21:08 Mon Mar 23, 2020
METAR Code: How it led to a Unique Social Distancing Selfie
METAR: Meteorological Terminal Aviation Routine Weather Report
Every hour of every day the Mount Washington Observatory issues a METAR observation from the summit. It is these observations that get disseminated through the Aviation Digital Data Service. Yesterday was like any other day on the summit, but the weather being recorded precipitated into one of the more unique social distancing selfies. Let me explain...
Aviation and weather have been a large part of my life since I was a child. My father got his pilot’s license when I was only a few years old and I fondly remember flying with him. Being so young in an airplane, my Dad found cleaver ways to involve me in the process. I would walk beside him while he did the preflight inspection of the aircraft and read operations checklists out loud with him. However, my favorite thing we did together was de-code METAR and determine what the weather would be. The best of those weather days were called "CAVU" - Clear Above Visibility Unlimited. Between my Dad and I, "CAVU" became our little secret way of saying “have a good day” to one another. Written on the top of a napkin in my lunch box or scribbled on a note stuck in his briefcase. It was our little bonded message to each other. Needless to say it was through these interactions I developed a love for flying and a passion for the weather that has stuck with me to this day.
My junior and senior years in high school I was fortunate enough to attend BOCES Aviation Vocational Technical School where I inevitably earned my own pilot’s license. During this time my love of weather only grew as we learned about the atmosphere we flew through and the weather conditions that would influence our flights. This streamlined educational path fueled my passion and upon graduation I enrolled at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University where I studied meteorology at a highly focused aviation institution.
I quickly found my groove within the program and began working as a Tutor in the Aviation Lab teaching weather. Here I helped follow pilots understand the concept of weather patterns and their operational significance. In the lab a favorite station to pull the METAR from was KMWN - Mount Washington. With weather so unlike that found at an airport it was a great way to practice de-coding METAR out of the ordinary. Eventually when it came time apply for internships, Mount Washington was at the top of my list. The summer of 2010 I began an internship which would turn into so much more in my life.
After all the years of de-coding METAR with my Dad, using it for my own flights, and teaching it to other students, I finally arrived on the other side of the fence, coding METAR. Ten years later I find myself on the summit of Mount Washington recording the weather during a tough time in our existence. Feeling more isolated that usual I stepped out onto the observation deck to record the hourly observation.
KMWN 221949Z 00000KT 90SM SKC
KMWN: Station Identifier (Mount Washington)
221949Z: Date and Time (March 22nd 1949 ZULU)
00000KT: Wind Direction and Speed (Calm Winds)
SKC: Sky Condition (Clear)
This folks, is what a "CAVU" weather report looks like! Not to mention it being observed at the “Home of the World’s Worst Weather”! So once the observation was submitted, I called my Dad to share this "CAVU" day and this is where the Self Distancing Selfie was conspired.
Now my Dad lives just a few miles south of North Conway in an aviation community. One where everyone has their plane in their yard and all the streets are taxi ways lead to the central runway. I told my Dad about the "CAVU" weather and suggested he come for a visit. He could safely leave the house, get in the plane, and fly up to circle around the summit. Thirty minutes later, that’s just what he did!
I stood at the top of New England on a "CAVU" day while my Dad circled overhead rocking his wings at me. It was a once in a lifetime special moment bonded by four simple letters that made us feel closer than ever despite the distance we are all feeling. And this is how a METAR code turned into a unique social distancing selfie.
My Selfie With My Father Flying Overhead
My Father's Point of View as He Flew Overhead
Rebecca Scholand, Summit Operations Manager
11:10 Mon Mar 16, 2020
COVID-19, the Observatory, and My Thoughts.
A Statement from the Mount Washington Observatory Weather Discovery Center:
“The Mount Washington Observatory Weather Discovery Center is closed as part of our response to the COVID-19 coronavirus. While we enjoy sharing our weather and climate mission with all our visitors, we take our responsibility to our community’s health seriously. Closing the Weather Discovery Center is a step we are taking to do our part to maintain social distancing as recommended by the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. While the Center is closed, keep in touch with what is happening at the Observatory through our web site and on social media.”
A Statement of Opinion from Me: This was a pretty somber message to receive from the valley staff this week.
Admittedly, we’ve been fairly removed on the summit from everything that has been going on with the virus. And while we can live vicariously through our friends and loved ones down below, none of us have really had to face these implications yet (other than in our stock portfolios, but I digress).
