Observer Comments

09:37 Sat Sep 21, 2019

Can I Bug You for a Minute? (Identifying an Insect on Mount Washington)

While enjoying a beautiful afternoon on the top of the tower I stumbled upon an interesting looking beetle and decided to take a photo just for fun. It was a picture perfect day with light winds and I was actually painting the very top of our tower, taking advantage of the rare, nearly calm wind conditions on Thursday. I’m very glad I stopped to take this photo. After doing a little bit of research to identify the species and inspect the photo further it turned out to be a fascinating (if not a little gross) story learning about the life of this bug!

 

After doing a bit of background research, I am fairly certain this beetle species is Nicrophorus Tomentosus, or the Tomentose Burying Beetle. The beetle does look a little similar to a bumble bee, likely as a way of discouraging it from being eaten by birds or small mammals. This is a species of carrion beetle, usually found lower down in the forests of eastern North America. Burying beetles bury or cover the small remains of animals like birds and rodents, and help to clean up the forest floor in a way. They reproduce and lay eggs near a newly found carcass after secreting a fluid that actually inhibits the growth of mold and bacteria, which would compete with the development of their larvae.

Fascinating and gross at the same time I realize, but wait, there’s more! Take a closer look at the photo of the beetle. Along portions of the head and abdomen (thorax) there’s several small orange shaped mites! Initially I did not even notice these, and then when I did I thought they must be parasitic to the beetle. It turns out this is almost the opposite of the truth!

These small mites actually have a bit of a symbiotic relationship with the beetle, where both parties gain from the presence of the other. The mites mostly feed on the eggs of flies and maggots that are located around carrion, and compete with the beetle larvae. The mites and beetles work together to clear off the carcass of these competitors, and basically contain the carcass into a small little pit that the beetles dig out and cover. The mites then hitch a ride on the beetle, since the beetles can fly and otherwise the mites would have a pretty tough time moving from one place to the next.

I find it always fascinating learning about the natural environment and how sometimes very small creatures can have such an elaborate story to tell. It always helps to take a moment to stop and look around, and I’m certainly glad I did this time. Thanks for reading and sorry if I bugged you (or grossed you out) for just a minute!



Tom Padham, Weather Observer/Education Specialist
  

10:23 Wed Sep 18, 2019

Bring on the Wind!

The next step in ensuring a long future of research-quality wind speed measurements occurred this summer when the next-generation pitot static tube anemometer was disassembled and modified to fix a couple of problems that arose this spring and summer. In the spring when temperatures began to rise above freezing regularly, we noticed occasional spikes in wind speed that looked unrealistic. While we expect the NextGen pitot to measure higher wind gust speeds than Pitot 19 (our operational pitot) because of significantly shorter tubing, some gusts were over 40 mph higher with no sign of a big gust from the Pitot 19.

Given all the data we had, we correctly suspected water was getting into the slip ring, which is located in the top of the mast. When we disassembled the NextGen pitot in June, our suspicions were confirmed – we found water marks and rust on the inside. Fortunately, all we needed to do was remove the slip ring – problem solved! The purpose of the slipring was to prevent twisting of wires coming down the mast from the heaters and pressure-transducers. However, this is not a big problem because the wind does not turn over 360 degrees very often – only a few times a year. Observers can easily identify when this has happened, and they can simply go to the top of the parapet and turn the pitot around to unwind the wires. They already do this for the Pitot 19.

After the rewiring was completed, we reinstalled the NextGen pitot on the parapet on August 13th. It has performed terrifically through many rain and high humidity events since then – it appears removing the slipring worked.

The wind has been moving at its typical late summer snail’s pace since the NextGen pitot was reinstalled. But in the last week, sustained winds have reached 60-70 mph a few times. The next real test will be the next time the summit sees strong winds gusting over 100 mph with rain. We have every reason to believe the NextGen pitot will perform flawlessly in any conditions on the summit – and we will eagerly await fall and winter’s wrath to put the NextGen pitot to the test. Bring on the wind!

 

The Next Generation pitot tube system (dark gray pitot system on the left) is a collaboration with General Electric and University of Massachusetts-Lowell Engineering. Left to right: Eddie Walton (GE), Keith Garrett (MWO), Joe Chaves (GE), Pete Gagne (MWO), and Eric Kelsey (MWO).



