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Observer Comments

15:28 Sun Feb 26, 2017

Snow Loss and Flooding in our Tower

Over the last 4 days we have seen temperatures above freezing with only a handful of hours below freezing. This has unfortunately lead to tons of snow melt up here. Much of the snow pack that we had around the summit is now gone! As someone who really likes the snow, it was terrible to see all the snow melt so quickly. One thing that always surprises me up here is how fast the snow will melt when we have one of these thaws. The reason for this is because of all the warm fog the past few days. With this set up, we had very moist air flowing over the summit developing into fog that was well above freezing. When we are in the fog and above freezing, moisture will condense to the snow because it is below the dew point temperature, similar to the condensation you get on a cold drink in the summer. When water condenses to the snow, it releases quite a bit of latent heat as it goes through the phase change accelerating the snow melt. In Mike’s previous comment, he stated how we went from 30 inches of snow to 15, but now we are down to 10!

This rapid snow melt has led to some problems with keeping water out. With south and south east winds, the drizzle and rain was blowing right at our tower and deck door. This caused a lot of water to make its way in, and with the above freezing temperatures, the frost on the walls and windows were melting and adding to the mess! This is a common issue that we have so there is a gutter system set up to be able to capture much of the water. There are a few areas though where the water was dripping everywhere so lots of buckets were used!

One major issue that came up was at the bottom of the tower. We have a door from an old destroyer there that is supposed to keep water out during melting events. The reason we have water issues at this location is because it is an area that the snow drifts so the drift can act like a dam and hold water against the building rather than letting it flow off of the mountain. This year that drift was near 20 feet so it was able to hold back quite a bit of water. The seal around the door is getting really old so there was a steady trickle of water coming in. We do have heat tape that runs across the ground outside to melt a tunnel at the base of the drift to drain the water but it didn’t work right a way and took a few hours to melt a drainage hole.

In the mean time we had to have a sump pump going in the base of the tower to keep the water from flowing into the living quarters. Luckily temperatures have fallen back below freezing so all the water issues have ended for now. Looking ahead we will have a brief stint back into winter but a large mid-west storm could pump warm moist air back into the region for Wednesday into Thursday.



Adam Gill, Weather Observer/IT Specialist
  

18:34 Fri Feb 24, 2017

Today, It Was Warm

Temperatures over the last few days have been exceedingly mild for late February on Mount Washington. Although we haven't broken any daily record highs, we came within 1 degree of our record high on Wednesday (2/22), we tied our daily record high yesterday (2/23), and as I write this evening, we’re closing in on our record high for the day of 42°F (the current temperature stands at 41°F).

Our solid snowpack of nearly 30 inches has dwindled to less than 15, and the well-packed ground conditions have turned to a mix of slush, glaze ice, and even some bare patches of rock and sedge peeking through. It’s quite remarkable how quickly a half-winter's worth of snow has vanished into (literally) thin air over the course of only 48 hours or so. We have to admit, it’s gotten us winter-lovers up here on the Rockpile a little down.

Despite this February thaw, we've still recorded over 70 inches of snow for the month, which is more than 30 inches above the monthly average for February. And even though we’re in the midst of a warm spell, there's still plenty of opportunity for some more snowfall before the month closes out, as a more wintry-like pattern looks to make an abrupt return to New England later this weekend.

In the meantime, the warmest ever February temperature was recorded in Boston today--a sweltering 71°F.

It's true. Today, it was warm. And that will likely hold true tomorrow.

But two days from now, the story looks to take a dramatic turn. And that dramatic temperature plummet will only take us back to a February "normal."



Mike Carmon, Senior Weather Observer & Education Specialist
  

06:17 Wed Feb 22, 2017

Snow, Wind, & Ice: 9 Days on the Summit of Mount Washington

The call came on Monday, February 13th. The shift change would occur on Tuesday, February 14th due to anticipated severe weather on Wednesday. For Ruth – not too difficult (lives in Littleton, NH). For Andrew – well it is a long way from Westchester County, NY to the Auto Road in NH! We both scurried around in our respective homes and arrived for a long, adventurous ride in the Snowcat. Wind and snow prevailed on 4.5 hour ride up – it was great!

The observation tower covered in rime ice 

The next eight days continued to be adventures in their own right: including snow for over 48 hours straight, winds gusting up to 106 mph, and of course awesome rime ice configurations. We cooked, cleaned, hosted 2 climbing trips and one educational Day Trip, and most important: had a great time! Definitely have enough pictures for a lifetime and have acquired some interesting new recipes to use!

