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Observer Comments

06:09 Fri Jan 19, 2018

My First Ride Up in the MWO Snow Cat

Although I have traveled up to the summit many times, Wednesday was my first time taking a ride up in the Snowcat.

The Snowcat is primarily used in the winter time as it is equipped with a plow and tracks that allow it to go through the snow more easily. The enclosed cab in the back can fit up to 12 people. When you and the other travelers are wearing winter weather gear, the inside of the cab can be a tight fit. The driver will ask if anyone would like to stop at various turnouts so everyone can go outside, grab some fresh air, and take in the views. Depending on the weather and how many stops they take, the trip up to the summit in the Snowcat can take anywhere from one to six hours. The trip up Wednesday took us around two hours. The road conditions were not too bad, but we had to make one stop in order to de-ice one of our wind instruments.

 Caption: The MWO Snow Cat.

The Snowcat also has several windows that you could look out of as you continue up the mountain. The vans that you would take during the warmer months have windows as well, but I had a different feeling inside when I looked out the Snowcat window. The views are pretty nice when you can see various locations covered in snow.

 

Caption: View from the Snow Cat drive on Wednesday. Check out that snow!

If you ever have the chance to take the Snowcat up Mount Washington, take it! It will be an exciting experience!


Jillian Reynolds, Summit Intern
  

16:37 Tue Jan 16, 2018

I Melt With You
Last weekend we posted an image (posted below) to our social media about our recent melt-out and since then it has been making the rounds on various media pages and online groups. Skimming the comments and replying to various emails, messages, comments, I have come across three things that I feel need a bit more emphasis.
 
Snow melt comparisonSnow melt between Jan 10 and Jan 13, 2018
 
Issue 1: People blaming one cause for the melt-out like the warm temperatures or rainfall
 
Unfortunately it isn’t so clean cut as blaming a single factor for the meltout. When it comes to melting, those in the field of hydrology look at several factors including, but not limited to, solar radiation, albedo of the snow, sun angle, dirt present on/around the snowpack, age of the snow, air temperature, humidity of the air, condensation/evaporation/sublimation rates, water vapor present, water vapor pressure, the temperature of the snow, sensible and latent heat transfers, sensible and latent heat transfers under windy conditions, conduction of heat with the underlying surface, and density of the snowpack. All of these factors can then be plugged into long equations or models that can be used to examine rate of melting and its impacts on runoff, neighboring waterways, groundwater supplies, or loss to the atmosphere. So a lot of things factor into it, to say the least.
 
When looking at our melt-out in particular, something one might overlook is fog (we were in the fog through most of the melting cycle). As my coworker touched upon in an earlier blog post, as water vapor condenses and becomes a liquid, energy is released in the form of latent heat of condensation. The latent heat then results in the snowpack either melting or evaporating. If it evaporates, it feeds back into the moisture present in the fog to later condense and repeat. Add in the winds and a fresh supply of moist air continuously condensing over the snow and it winds up becoming a repetitive cycle. And then you have the warm rain falling on the snow adding even more energy and moisture content to the equation. And all this time you have all these various phase changes occuring and feeding off each other and eating away the snow. And this feeds into some of the other factors I mentioned previously like the temperature of the snow, the density of the pack over time, and how it might be affecting surfaces below the snow.
 
And that is another factor overlooked - what was happening below the snow packs? As you may have seen in person or in pictures, the summit and surrounding peaks have a lot of rocks. These rocks are very large and piled several deep on top of each other (hence our nickname of “The Rockpile”). During the winter, snow early in the season works down into this porous surface filling the gaps until things level and then the snow piles on top. As snow melts, it starts to work down into the gaps of the rocks eventually leading to flowing water below the snow surface. As gaps open up, this then allows wind and fog to start penetrating beneath the snowpack in the porous network of the rocks. This causes various phase changes below the snowpack resulting in the snow to be undermined. Eventually this then leads to the snowpack being eaten away not only from above but from below speeding up the melt out even further.
 
Hydrology is not my major so I am painting a picture with broad strokes, but hopefully you get the picture that when it comes to the “why” behind our recent melt, it is not a simple x = y type situation; there’s a whole lot going on and it might not be as simple as the snow melting in your backyard.
 