Eric Kelsey, Lead Research Scientist
  

14:23 Tue Sep 17, 2019

Types of Icing Events on Mount Washington

The second week of my fall internship here at the summit of Mount Washington has been an eventful one. It had been since my first shift on the mountain back in late May since I have seen sub-freezing temperatures on the summit, but we were lucky enough to see temperatures dip below the freezing mark twice last Thursday and Friday! However, we were in the clear both times we got below freezing so we didn’t see much freezing other than some surplus trail runoff. Yesterday was a different story, I was in a deep slumber in my room and woke up to a rather loud clanking sound. I immediately knew that we must have gotten below freezing and it had to be our night observer Jay deicing the instruments on top of the tower. So I jumped out of bed to see my first rime ice event which I have been waiting oh so very patiently for. When I got up to the weather room and looked out the window, through the fog I didn’t see the white brittle rime ice covering the rocks, but was surprised to see a glossy coat of glaze ice. But what is Glaze ice?

Glaze ice unlike rime ice is very dense and looks and is very similar to the ice that forms when there is freezing rain typically being smooth with a waxy appearance. Freezing rain can create a glaze of ice, but the ice we received yesterday was from a cloud. Glaze ice and rime ice can both form in the same way. Both can form from supercooled water droplets inside of a cloud colliding with an object and freezing, and in this case the object is the summit of Mount Washington. The stronger the winds the more supercooled water droplets that will collide into the summit resulting in increasing accumulations.

To start rime ice forms when temperatures are well below freezing and when the supercooled water droplets are rather small most likely to be seen in a stratiform cloud. Upon impact, the surface must be well below 32°F letting the supercooled droplet to instantly freeze without spreading from the point of impact. The instantaneous freezing of rime ice allows the drop to keep their spherical shape causing air pockets to remain within the ice. This gives rime ice that opaque look and brittle consistency. This is also another type of rime ice called hard rime ice which is denser than normal rime ice. This is because it has less supercooled droplets and more ice crystals within the cloud.

 
 A heavy coat of rime ice on the summit and Tip Top House taken on March 20, 2018

Glaze ice will form in a very similar fashion although in warmer temperatures just below freezing. Typically with warmer temperatures, the air can hold a bit more moisture allowing for the supercooled droplets to have larger diameters these drops are more likely in cumuliform clouds. So when the supercooled drops are rather larger, they must impact a surface that is only a few degrees below freezing or right at the freezing mark. This way when the supercooled drops hit the surface the entire drop won’t immediately freeze, the majority of the drop will disperse and spread across the surface. Then after dispersing it will eventually freeze giving it the glossy smooth surface with no air pockets within the ice.

 
Glaze ice forming on top of the tower on Monday September 16, 2019
 
 All of the types of icing events can create dangerous conditions on the summit, so be sure to watch out for icing events in our higher summits forecasts and current conditions before hiking. Not only does rime ice and glaze ice create slippery dangerous conditions, but they also cause some major problems to our wind instruments. It doesn’t take much rime ice or glaze ice to accumulate on the anemometers to lock up the joints preventing the RM Young’s propellers from spinning and recording winds and preventing any of the wind instruments from properly vane in the wind. When this happens an Observer or intern like myself will have to go up and de-ice the instruments, which I was able to do for the first time yesterday morning! Although I haven’t experienced a rime ice event just yet, the glaze ice we received Monday morning was an incredible weather phenomenon to experience.


Ben Charles, Intern
  

11:03 Mon Sep 16, 2019

Lenticular Clouds and Mt. Washington

Yesterday, we had some incredible views of some Lenticular clouds over the summit! Once we cleared from the fog, I had gone outside for the hourly observation and was pleasantly surprised to find some towering “lentis” in front of me! I quickly dug out my phone and snapped the picture, luckily before my phone was blown out of my hands and down on to the deck (needless to say I’ll be swinging by the iGuys in North Conway this coming down week). But it was worth it, as these were some of the best lentis I’ve seen in quite some time!

 

Once we posted the image online, lots of people were reaching out to us and asking us to explain what lenticular clouds are. So I figured I’d post a brief blog today to explain what exactly lenticular clouds are, and how they form!

When a strong air current flows over a large obstacle, such as a mountain, it creates a oscillating wave pattern on the lee side of mountain (known as lee waves). This happens fairly regularly around here, as the topography of the Presidential Range (among other factors) creates a powerful current that flows up and over the summit of Mt. Washington. So we have these lee waves oscillating up and down through the atmosphere on the backside of the mountain, which is the first piece of the puzzle.

 

Now add some moisture into the equation. Warmer moisture from the lower levels is rapidly brought up the side of the mountain, forcing it to cool quickly. As the moisture blasts over the summit and into the lee side of the mountain, it will enter the lee wave pattern and follow along the oscillating path. At the crest of each wave, if the ambient air temperature reaches the local dew point temperature, condensation occurs and a cloud will form!

