts and occluded fronts typically travel from the northwest to the southeast, while warm fronts typically move towards the poles (in the northern hemisphere, that means from the southwest to the northeast). On a surface weather map, fronts are depicted using colored triangles and half-circles, depending on the type of front. The figure below displays the colored notation for distinguishing between each type of front, with the line drawn on the map to indicate where the front is at the Earth’s surface.
Figure 2. Symbolic representation of fronts.
Where two air masses collide, there is often turbulence, which is the typical cause of clouds and foul weather such as rain showers, or even more severe weather such as a tornado outbreak. The direction a front moves is typically guided by winds at higher elevations, such as jet streams. Interestingly however, large geographic features, like mountains and large bodies of water can also alter or slow the path of a front. An approaching front of any type always means changes to the weather are soon to be felt.
As I mentioned earlier, a front is named by the temperature air mass which is dominant, relative to the air mass it is replacing. In the case of a warm front, the warm air mass is moving into an area where cold air is in place, and is working to replace that cold air. This warm air slides over the top of the cooler air and gradually overtakes the region. Warm fronts are at the leading edge of a large mass of warm and often humid air. Typically, because the warm air slides over the top of the cold air in place, the passage of a warm front is preceded by fog and/or stratiform precipitation. In general, warm fronts are not as powerful as cold fronts, and typically move slower as well, this stems from the fact that cold air is denser and therefore more difficult to move. Warm fronts are known to bring longer lasting weather patterns than cold fronts, and are often associated with high-pressure systems.
The figure below depicts the progress of a warm front across a region. Ahead of the warm front, high clouds will typically move in first, and they will generally be stratiform in nature, with rainfall increasing as the front moves in. This happens because as the warm, moist air is lifted, which causes the temperature to drop and condensation to occur. After the front has passed, the skies generally clear and the air warms relatively quickly. It should be noted however, that, if the warm air mass is particularly unstable, thunderstorms can be embedded in the incoming clouds, and persist even after the front has moved through.
Figure 3. Warm front schematic.
Alternately, a cold front occurs when cold air squeezes through warmer, less-dense air, and lifts it. Due to the fact that air is being lifted, instead of pressed down, the process of a cold front moving through a warm front is typically called a low-pressure system. Because the air is ascending so rapidly, it forces the air temperature to decrease much more quickly, forcing the quick creation of clouds. Cold fronts often bring heavy thunderstorms, rain and hail, which can often be severe, and are located at the leading edge of a temperature drop-off. Because the cold air is “wedging” underneath the warm air at the surf ace, the strongest winds are typically just above the ground surface, with the cold air acting somewhat like a snowplow. Additionally, due to the speed with which a cold front is capable of moving through a warm air mass (up to twice as fast as a warm front), it typically produces narrower bands of thunderstorms that can be more intense than those of a warm front. The types of clouds that form at the frontal boundary depend on the stability of the warm air mass.
The figure below depicts the progress of a cold front across a region. Ahead of the cold front, relatively low clouds and haze will typically move in first. Because of the speed at which the warm air is lifted upward by the incoming cold air mass, clouds quickly develop, and can rapidly produce strong thunderstorms and heavy precipitation. After the front has passed, the skies generally clear and the air cools relatively quickly.
Figure 4. Cold front schematic.
Taylor Regan, Weather Observer
15:23 Mon Apr 03, 2017
Say it ain't snow!
Confidence is growing that yet another significant winter storm (in April) will be taking place as early as tomorrow morning across the White Mountains. Low pressure spawning a severe thunderstorm outbreak over the Southeast today will track through the Great Lakes, with a secondary low pressure developing along the southern New England coast.
Warmer air and plentiful moisture will be pushing into New England tomorrow, with cold air damming occurring along the east side of the White Mountains. With enough deep cold air in place, it is now looking more likely that mostly snow will occur across the Mount Washington Valley and points northeast into interior Maine. This forecast is a very challenging one, especially for the summit, with warmer air attempting to surge in on the west side of the mountain while cold air hangs on to the east.
With the newer trends of enough cold air in place for mostly snow across the higher elevations, once again we’ll be seeing a very healthy amount of snow up here. 8-12” of new snow is possible across the summit and parts of western Maine, with some mixing with sleet and freezing rain possibly adding a bit of ice accumulation as well. If precipitation switches to more of a freezing rain/sleet mix then we’ll likely see much lower snowfall, potentially 4-8” of accumulation. Staff meteorologist Ryan is certainly going to have his hands full with the forecast tomorrow morning!
Precipitation will be tapering off to isolated snow showers by around noon Wednesday, with only a short break Thursday before another strong system begins to affect New England as early as Thursday evening. This storm looks to have an even stronger push of warm air, resulting in more of a rain and freezing rain event for the summit of Mount Washington. Although we’re now into April, winter isn’t over just yet atop the highest peak in the Northeast!
Forecast snowfall through Wednesday morning from the NWS across New Hampshire & Maine
Tom Padham, Weather Observer/Meteorologist
05:56 Sat Apr 01, 2017
Hide-and-Go-Seek the Peak
This weekend (April 1st/2nd) we will be hosting the 1st annual Hide-and-Go-Seek the Peak event. Starting at 8pm on April 1st, four Observatory staff members labeled as “It” will count down from 43,200. During this time, the handful of participants that signed up earlier this year will scurry out and hide on a peak somewhere within the 750,852 acres that make up the White Mountain National Forest. When those designated as “It” arrive at zero on April 2nd, they will, as loud as possible, yell out from the summit, “Ready or not; here we come!” At this time, the four individuals labeled as “It” will go out by foot and seek the hidden participants. Once someone is tagged as found, they then become part of the “It” party and help look for additional hidden participants. The event will wind down when all participants are found or by sunset on April 2nd; whichever comes first. It should be a lot of fun and we look forward to participating.
31 March sunrise looking towards Boott Spur and Tuckerman Ravine
Ryan Knapp, Weather Observer/Staff Meteorologist
If looking for information on future events we will be hosting, you can subscribe to our newsletter
so you never miss out. However, information about our annual Hide-and-Go-Seek the Peak will likely be hard to come by in the coming months as this particular event is nothing more than an April Fool’s joke!