Issue 2: People stating along the lines of, “Oh look, there’s no more snow. Guess I don’t need traction”
 
FALSE! You absolutely should pack traction of some sort - Microspikes, Yaktrax, Crampons, etc. While you might not need them from start to finish on the various trails of the White Mountains, they should still be packed as there are plenty of areas that still require them. While the summit cone of Mt Washington is melted out, looking down and around on the various peaks and trails we can see - both with the naked eye and with a telephoto lens, I can firmly say there is plenty of snow and ice around. In fact, there is more snow/ice below and around us then here at the station. And what melted off from up here is now refrozen below us either in the form of ice or once waterlogged snow that froze as temperatures plunged. The snow/ice conditions at lower elevations is also backed by reviewing the various trail conditions, trail reports (here and here), online forums, and Facebook Groups as well as talking with various hikers. They all state or conclude that you should have added traction with you. So don’t leave them at home, throw them in your bag as you will be glad you did.
 
Issue 3: People commenting along the lines of, “Guess the (ski, sledding, ice climbing, etc) season’s over”
 
FALSE! As I previously stated, below and around us have more snow/ice than we do - so our little snowless peak doesn’t equate to the entirety of the state. This is confirmed not only visually but through checking with surrounding weather spotters and consulting the various snowfall maps available. Checking SkiNH's conditions page, resorts are still operating with plenty of lifts/runs available. I went out Monday afternoon to photograph a few of the ski resorts that were visible in the gaps of undercast to show what we can see - all of them look perfectly skiable from up here (see images below). Looking at snowmobiling conditions page, conditions vary across the state but still plenty of trails and terrain to play on. And various hiking trail conditions (linked previously) show that there is still plenty of snow to hike on.
 
Keep in mind that astronomical winter isn’t even halfway over yet (that falls on February 2nd). So there is still plenty of winter left. Was this a setback? You betcha! But I wouldn’t call winter over quite yet and I am being optimistic that it will turn around as I have seen it do here and elsewhere before. Winter 2014/2015 for Boston comes to mind. There was a point in January of that season where parts of Texas (like Amarillo) had received more seasonal snowfall than the Boston had over the same period. But then the snow-flood gates opened at the end of January and it dumped and dumped and dumped. I am not saying that will happen here, but it does show how things can still turn around in the second half of winter. Or if weather isn’t your thing, it would be the equivalent of walking away before the conclusion of the second quarter of Super Bowl LI and saying, “Well, Falcons won this one.” So, let's let winter play out a bit more before we throw in the towel and draw conclusions.
 
Bretton Woods from Mt Washington summit 15 Jan 2018Bretton Woods on 15 Jan 2018
 
Wildcat from Mt Washington summitWildcat on 15 Jan 2018
 
Cranmore from Mt Washington summitCranmore on 15 Jan 2018
 
Attitash from Mt Washington summitAttitash on 15 Jan 2018
 
Loon Mountain from Mt Washington summitLoon Mountain on 15 Jan 2018


Ryan Knapp, Weather Observer/Staff Meteorologist
  

11:13 Mon Jan 15, 2018

2017: A Year in Review

 

Now that we’re a few weeks into 2018 I had some time to take a look back at the year that was. 2017 had several memorable moments, including 138 mph winds during an intense Nor’easter in March, along with several direct lightning strikes from summer thunderstorms. This past winter was an especially snowy one, and at one point in early February we were even on pace with the record-breaking winter of 1968-1968, which saw 566” of snow accumulate. We still ended the snow season 100” above average, with 32 feet of snow for the year! 
 
 

Most memorable to me was an epic May snowstorm. Snow started on the 13th and fell heavily all day for Mother’s Day, May 14th. 22.8” fell in just 24 hours, with a 33.3" storm-total breaking the all-time May snowstorm record over our 85-year history.  The snow also fell with relatively light winds, making for huge drifts on the summit and lots of fun outside!