So what gives the cloud its unique shape? Well, as the moisture/cloud continues to follow the wave pattern, it will descend back into warmer ambient air temperatures and evaporate once again. What’s going on is the cloud/moisture is visually disappearing as it turns back into water vapor. So, what we seen in effect is a stationary, lense shaped cloud as air is continually condensing and then evaporating along this wave!

And when this wave pattern is particularly strong, you can have some other interesting effects as well. If the oscillation is powerful enough to continuously reach the dew point level repeatedly, you can have lines of “marching” lenticular clouds across the sky, as in this picture!

 

Additionally, as was the case yesterday, the current of air flowing over the summit can cross at multiple different levels of the atmosphere, particularly through the dew point level, and create a stacking effect where the lenticulars look like a stack of pancakes! This is a bit more common than the marching lenticulars, and happens fairly often up here at Mt. Washington!

 

Check out some more of these past photos I’ve taken of lenticular clouds from here on the summit:

 

 

We get to see some very awesome things up here, especially with clouds. And Lenticular clouds are by far my favorite to see! So hopefully this helps make clear how these crazy cool clouds form. And maybe you’ll be lucky enough to witness them yourself someday (if you haven’t already)! Until next time!


Ian Bailey, Weather Observer/Education Specialist
  

15:29 Fri Sep 13, 2019

When do we Average seeing our First Snow?

With winter coming fast in the White Mountains, it is always fun to look back at our records and figure out some averages. Since we are technically a sub-arctic climate on the summit, the first snow usually comes quite early relative to the surrounding locations. We have had a few good cold snaps recently with temperatures falling below freezing, though it has so far only occurred when we have dry air in the region so no snow yet.

Finding the first snow of the year ended up being a bit more of a challenge since for me, I wanted to know when the first true snow fell. Originally I had tried to find the first day after July 1st in which we recorded snowfall in the precipitation accumulation column but ran into a snag since hail counts as snow fall since it is falling ice. That made the first average snow fall into early August which is just not correct. In order to make sure that it actually snowed, I cross referenced the recorded snowfall with the hourly observations that we do to see if there was snow, snow showers, or snow grains reported since all those fall into what you would typically think of as snow. I even removed ice pellets, also known as sleet, because even though it technically is a winter precipitation, it is just frozen rain drops and doesn’t have the crystalline structure you get with snowflakes.

So for our entire record, the average first day where we see true snow is August 31st. This is thanks to seeing many early snow events in the first 30 years of our history. From 1935 to 1965, the average first snow was quite early, falling on August 29th! In recent history, we saw snow showers on August 31st in 2017.

For our most recent period from 1988 to 2018, our average is now September 5th. It is a little later than it was but this is also just seeing our first snow of the season, not first accumulating snow. That will have to be saved for a future blog!

Below is a graphic that shows the probability of seeing snow on any given day of the year. We are starting to increase the chances each and every day with almost a 20 percent chance of seeing snow by early October! I am really hoping for a good snow storm above 4000 feet right around peak fall foliage to get the contrast of fall and winter here in the White Mountains!

 


Adam Gill, Weather Observer/IT Specialist
  

08:30 Mon Sep 09, 2019

In Search of Wintry Weather: A Look at the Week Ahead on Mount Washington

With our much-advertised below freezing temperatures last night being a bust, (we sat at literally 32.0-34 degrees all night) I’ve decided to take a look at our next chances for potential wintry weather. “Wintry weather” we’ll define as at least some icing conditions, with rime or glaze ice forming on the summit surfaces, or better yet, snow! It’s still quite early for us to see significant snowfall this time of year, but typically by mid-late September the summit has seen our first snowfall, and riming or glazing conditions often occur earlier.

We did see some very brief glazing conditions for roughly an hour overnight on Wednesday the 4th, but the amount of ice was very miniscule, and by the time the day observers had awoken the ice had already melted. This past weekend looked much more promising from the models, but temperatures ended up being a solid 3-4 degrees warmer than expected through the night. The weather models we use for our forecasting tend to have some “hiccups” this time of year as we transition from summer towards fall. This is due to a built-in equation change as we head towards winter, and sometimes that change should have happened sooner or later depending on the type of short term weather pattern we’re currently seeing across the area.

Taking a look at the big picture weather over the next 10 days or so, we’ll have a few chances at some below freezing temperatures and at least some glaze ice. Glaze ice is formed near the freezing mark, from liquid water that has settled onto surfaces and then slowly freezes. This is the same as ice we see with freezing rain, and can be very slick and also a pain to remove from our instrumentation. It’s my least favorite type of weather up here, but it’s still wintry!