On Tuesday, February 22nd the Gods were good to us: a “Beach Day” up here with Mount Washington being the warmest point in the state with 30°F at 7AM! It was time for an awesome hike to Lakes of the Clouds, then back to cleaning and getting ready for the Wednesday down trip and back to “reality”. If someone were to ask did we work? Absolutely. Did we play? Absolutely. Do we recommend this winter experience to other volunteers? Absolutely!

 
 Ruth atop Lakes of the Clouds Hut


Ruth Innes and Andy Keegan, Summit Volunteers
  

15:02 Tue Feb 21, 2017

Downsloping Winds

Although it is no surprise that Mount Washington routinely sees its fair share of wild weather, sometimes its prominence can translate to bizarre weather in the surrounding region too. One such event took place this past weekend, and if you were on the eastern side of the Whites Saturday evening, you may have noticed a strange, and otherwise unexplained spike in your backyard thermometer.

One such official reporting station that captured this was the Eastern Slopes Regional Airport in Fryeburg, Maine. Notice the observation taken on the 18th just prior to midnight. By all means it was a typical calm and cool February night, with clear skies and no wind. Fast forward only one hour to the report just prior to 1AM on the 19th. Winds all of a sudden were howling out of the west, gusting over 20 mph, and the temperature had rose to a balmy 52 degrees. That’s a 28 degree rise in temperature over the span of just one hour!

 

Official observations taken at the Fryeburg Airport late Saturday night, and early Sunday morning.

Fryeburg was not the only location that saw this quick alteration in conditions. The Observatory’s Mesonet station located at the base of the Auto Road experienced a sharp spike as well, only a few hours earlier.

 

Temperature (blue) and wind speed (orange) at the ARVP 1600’ station at the base between 3:30 and 8:00pm on February 18th. A sharp temperature rise of nearly 22 degrees, and an increase in wind speed was observed around 5:30 in the evening.

It certainly may seem hard to believe, but these crazy fluctuations in temperature have been observed and verified in and around the White Mountains many times before. The reason for these occasionally incredible temperature swings leads back to Mount Washington and the surrounding high peaks. When winds are moving at a moderate pace or higher on the summit, it is common to see downsloping winds on the leeward side of the summit. These winds occur as air travels up and over high terrain, and then descend with the elevation on the downwind side of the mountain chain. The strongest downsloping conditions occur when the wind is blowing in the direction that is perpendicular to the orientation of the mountain range. As the air accelerates downward, it is warmed due to compression, sometimes at a rate as high as 5 degrees per 1,000 feet of elevation. Given that there is over a 5,800 foot difference between the summit of Mount Washington and the Fryeburg Airport, downsloping certainly seems like the culprit.

While Saturday night’s temperature jump was impressive, it pales in comparison to the current world record. Spearfish, South Dakota in 1943 once saw a 49 degree spike in two minutes! The sudden change in temperature was so abrupt; it caused plate glass windows to crack. When the National Weather Service investigated the claims, it was determined that this was the result of a severe downsloping wind event.



Nathan Flinchbaugh, Summit Intern
  

22:29 Mon Feb 20, 2017

Open House
Mount Washington Observatory Open House invite
 
We will be offering a FREE, family-friendly Open House at our Weather Discovery Center (WDC) this coming Thursday, February 23 from 5-7pm EST.
 
Guests are invited to explore the WDC exhibits, museum store, and enjoy light refreshments while having the opportunity to meet Observatory President Sharon Schilling and other Observatory staff. Guests will have the opportunity to learn more information about other upcoming Observatory events, educational outreach, research, membership, and ways to become more involved with our organization.
 
At 6:00pm there will be a live video connection to the Observatory’s mountaintop weather station allowing visitors to hear from and see what is happening on Mount Washington from Observatory Meteorologists Mike Carmon, Adam Gill, and Caleb Meute . 
 
We hope to see you there! 


Ryan Knapp, Weather Observer/Staff Meteorologist
  

13:44 Sun Feb 19, 2017

A Winter to Remember: Comparing this Season to the Winter of '68-'69

This winter has certainly seen its share of snow, that’s for sure. As of this writing, the summit has seen 253.4 inches of snowfall from June 2016 to present. Our annual average (annual looking at a snow year from July to June) is 281.2 inches, meaning that we have about 30 inches of snow left in our “snowfall budget” before the winter becomes above average. Given that in March alone, our average snowfall is 45.1 inches, we will almost certainly have an above average season.