What I can say is that everyone here on crew currently is happy, healthy, and continuing to work hard. Caleb and I have been running the ship during the day, getting lots of work done and staying positive. David has joined Jay on nights to continue his training, and all seems to be going well for them as well. So everything is business as usual up here on the Rockpile as we slowly start to transition out of the Winter season. To clear the air with some confusion, the physical Observatory is still in operation, and its current crew are all doing well and continuing strong in our own “social distancing”.
But the impact of this virus, and society’s reaction to it, really is starting to hit home for me personally. While I’m happy and safe here on the summit, my fiancé is at home working as a retail manager, right on the front lines of everything going on. And it has me really worried, that I’m currently so far away and can’t help her, protect her and be there for her. Thankfully, she is a very strong person and managing as best she can so far. Additionally, my parents called me once I was off shift last night to discuss what’s going on and talk contingency plans. I was 10 years old when Y2K happened, which was the last time my family seriously prepared for a major event/crisis. I remember stockpiling fresh water, canned goods and non-perishables in moderate amounts, and going over safety plans with them to prepare for whatever might happen. Thankfully, nothing really did. But this time, there are real ramifications at play. And the tone of the conversation was quite a bit different with my parents last night than it was all of those years ago.
The major topic, in both talking with my fiancé and my parents, is that we’ve all agreed to do our best to stay calm, keep a level head, and prepare properly without going overboard. We won’t be giving into the panic and hysteria that seems to be on the brink at the moment, but we also will be taking it quite seriously and being both proactive and reactive within appropriate measures. It certainly helps having 2 doctors as parents, to really put things in perspective and know how to handle disease properly.
So what do we do? We’ve got older family members we want to protect, and so the social distancing is in full effect across the board. We’ve got plenty of platforms to talk and see each other online, and communication is key. But responsibility to others and their health is important as well. Even though many of us may be healthy and only ever deal with minor symptoms, it’s important that we protect others not as fortunate in that regard. At home, the future wifey and I have plenty of books to read, games to play, and shows to watch. So the isolation in that regard shouldn’t be so bad. While we miss our family, we’ll have plenty to do to pass the time.
And personal hygiene! That’s been the name of the game up here this week. We’ve got plenty of soap and hand sanitizer, so we’ve all been doing our part to stay clean and sanitize daily. There are great videos on YouTube of the Doctor’s method for hand washing that we all “love” to refresh ourselves on: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IisgnbMfKvI. But hey, it works! Showering daily, wiping down surfaces that see heavy traffic, sleeping in separate bunk rooms. That’s all we can really hope to do, while we trust in our valley staff to develop plans of action and procedures to move forward with. And certainly, I’ll be taking these practices home with me as well.
Lastly, good research. This, also, has been the name of the game to help avoid the panic and the spread of bad information. I’ve read lots of reports and break downs of the virus from medical professionals. I’ve dug through graphics and information showcasing how the virus has spread, the current infected total, and also the current number of people who have fully recovered from the illness (which, last I checked, was well above half of those who contracted, making it less deadly than even the normal flu). I found a great graphic/simulation yesterday that showcases the effectiveness of social distancing versus other methods here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/world/corona-simulator/?fbclid=IwAR091CPTRbMnWdQLA76N6c2EgXFCvGeOEqF5V1H3BlzEKnjjs9MgSDUPWMQ . Simple, straightforward, and an effective demonstration in my opinion. Sometime the greatest tool in your arsenal is knowledge, and that is definitely the case in this instance. And while the number of folks passing away from the virus is very bad and something major of note, it’s also worth noting the positive here as well.
So again, know that everyone on the summit is happy and healthy currently. The rest are my thoughts, perspectives and opinions as to what is going on. It is, well, a weird time in our society for sure as we deal with this pandemic. But my family and I will be staying calm, informed and prepared as best we can in these uncertain times. I hope you all do the same as well, and stay as healthy as possible! And of course, please always feel free to reach out to us with any questions, as we are always happy to share our information, crazy weather and the mountain with you all!
Ian Bailey, Meteorologist/Education Specialist
15:38 Sun Mar 08, 2020
An Update on My Internship
Intern Eve Cinquino here! I’m about half way through my time on the Rockpile, and it’s been an incredible experience so far. I’ve learned so much about weather forecasting (I studied physics in college, so I’ll happily talk to you about quantum mechanics, but I still don’t know the different types of clouds), experienced 100+ mph winds (did you see the video of me blowing around the deck the other day??), and gotten to know some really awesome people (and one very fluffy cat)! I’ve also been working on some really exciting research about mid-winter thaws on Mount Washington; stay tuned for updates on that towards the end of my internship!