 
 Some of our anemometers really don't do well with heavy glazing conditions, normally we bring this instrument inside before this happens!

Temperatures are expected to warm up significantly over the next few days, with a warm front and rain showers Wednesday allowing temperatures to surge up into the 50s. Behind this system we could have a chance at reaching just below 32°F overnight Thursday the 12th into Friday the 13th, but it’s not looking all that likely and also there’s a fair chance the summit will not be in the clouds during that time.

GFS Model sounding for Mount Washington on Sept 19th showing well below freezing temperatures at 800mb and saturation (fog) occurring. If this pans out we would likely see our first riming event of the fall season!

Getting way ahead of ourselves, in the even longer term the GFS has shown a more significant storm and associated cold front crossing New England sometime during the middle of next week (the 18th and 19th). This one has consistently had below freezing temperatures for the summit, possibly getting down towards the lower 20s. With some residual moisture this would also lead to our first real chance for some snow showers. It’s still over a full week away but I’m hopeful to see our first taste of snow on our next shift!

 
Bring on winter!
 


Thomas Padham, Weather Observer/Education Specialist
  

12:20 Fri Sep 06, 2019

My Perspective of Being a Summit Volunteer

I have been a summit volunteer for 3 years and I love it. I have been on the rockpile in every season. I have been a co-volunteer with people I did not know and people I did know, and I have gone solo. It is an awesome experience. Never have two shifts been the same -- different weather, different schedule, different staff, different food, different visitors. You never know what you will get. But the one consistency is the great fun and immense satisfaction of being a shift member even if only for one week and in a volunteer role.

If you are a newbie, your nerves are a mess on the night before shift change and even more so on shift change morning. Will you get to the meeting location on time? Do you have the right equipment? Clothing? Too much, too little? Will you be sent home right away? Not to worry. If you follow the list and guidelines, you have the right equipment. If you bring extra food, great. If you don’t, that’s ok as well. The kitchen and pantry are well stocked. The internet has unlimited recipes and there is a whole bookcase full of cookbooks. If you are a veteran, your nerves are calmer but still there is that niggling feeling of “what if I really fail this time?”

Now you are on your way up the mountain. For a newbie, it seems like everyone knows each other and, of course, the observers/intern(s)/museum attendant do. If you are a veteran, you may know some of the shift members but maybe not all of them. You may or may not know your co-volunteer. Not to worry, soon you become an integral part of the team.

You arrive at the summit and there is a whirlwind of activity. The upgoing luggage and food get offloaded from the van/truck/snow cat and the down going luggage and trash loaded onto the van/truck/snow cat. Newbies are bewildered while veterans know the routine and immediately step in to help. You are directed to the living quarters where you meet the down going volunteers. They are anxious to leave. Their week is over. Not to worry. They help you with stowing all the items brought up for your shift. They show you around and point out anything they think is important to know. They show you any leftovers that may exist or food they have prepared to help you start your week. Soon they are gone. You are on your own. Not to worry. If you are a newbie, your shift leader meets with you to do an orientation. Veterans immediately go into action with planning the week. Always know that the observers and interns can help you with any problems you might encounter.

You are assigned a bunk room. You make your bed, set out your sleeping bag, set out what you think you will need immediately. You change into lighter clothing since the living quarters can be warm. You start to think about what you will prepare for the first night’s dinner. If the previous volunteers left you something to work with, you have a head start. If not and if there is nothing defrosted, you need to pull something from the freezer ASAP and it must be something that can be defrosted in time. Or you can make breakfast for dinner. The observers/interns LOVE breakfast for dinner. If not on the first night, any night is good for “brinner.”

You rummage through the pantry and freezers to see what food is available. You make sure you know about any allergies. Maybe you ask if there are any aversions to any particular food. You want to prepare food your shift members will enjoy. You make a tentative plan for each day so you know what and when to defrost food. You are welcome to make breakfast and/or lunch for the staff but you are not required to do so and, because of their shifting schedules, it is hard to coordinate. The staff gathers together for dinner which you ARE required to prepare. You make enormous dinners because they LOVE leftovers for lunch the next day.

You make lots of cookies and brownies during the week. They prefer cookies and brownies because they can grab one (two, three?) on the go more easily than a piece of cake. They are constantly on the move.

If you have guests, you are very busy. For overnight guests, it means preparing the bunk rooms. For an EduTrip, you prepare snacks, lunch, dinner, breakfast and lunch. For a hiking group, you prepare snacks, dinner and breakfast. You may also have to prepare lunch for VIP guests or a day trip group.