 
2017 goes down as our 8th warmest (tied with 1999 and 2005) year in our 85 year history. Our climate graph is now updated on our website:
 
 

Other stats from 2017:

Average yearly temperature: 29.0°F

Departure from 30-year mean: +1.3°F

Lowest temperature: -35°F on March 11th

Highest temperature: 67°F on Sept 26th

Highest wind: E 138 mph on March 14th

Days with hurricane force (74+ mph) winds: 167 days (46% of the year!)

Days with 100+ mph winds: 43 days

Total Precipitation: 91.12”

Departure from mean: -5.75”

Total Snowfall: 388”

Departure from mean: +107”



Tom Padham, Weather Observer/Education Specialist
  

15:12 Fri Jan 12, 2018

From the Mountains to the Oceans, in Search of Fog

Up on the summit, weather observers are no strangers to fog. In fact, we see the stuff every two out of three days on average, limiting our otherwise remarkable 130 mile visibility to sometimes a matter of feet. But did you know there isn’t just one type of fog? In fact, there are five common types of fog: radiation, rain-induced, advection, upslope, and steam fog.

Last week, while the summit (and all of New England) was a veritable icebox, I happened to be offshift, and took the opportunity to explore a bit, searching the seacoast for a phenomenon known as sea smoke, something more commonly found in the Arctic.

Sea smoke is a term used to describe a variant of steam or evaporation fog. Opposed to advection fog, which I’ll describe later, evaporation fog occurs when water vapor molecules are added to the air directly overhead to the point where the air cannot hold any more water. Added water is forced to condense and become fog. This type of fog is common after a rainstorm on a hot day or over lakes or large bodies of water when the water is much warmer than the air temperature. For sea smoke to occur, the air temperature needs to be much colder than the water, and with ocean temperatures currently in the upper 30s, that meant that the subzero temperatures recently seen across the Northeast were the perfect conditions to catch a glimpse of some sea smoke.

Sea SmokeFigure 1. Sea Smoke looking over the Atlantic Ocean

Ironically, back on the summit, temperatures climbed over 40 degrees, surpassing the daily highs during my off-week, spent over 100 miles south! And, in true Mount Washington fashion, we are currently solidly socked in the clouds, making for a soupy fog that seemingly eats the snow, demolishing our pristine snowpack in epic fashion.

Advection fog is generated when warm, moist air is transported over a colder surface (through a process called advection). The warmer air contains more moisture than cooler air, so, as it passes over the cold surface and cools, some of the water vapor is able to condense into water droplets (causing fog). Advection fog is also sometimes called “snow-eating” fog, because it can cause a robust snowpack to diminish almost in front of your eyes. The heat released when the water vapor condenses into liquid water droplets (fog) moving over the cold surface is enough to melt seven times as much snow!

Below is a comparison of our snowpack on January 3rd, with nearly two feet of snow and rime, to a photo taken today, the 12th of January. It looks like spring! From record low temps to record high temps, the mountain always has a surprise in store!

Sunrise EastFigure 2. Looking east on the morning of January 3
Melt SunriseFigure 3. Nelson Crag sign melted out looking east on January 12, 2018


Taylor Regan, Weather Observer
  

22:10 Tue Jan 09, 2018

A Shift Full of Escalating Weather
Well that escalated quickly! The weather, the tied record low temperature, the misinterpretations, and… Well, the weather!  

 

First off, -38°F was our lowest recorded air temperature January 6th which tied a daily record low of -38°F set back in 1959. Our peak wind gust that morning was 113 mph but that occurred before the coldest of the air arrived. When the -97°F wind chill occurred, our temperature was at -37.6°F and the wind speed was at 106 mph. It certainly did not feel tropical…  The weather this week has been exceptionally intense up here and quite memorable for me. Since this shift began, nights have been hectic and they have REALLY kept me on my toes.

 

First, there was the Nor’easter that strengthened faster than Barry Bonds when he went to the Giants. 59mb in 24 hours! The last time a storm strengthened this rapidly, winds atop the Rockpile soared to 150 mph! Impressively, the center of that storm (also) January 4th, 1989 was 600 miles away and still caused the winds to gust that high. The center of this recent storm was expected to pass much closer to the White Mountains. Therefore, as you can imagine for this storm we were anticipating similar results. Unfortunately, we did not quite get up to 150 mph, but our peak gust of 122 mph was still impressive!