In addition to all the important work we do here, we like to have fun when we can! I personally have been doing a lot of puzzles; here I am putting the final piece into a puzzle of Inga, one of the former summit cats:
(Shout out to the volunteer on that shift, Steve, without whom I would never have finished this!)
Last shift, I was able to sneak out of the office a little early and hike over to the neighboring peak of Monroe. It was really refreshing to get outside on a beautiful day—the winds were so calm I didn’t even need my goggles!
Seeing Mount Washington from this perspective, and being able to call it my home, even if it’s just for a few more weeks, was really special. As was hiking back up the mountain around sunset and not having to worry about hiking back down to the trailhead in the dark!
I’m usually pretty busy with work on the summit, but as soon as there’s another calm, high pressure day up here, you can be sure I’ll be heading out for another hike.
Eve Cinquino, Summit Intern
21:06 Tue Mar 03, 2020
First Week on the Summit!
Greetings from the Summit of Mount Washington!
My name is David DeCou, and I am the new Night Observer in training here at the Observatory. I originally grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and spent the last few months of my life working in Antarctica at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station as a Weather Observer. It has been an exciting week of many firsts for me, and I don’t think anything could have prepared me for my amazing experiences here during my first time on the Summit.
On Wednesday, it was my first time taking a ride in a snowcat, my first time ascending the Auto Road, and my first day in the clouds at the Observatory. As I joined the crew during my first ascent (I was lucky enough to ride in the front!), I was in a constant state of amazement, despite the view being cut short by a wall of cloud that seemed to follow us the entire way. It took some days before I had my first real view from the summit. While visibility was low, conditions were relatively calm the day I arrived. This was not the case the following day.
Conditions on the Summit can change quickly from being in the clear to being shrouded in passing fog. This was largely my view for my first couple of days here!
At the South Pole, while temperatures are extremely cold, actual weather conditions are pretty calm year round – the strongest winds I experienced there reached about 30 mph, but are 10-15 mph on average. On Thursday morning at Mount Washington Summit, I awoke to the sound of rattling, from sustained 100+ mph winds buffeting the building. Antarctica was nowhere near enough to prepare me for the winter weather at the Observatory. I went outside with Ian and Caleb, micro-spikes on our boots, to replace and collect the precipitation can for the morning synoptic observation. At that time, winds were around 115 mph from the East, and we received a maximum gust of 132 mph sometime that morning. The moment we left the front rotunda door, it was chaos. Every time my feet left the precious ground to take a step forward, the roaring winds punched my legs forward and into the air, while flinging countless shards of ice debris all around us. It felt like an endless stream of frozen paintballs, and there was the constant danger of being toppled over. There were brief moments where we had to brace ourselves during a strong gust and wait for an opening to continue moving. On our short (but difficult) journey back to the door, we had to move against the wind, with the added challenge of needing to keep the filled precip can upright. It was as fun as it was scary. Count 100+ mph winds as another first for me (on only day 2)!!
During my first week, I’ve had a wonderful time working with and getting to know Ian, Jay, and Caleb, as well as our two fantastic volunteers this week, Sue and Sandra (thank you for all the wonderful food!!!). I have begun to learn the daily routine, shadowing Ian and Caleb for observations, daily checks, forecasts, and various tasks like de-icing the instruments on the Observatory tower, where rime ice accumulates frequently during winter weather.
Rime ice built up on the Observatory tower during an unexpected spell of clear skies on Tuesday.
We were in the clouds until Sunday, where I got to enjoy not only my first gorgeous views from the Summit, but also my very first sunset. With undercast skies to the West, it was both the most beautiful yet least relaxing sunset I have ever experienced. The incredible view was absolutely worth being buffeted by strong NW winds on the tower parapet.
West view from the observation deck on my first clear day at the Observatory! It may not look it, but the powerful unobstructed NW winds made it very difficult to take this photo.
Undercast skies to the West made my first-ever sunset at the Observatory an unforgettable one. It was well worth the wind chill on the tower!