Despite the dinners, cookies, overnight and day visit guest responsibilities, you have plenty of time to go out and enjoy the summit. The views can be spectacular. If you want solitude, you volunteer in the winter, or you go out early morning or in the evening when the summit is not crawling with tourists/hikers. Meeting tourists/hikers can also be a lot of fun. Imagine the looks you get when you say you live on the summit for a week and then you get to explain all about the observatory?

You may be a bit overwhelmed the first night, but you easily fall into a routine and you easily integrate with the staff. By the end of the week, you become one of the staff. If you are lucky, maybe you have even become BFF with Marty. Not to worry if that doesn’t happen. Marty is a cat -- enough said? Come time for shift change, you are the one who is anxious to leave. You are tired. But you are already be thinking about your next stint as a summit volunteer. What might you do differently? Next time will be so much easier. Maybe. But maybe you won’t have enough eggs. But maybe there won’t be any potatoes. But maybe you will run out of milk. Not to worry. Just like with the weather, you adapt to whatever happens.



Carol Anderson, Summit Volunteer
  

06:52 Wed Sep 04, 2019

Follow Your Passion, The Rest Will Fall Into Place

Hello all! 

For this blog post, I’m going to take a different route.  Often times, I write something sciency about some weather phenomena, process, or something regarding the atmosphere and its interconnectedness with the entirety of the Biosphere.  This time, I’m going to share something a bit more personal.  It’s been a quick and extremely rewarding past 8 months working here at the Observatory and I want to write about how I got here.  It’s a bit of a weird path, but at the end I think it’ll make sense.  I recently passed the METAR exam and in my excitement and the long drive back from Gray, Maine, I did a lot of thinking.  I suppose the overall theme I want to convey here is to figure out what you are passionate about and follow it.  I am passionate about the natural world, in particular, natural processes of the Earth, which is why this is relevant to the Obs. 

I was not a very good student in high school.  I was well behaved, for the most part.  I talked a lot, shifted around a lot, fell asleep in class, occasionally did my homework, and had no idea what I was doing.  I received decent grades, but I know I could have done much better.  I felt that when I needed it, I could learn it then.  I wanted to be outside doing things, and learn from watching.  There were things I loved doing and being a part of, but I wasn’t sure why.  I went to college cause that’s what you were supposed to do.  I never had any intention of going when I was in school, that’s for sure, but when senior year came and everyone else was doing it, I felt like I was supposed to.  I went for a couple of years, switched my major a few times, and did a whole bunch of things that when I look back at, wonder why I ever did.  It actually makes me laugh sometimes.  Anyway, I still had no idea what I was doing.  One of my closest friends and I sat down one day at the beach and decided we were going to take a leave of absence from university and move out to Boulder, Colorado.  We did just that with no job and no place to live.  We figured it out though and it would later prove to be one of the best decisions I have ever made.

While in Boulder I did more of things I loved doing, which essentially, was anything that involved the outdoors.  I spent hours and hours in the Flatirons, watching the birds fly in the ravines, the clouds descending over the peaks, thunderstorms that formed on the lee side of the Front Range.  These questions then led me to wonder why the mountains were here and not there and what they were made of.  One question just led to another while I was just listening and observing.  It was quiet, relaxing and inspiring.  One day up in the Flatirons, it clicked.  I anxiously hiked down and talked to my friend about heading back east to study Geology.  He was cool with it too.  Apparently, he also had an epiphany.   Fast forward a couple years, I graduated and got a job with the first company that reached out to me.

Schlumberger contacted me through a recruiter.  I was so impressed with the professionalism and everything they had to offer and I needed experience.  It was an exciting job that payed very well.  I worked on oil rigs for a while as a Mudlogger/Analyst, got that experience and moved on.  I felt unfulfilled and wanted a change.  I was still very curious about the atmosphere and its processes, the whys, the how’s and the when’s.  So I searched all around and found a geology internship at Mount Rainier National Park that also included taking care of their weather instruments and recording all the data required amongst other geologic focused studies.  I landed the internship and found out that I got the position because of my experience with various instruments from the oil rigs.  There are more instruments on oil rigs than anywhere I have ever seen and we had to record all the data from every instrument into the Masterlog which would be correlated to a depth and rock formation within the borehole.  Anyway, I just thought it was interesting how I got the position. 