 

After this storm, the Arctic gates opened and frigid air poured into the northeastern United States. We felt it up here as temperatures plummeted through the 30s below zero. Every single observation that night required me to spend several minutes preparing myself before going outside. Plenty of misconceptions arose from this cold weather outbreak and I want to highlight some information regarding wind chill. One misconception is that we broke a temperature record. It was spread around the media realm that we got down to -109°F. The coldest air temperature ever recorded on the summit of Mount Washington is -47°F. We did NOT break this record by 69°F… The lowest wind chill that was even calculated at any point was -97°F. Wind chills do not account for temperature records by any stretch of the imagination. I touched on wind chills in my last blog but I want to attempt to clear this up again.

 

What is wind chill?

The quick answer is that wind chill reflects the rate at which heat is lost from your body. Imagine all around your skin is a thin layer of warm air. When the wind blows past your skin, it transfers this layer of warmer air away from your skin. The stronger the wind, the more heat will be lost from your body, and the colder this will feel to your exposed skin. By covering up all of your skin, you are trapping the heat, and keeping it protected from the wind trying to transport it away from your body. Without taking the right precautions when dealing with wind chills falling well below zero, you are increasing your chances at hypothermia and frostbite. Whenever you hear that there is a Wind Chill Advisory or even a Wind Chill Warning, be sure to bundle up, and cover up ALL of your skin!

 

I think the most important thing to realize and understand from this particular event and the dangerously low wind chills is that we minimized wind chill from the equation by covering up all of our skin. With wind chills plummeting this far through below zero numbers, you better believe that none of us observers went outside with any skin exposed. In fact, we typically analyze one another before going outside into these conditions to ensure there is not a sliver of skin exposed. With no skin exposed, the risk associated with wind chill is greatly minimized and “wind chill” essentially becomes a glorified number. With wind chills falling this low, exposed skin would begin to experience the effects of frostbite in seconds and then permanent damage could result within as little as 1-2 minutes. This also makes it important to not be outside for too long. Another way to minimize the risks associated with wind chill is to simply avoid a lengthy exposure to the elements. We have the luxury of going outside and coming into the heated building immediately after! The longer you are outside, the cold winds have a better shot of navigating around your gear and prodding through a weakness. Because of this, we were EXTREMELY diligent throughout this Arctic outbreak to minimize our exposure, bundle up and cover up fully for each one of our hourly weather observations that involved being outside for an extended period. We were able to negate the effects of wind chill, BUT this was still the coldest air that I (personally) have ever experienced.


After the cold, it got so gusty… I mean, it got REALLY gusty. The winds fluctuated rapidly… I messaged Ryan Knapp, my counterpart night observer, Sunday morning saying it was the most intense night I had experienced up top since I started working for the Observatory. This was no exaggeration! Generally speaking, when we have crazy weather happening up here, the summit is in the clouds and our observations are a bit easier. Granted, we still have to deice the tower, and venture to the precipitation can frequently. The difference Sunday morning was that we were in the clear and I had to walk around the perimeter of the deck each hour while using the sling psychrometer and attempting to find cloud layers and determine horizontal visibility, all while being battered by winds going from 40 mph to 113 mph. It was incredible! At times, I could stand completely upright and walk around with ease while the noise from the wind dropped off entirely. Then all of the sudden, a tremendous noise grew from the corner of the deck and it seemed as though Troy Polamalu was repeatedly attacking me and pushing me down (his hair would have been all over the deck). At times, I literally just sat on the deck for a minute waiting for the wind to subside, and then I got back up and continued walking around. That was the most exhausting night that I have had up here by a longshot.

 

After an exhilarating and exhausting week, conditions have finally calmed down and we are heading into what looks to be a beautiful day tomorrow for shift change. The mercury is above zero degrees, winds will finally drop off tonight and the snow will taper for a pleasant end to a WILD week spent on the summit of Mount Washington.