I feel lucky for the opportunity to be here and can't wait to experience everything Mount Washington Summit has to offer as I continue to train as an Observer here at the Home of the World's Worst Weather. A huge thank you to Ian, Jay, and Caleb for being patient, orienting me with the Observatory, and for continuing to show me the ropes! Another huge thank you to Sue and Sandra for the amazing cooking and help this week!
Northeast-facing windows of the Observatory rotunda on the first clear day of this shift.
David DeCou, Weather Observer
17:29 Mon Mar 02, 2020
Why the East Wind Busted my Forecast and The Reason for the Rapid East to West Wind Shift for Thursday’s Low
Our shift started off with winds less than five mph! I found it hard to believe the next day we would be experiencing gusts around the century mark. Mount Washington made me forget how quickly it can change its mood. On Wednesday, while creating my forecast with our new observer Dave, I explained to him that strong winds out of the East are often gustier than our predominant winds from the Northwest and West. This is essentially due to a steeper topography to our East as Ian had explained on my first shift. I had never actually experienced a powerful East wind on the summit before. This would explain why my forecast for winds was a bust on Thursday morning! After looking at Model Output Statistics for the NAM and GFS products for projected winds along with a long analysis of different models, I determined it was safe to go higher than the models and predict 60 to 80 mph with gusts up to 100 mph. A part of me was saying that I should have raised the potential gusts to 110 mph, but I was hesitant to get too aggressive on a forecast I was not familiar with. Either way I determined my forecast was going to be a good indication with winds, snow, and visibility that it would be very unsafe to visit the summit.
When Thursday morning came around and I was grabbing my morning coffee, I saw our home page in the living quarters registering average wind speeds around 90 mph! Once I was up in the weather room, we felt the building tremble from a big gust. The Hay’s chart spiked and our pitot tubes registered a gust of 132 mph around 6:30am! Forecast busted. At that moment, I truly understood why Easterly winds are so challenging to predict. I will take this lesson with me for the next time we expect strong East winds and I am forecasting.
Archived 2/27/2020 7am Surface Map of the US from the Weather Prediction Center. A white arrow is indicated to show Southeasterly flow off the coast wrapping around the center of the low.
This brings me to understanding why those East winds suddenly shifted to West on Thursday. First, I think it is important to note that this winter has seen unusual storm tracks with the center of most low pressure systems staying to our West. The storm tracks are driven by the jet stream which has not experienced many deep troughs positioned to our East over the Atlantic. Because of this, we have not had as many classic Nor’easters developing off the Mid-Atlantic dumping, mainly snow on the Northeast. Low pressures are known to have winds sucked towards their center in a counter-clockwise manner. With this system rapidly intensifying as it headed straight North from the Great Lakes, we were on the warm, Eastern portion of the storm. On the East side of these lows, the airflow pattern brings warm coastal moisture into the Whites (just like this one). That is why temperatures were above average with lower elevations receiving plenty of rain and mixed precipitation. The summits were in the mid-20s with a heavy wet snow, dumping 9.5 inches of snow on Thursday alone. This was the same time when we experienced a gust of 132 mph.
Archived 2/27/2020 7am 850mb map of the US from NOAA. The blue arrow indicates easterly winds wrapping around the center of the low pressure while it is still to our Southwest. 850mb is just below the summit in elevation. It is a good visual of all that warm coastal moisture being sucked in.
Archived 2/27/2020 7pm 850mb map of the US from NOAA. The blue arrow indicates westerly winds wrapping around the center of the low pressure while it is now to our Northwest. 850mb is just below the summit in elevation. It is a good visual of cold air from Canada wrapping around and reaching New England from the West.
Why the wind switch though? We had winds drop below 10 mph early in the afternoon then quickly increase to 70 to 90 mph by that night. However, now they were out of the West! As I said earlier, the storm track kept the center of the low to our West as it took a track nearly due North. As the center of the low passed over us, winds calmed down significantly. Once it passed over and to our North, the winds went West. This brings us back to the concept of winds wrapping around a low pressure counterclockwise. We were now on the Southern portion of the system. Winds were now wrapping around the center, sucking cold air down from the North then to the West into New England. Temperatures dropped quickly as a completely different air mass was being pushed into the region. That is why we often see cold Northwest winds quickly follow on the backside of Nor’easters, especially on the coast.
Next time we have a deep low pressure hit the region, pay attention to that wind shift after the storm passes through! I only advise you not to be on Mount Washington for it!
Caleb Buchler, Summit Intern