After the internship, I headed back east, again, and got a job with a geotechnical engineering firm as Geotechnical Technician/Junior Engineer while I waited for the time to apply to grad school for Atmospheric Science.  I again learned a whole set of skills and expanded upon my knowledge base while working all sorts of projects from runway extensions to new building construction.  For the past few years I was in a relationship that lasted through all these changes and I wanted to be closer to her as well as study abroad in the UK.  It was marginally cheaper, a great university, and another new experience.  I was accepted to the University of Leeds and yet again, I was curious as to why I was accepted.  I had assumed it was because I was foreign and they wanted the full tuition for non EU residents.  Apparently, I was wrong, although, I still feel that may have had something to do with it.   So, of course, I asked.  I was told that when they received my application they were quite interested because they had never seen anyone with such a background.  Living abroad and attending Uni in a different country was a challenge.  Yes, the language was the same (for the most part), but the culture and education systems are not.  I faced some tough life events while abroad and was away from my family and friends, but it certainly made me a stronger individual.  After I graduated, I came home to Rhode Island and spent the next year applying to hundreds of jobs.  I wrote hundreds of cover letters and made multiple resumes/CVs to see what grabbed people attention and finally landed the winter internship here at the Obs.

A position had just opened as one of the former observers on this shift was heading over the NH Emergency Center.  I applied for it and was awarded the position.  I was ecstatic!  I had my dream job at last.  It took me almost a full decade to get here and I actually, for possibly the first time, truly felt proud of myself.  Then it was on to study for the METAR test, which I was super nervous for.  I’ve never been a great test taker and you only get 3 chances to pass, after that you can never take it again.  Needless to say, but, that’s nerve racking.  I quickly discovered that this test is similar to standardized testing in the sense that it’s more about understanding how to take the test and realizing the tricks to it.  METAR stands for METeorological Aerodrome Reports, essentially the code and standards for reporting the happenings of the atmosphere for aviation.  The info is also disseminated and input into the forecast models that we use to give you wonderful people our forecasts for the Whites, along with our experience and knowledge.  It was so foreign to me when I started, I just familiarized myself over a couple months and then started studying.  There is a qualifier for every weather phenomena and remembering them all took some time.  The less than or equal to for distance qualifications for obscurations like fog and intensity of precipitation amongst others.  Anyway, this is getting too long and I need to bring this all together.

The whole point of me explaining my background is to present an example of following your passion.  Throughout most of my life and young adulthood, I had no idea what I was doing.  I probably still don’t to be honest, but one thing has always been consistent.  Yes, I caved into to peer pressure, tried to get involved in things because I thought the people were cool and I wanted to be like them, chased people and things all over the place.  I wanted to be liked and be part of something bigger than myself.  Feel part of something.  It wasn’t until recently, AFTER I graduated from graduate school with my Masters and went through all the hardship and troubles (I didn’t mention cause who wants to hear that, right?!) that I realized it was all necessary and it led me here, back in New England and part of an organization that shares my deep passion for natural processes.  The whole time, that I was chasing people, relationships, things, experiences, and new sights, I had one thing in common that’s connect them all.  I was conducting a life experiment while following a passion of mine that I didn’t even realize I had.  I strayed, wobbled, and circled around my passion but it was always at the focal point of my decisions, whether I was conscious of it or not.  I made lots of mistakes, but like in a science experiment every time I failed or figured out I didn’t like something, I became closer to my goal.  When I was tired and beaten down, I still had that passion.  I tend to procrastinate, like I said earlier, I was pretty bad student in the beginning.  I wouldn’t put the time in to study and do the work that was necessary.  If I struggled, I gave up.  I noticed that, that was not the case if I was interested in something though.  I would hyper focus on it and no matter how much work it took I was happy to do it.

To bring this to a close, follow your passion, it will guide you and inform you.  It’s the big picture.  It will get you through the hard times.  You may stray, but you’ll find your way back.  If I didn’t follow my passion.  I’m pretty sure I would be in a much different situation and most likely, not very happy.  Following my passion took me on lots of adventures and gave me the crazy background I have become proud of.  AND, guess where I learned all of this.  I came to this conclusion by observing nature and the world around me.  After all, most of things we engineer and create comes from the natural world.  We observe, and then backwards engineer it to then build it ourselves and maybe even a bit better.

As always, thanks for reading!  I hope, that at the very least, this made sense.  I really hope a few of you readers, can take something out of this.  It’s a crazy world out there with a whole lot of distractions.



Jay Broccolo, Weather Observer/Meteorologist
  

08:57 Mon Sep 02, 2019

An Analysis of Hurricane Dorian So Far

This past weekend we had our final Summer Edutrip for the season on the summit. And the theme for this trip, coincidentally, was Hurricanes and the Science of Tropical Cyclones. As such the observers and the trip group were closely following the progression and evolution of Hurricane Dorian. As of early Sunday morning, Hurricane Dorian reached category 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale, and began to make landfall in the Bahamas with sustained winds around 185 mph. With the catastrophic damage being done and the amount of information flooding the internet about the storm, I felt like I’d write my blog post for this week as an analysis of how the storm came to be as it is currently. I’d like to share the information I know about tropical systems in general, and to give you a brief glimpse into what we discussed about Dorian this past weekend.