Caleb Meute, Weather Observer / Meteorologist
  

14:25 Fri Jan 05, 2018

What is up with our Mesonets

If you have looked at our Current Summit Conditions page, our Mesonet page, or the Webcams you may have noticed that there is missing information or no current image on our cameras. The reason is many of our sites are very low on power or completely out of power. Almost all of our mesonets are remote and run off of solar panels that charge batteries so that the sites can operate 24/7. At this time of year, we run into a lot of power issues normally due to the shorter days, low sun angle, and frequent cloudy days, and snow or rime that accumulates on the panels. We have been trying to keep up with clearing snow off of the panels when sunny days are expected but we can only get to ones that are easily accessible. As the daylight increases and the sun angle gets higher, the snow will slide or melt off the solar panels on sunny days so keeping the mesonets powered will get easier each passing day.

A couple of days ago,after struggling with power issues for over a month, our mesonet on top of Wildcat finally lost all of its power. Pete, who is in charge of the mesonet, is headed out to Wildcat in the next week to be able to look at it. It didn’t charge at all during the few days of sun we had earlier this week so it may be a faulty charge controller or the Solar panel has become disconnected somehow and we will not know for sure until we can get up and inspect it. This is an important mesonet for us because it has one of our more popular webcams and it is a transfer station for most of our vertical temperature profile. We will have many missing data points on our current summit conditions page until we can get that mesonet back online.

With other mesonets, we have lowered the amount of times data is collected so that we are not running the transmitter as often to save on power until the days get longer. We are in the process of upgrading the batteries to be able to store more power with a big upgrade coming to Wildcat. Larger solar panels may also need to be installed at several sites in lower elevations where mountain shadows or trees block the sun for part of the day preventing more charge time.

Below are some images of working on the mesonets during the winter months
 
Observer Ryan Knapp getting to the 3300' mesonet site (far left) last February to clear the snow from bottom Solar Panel
 
 
Observers and Pete Gagne working on the 4300' mesonet on Wednesday January 3rd 
 


Adam Gill, Weather Observer/IT Specialist
  

15:55 Tue Jan 02, 2018

Winter Precipitation

With the recent Christmas storm fresh on many minds, and with more winter weather on the way, I wanted to take a look at some of the differences in precipitation type that can occur when the mercury drops to or even below freezing. The differences between rain and snow are fairly well known, but what about sleet or freezing rain? Knowing which type of precipitation is falling can clue you in on the overall state of the atmosphere around you, which is pretty neat!

 

In this blog post, I’ll cover four types of precipitation common in winter-season storms, especially in New England: rain, freezing rain, sleet, and snow. If you’re wondering, yes, there is a reason I listed them in that order, and it has to do with the quantity of freezing air in place overhead.

 
Types of precipFigure 1. Diagram depicting precipitation type in varying air temperatures. (Image from www.weather.gov/rnk/measure_icing)Caption text
 

Rain occurs when there is a large volume of above-freezing air overhead (the air is warmer than 32 degrees). Precipitation may start off as snow, but it melts as it falls through a warm layer, which extends all the way to the ground.

 

Freezing rain occurs when precipitation, which may start as snow, passes through a warm (above freezing) layer, and melts, turning to rain. At the surface, however, is a shallow pool of below-freezing air that, while not enough to cause the raindrops to refreeze prior to reaching the ground, means that they freeze instantly upon contact with anything that is at or colder than 32 degrees. This can cause significant ice accumulations on everything from power lines to trees to vehicles.

 

Sleet occurs when precipitation, falling as snow, passes through a shallow warm (above 32 degrees) layer, causing the snowflakes to partially melt. The partially melted snowflakes then pass through a deep cold layer, causing them to refreeze, but lacking their initial definition and form as snowflakes.

 

When the temperature is below freezing all the way from the cloud to the ground, it snows! Snowflakes can come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and no two are the same! Stellar Dendrites are the most recognizable snow crystals, but you can see in the image below some of the other types of snowflakes that can occur.

 
Snowflakes on summitFigure 2. Various types of snowflakes seen on the summit.


Taylor Regan, Weather Observer
  
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