Dorian was first identified as a threat back on August 24th by the National Hurricane center, and at the time was merely a tropical depression originating in the south-central portion of the Atlantic Basin. Tropical depressions are essentially an organized cluster of thunderstorms, grouping together into a low pressure system that is building in intensity and showing signs of developing further. Often times, these low pressure depressions fizzle out before becoming a major threat, and the Atlantic Basin sees the formation and dissipation of these weaker systems all the time. It’s only when these depressions progress into more favorable conditions that they can evolve into tropical storms. On the afternoon of the 24th, that’s exactly what happened with what would then be named Tropical Storm Dorian.

 

National Hurricane Center graphic and discussion from when Dorian was a Tropical Storm

In order for this evolution from depression to tropical storm to take place, there are several key ingredients that needed to come together:

1. There needs to be warm sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the path of the system, typically at 80ºF or higher. Generally speaking we’re interested in SSTs of 80 degrees or more, and this warmer water will act as a fuel source to feed the storm along its progression. Across the planet, the sun is heating the surface unevenly, with some areas receiving more incoming solar energy than others. This happens quite frequently along the equator, especially with the oceans absorbing and holding large amounts of that incoming energy. This heating also drives the evaporation process, in which water is transformed into water vapor and lifted into the atmosphere. The processes of evaporation actually draws heat from the surrounding environment into the water vapor, transferring that heat energy into the air above. Once that vapor rises, cools and condenses into clouds, that heat energy is then released into the surrounding environment and, in large quantities, can lead to an unbalanced atmosphere. All types of storms, from your standard afternoon thunderstorm to the largest of hurricanes, are acting as heat engines that are attempting to re-distribute energy throughout the atmosphere evenly, and return it to a balanced state. So when you have warmer SSTs to help accelerate and intensify the energy transfer process, you can create and incredibly unstable atmosphere that builds some impressively powerful storm systems.

2. You need an environment with very low wind shear. Wind shear, in particular speed shear, is the increase in wind speeds with height. Near the surface where friction from the land is present, you generally have lower wind speeds. Higher up in the atmosphere, above the tress, hills and mountains that would slow this air down, you can have much faster moving winds. When the difference in speed between the surface and aloft is great, we identify this as a high shear environment. Hurricanes progress further through their evolution when the opposite occurs. A high shear environment would, literally, shear the top of the storm system off and destabilize its structure, preventing it from progressing further. However, out over the open ocean particularly, the surface friction is greatly diminished and the difference in wind speeds between the surface and aloft isn’t as profound. This generally allows the storm structure to develop vertically more than normal, which allows for more heat energy to be released into the environment…do you see where this is going?

 

3. There needs to be unstable atmospheric conditions for the tropical system to progress into. Environments that are already unstable, such as environments with increased amounts of moisture at the mid-levels of the atmosphere, can be ingested into the developing storm as a secondary fuel source. Whether that’s ambient moisture aloft, or a dissipating previous low pressure system, adding extra energy from the environment to the developing storm system will other further enhance its progression. Additionally, a lack of stable environments or shearing winds from blocking high pressure systems can be key. Removing anything that would act to inhibit the storm will, naturally, allow it to prosper.

While this isn’t everything that goes into storm evolution (because trust me, there sure is quite a bit more for us to learn about hurricanes and storms in general that we still don’t know), these are certainly key ingredients that come together to enhance tropical systems. And the Atlantic Basin is a hot spot for these conditions to occur, allowing us to experience the “hurricane seasons” that we do each year. So now that we know what ingredients to look for, let’s take a look and what came together for Dorian to reach where it is now.

At the time Dorian transformed into a tropical storm, the National Hurricane Center did an analysis of the SSTs in the projected path of the storm. What they found was that Dorian, assuming it followed that path, was set to move into incredibly warm waters. Not the standard 80º F mentioned before, but surface waters ranging between 90º-95ºF. In the image below, you can see just to the Northwest along Dorian’s path a large area of these incredibly warm waters for it to ingest heat energy from.

 
GOES 16 analysis of Sea Surface Temperatures, with purple indicating temperatures between 90º-95ºF

Additionally, Dorian’s path took it away from most of the landmasses that typically fall into tropical storm paths. While it scraped by the the Lesser Antilles and Puerto Rico as a tropical storm, the Northwest arc of the storm track would take Dorian out into the open ocean. This means Dorian would progress into an environment with much less wind shear, and would be more favorable for vertical development that the friction from landmasses would normally disrupt. At the time this occurred, Dorian did in fact evolve from a Tropical Storm into a Category 1 Hurricane.

 
 National Hurricane Center graphic Catagory 1 Hurricane Dorian, with previous path drawn in

Finally, you may have noticed in the maps from the National Hurricane Center I’ve included so far that there was another tropical system at play in the Atlantic Basin at the same time as Dorian. Tropical Storm Erin, or rather, Tropical Depression Erin at this point in the timeline, was dissipating off the coast of North Carolina. All of the remnant moisture from the decaying storm was dispersing throughout the mid-levels of the atmosphere. A decent chunk of that moisture was beginning to be drawn down towards Dorian as the new storm intensified. Inevitably, this chunk of remnant moisture would be ingested by Dorian out over the open ocean, and act as a secondary fuel source to allow the hurricane to grow further.

 
 Water Vapor analysis from Tropical Depression Erin's decay

As we can now see, quite a considerable amount of the necessary ingredients had come together to help Dorian progress into a major hurricane. And by 5:00 pm on Friday August 30th, 6 days after the onset of the tropical depression, Hurricane Dorian had reached sustained wind speeds of 115 mph, classifying it as a Category 3 Hurricane just East of the Bahamas.

Throughout the timeline to this point and beyond, the National Hurricane Center has been doing a phenomenal job of modeling, tracking and forecasting this Hurricane. I wanted to take a moment to direct you to two of their pages. Nhc.noaa.gov is constantly updated with forecasts, discussion and graphics to help you understand what’s going on with any tropical systems currently, and how the system could play out going forward. They provide the Cone of Influence graphics that encompass all the projected possible paths of the storm, and take the time to explain not only what this means to locations caught in said path, but how to prepare properly in the event the storm impacts your area. Additionally, they are all over social media pages, particularly their own Facebook page, providing constant live broadcast updates of the storm. During these broadcasts they take you inside the NHC and show you what they are seeing in the storm, providing input from multiple scientists working on the storm, and try to answer questions from the public as best they can. As this storm continues to play out, I highly recommend you reference their sites as they contain an abundance of information.

So once Dorian hit Category 3, how did the rest of the weekend play out?

With the blocking Bermuda High Pressure system just to the North, Dorian slowed down quite substantially. Throughout most of Friday afternoon into the day on Saturday, the storm was only moving at about 10mph, and occasionally less than that. As a result, Dorian was able to ingest an incredible amount of moisture and heat energy, and created an excessive build-up of moisture throughout the backside of the storm’s structure. This moisture build up can actually cause a hurricane to wobble quite a bit along its path, and inevitably force one of the central rain bands to strengthen, ingest and take over the eyewall.

 
 Infrared satellite imagery of Category 3 Hurricane Dorian, with darker colors showing taller, colder, heavier clouds on the back of the system.

This process is known as an eyewall replacement cycle. And initially, this causes the hurricane to weaken a bit. However, what’s actually happening is ingesting of energy from the previous eyewall into an already strengthening new eyewall (previously the central rain band). Once this energy is absorbed and dispersed throughout the system, central rotation of the storm can drastically increase, and as a result the hurricane re-intensifies and gains strength. To my knowledge while following Dorian’s evolution this past weekend, there were 2 eyewall replacement cycles that occurred; one Friday evening into Saturday, and one Saturday night into Sunday. Going back and looking and the NHC graphics from these timeframes, Dorian was experiencing maximum sustained wind speeds at 150 mph by 8:00 am on Saturday (Category 4) and 185 mph by 8:00 am on Sunday (Category 5); all of which happened over the very short distance from where it hit Category 3 and the Bahamas.

Unfortunately, the second eyewall replacement cycle which likely pushed Dorian into Category 5 status happened on Sunday morning, right before the storm made landfall on the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas (which brings us to the time of this writing). Already social media has been flooded with horrifying images/videos of catastrophic wind and flood damage from the storm. With wind gusts reported as high as 220 mph, and storm surge/swell reports cresting over 20 ft, it’s really hard to image how much could survive the wrath of a storm like this. We’ve certainly been keeping all of those in the path of the storm in our thoughts, and are hoping that people are staying as safe as they can in light of this devastating tropical system.

Thank you all for reading this far and sticking with it. This is my analysis of Hurricane Dorian thusfar, and I’ll certainly be following it through the remainder of its lifecycle. And again, you should definitely check out the National Hurricane Center website, as well as their Facebook page and social media outlets for more information as the storm progresses. Until next time, thanks everyone! And stay safe!



Ian Bailey, Weather Observer/Education Specialist
  
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