Looking back over the course of the year, the summit saw its 2nd snowiest December on record, second only to December 1968. And while January was just about perfectly average, February has already seen 69.7 inches of new snowfall hit the summit, well above the monthly average of 40.1 inches. With February proceeding as it has, many people have remarked on the severity of the winter and associated snowfall, which begs the question, how does this winter stack up to the infamous winter of ‘68-‘69? Short answer: In the waning days of the month, the summit has a lot of work to do to catch up.

 
Looking at a plot of the snowfall over 1968-1969, 2016-2017, and the 30-year average for the summit, there are a few interesting things to note. The first is that, by and large, the seasons of ’68-’69 and ’16-’17 have played out rather similarly to-date. Both years saw an extremely above average snowfall in both December and the beginning of February, with more normal snow totals seen in the months of October and January. The only major discrepancy between the years is the snowfall in November, which in the winter of ’68-’69 was way above average, and in 2016 was significantly below average. For comparison, by this point (February 19th) in 1969, the summit had picked up almost 341 inches of snowfall, whereas we have only picked up about 254 inches of snowfall so far this year. That delta comes into play largely from the great mismatch in snowfall totals in the month of November.
 
 

I confess however, this plot is a little misleading. It gives the impression that, while November was an anomaly, we are altogether trending fairly closely to the infamous winter of ’68-’69. And, while this winter has been brutal, it pales in comparison to its historical rival. Just how extreme of a difference am I talking about? Well, consider for example, the extended forecast for the remainder of the month, unless a new storm system rapidly develops, it’s currently looking as if we may get up to 8 or so inches of additional snow on the summit. Not too bad, you may think, we’re already way above average, but how did the rest of February 1969 pan out?

After 4 days with no new snowfall, the morning of February 24 brought flurries that soon turned into heavy snow. The snow was unrelenting, and the summit picked up 6.7 inches of powder. The next day, a whopping 49.3 inches of snow was recorded in just 24 hours, followed by 27.8 inches the next day, and 14 the day after. All in all, the month of February saw a staggering 172.8 inches of snowfall, making the snowiest month in our summit record (over 4x the average for the month of February), as well as the record for maximum amount of snow in 24 hours. The plot below shows how each of the winters of ’68-’69 and ’16-’17 each compare to a 30 – year average of snowfall for the summit.

 
 


Taylor Regan, Weather Observer
  

12:26 Sat Feb 18, 2017

Summer Internships

Although the calendar reads February and we’ve just picked up nearly 6 feet of snow this month alone, it’s still not too early to start thinking about the summer season. I personally started here at the Observatory as a summer intern, and it was a decision that helped shape my career today. We are accepting applications through March 5th, so there’s only a few more weeks to go.

The summer internship is a great opportunity to gain hands-on experience in the field of meteorology. Being able to not only study the weather from afar but also live on the summit only adds to the uniqueness of the internship. A few other tasks summer interns take part in include creating a weather forecast for the summit, radio broadcasts, and guided tours of our weather station. In addition, most interns have the opportunity to work on a personal research project or assist in any ongoing research taking place on the summit.

If you are interested in learning more about an internship on the summit or also in applying for the summer internship coming up, now is the time! It’s a really unique experience, and one that you’ll remember for a lifetime. For more information click the link here.

 
 Summer 2016 intern Chris Hohman enjoying a sunset view from the summit


Tom Padham, Weather Observer/Meteorologist
  

05:19 Thu Feb 16, 2017

Just Keep Shoveling
As I walked outside my home in Berlin (NH) Monday to start digging out from the storm earlier this week, I was confronted with 20 inches of new snow. This new snowfall was on top of everything else that had fallen this season. It was a bit overwhelming at first but with any task, I kept thinking, the only way I am going to get through this is by just diving into it. So I started scooping it up one shovel amount at a time. When the snow is an inch or two, it takes about an hour to do everything I normally clear. However, with the amount of snow with this storm, I wound up digging for four hours. After that amount, most would hang up their shovels and call it good, but apparently I am a glutton for pain. After a short lunch break I was back at it for six more hours as I went around my neighborhood helping shovel out fire hydrants and helping others dig out too.
 
February 12/13 Snowfall Map from NWS Gray, ME Twitter (@NWSGray)February 12/13 Snowfall Map from NWS Gray, ME Twitter (@NWSGray)
 
While I was out digging, I kept feeling my phone buzzing as messages were coming in stating we would be moving shift change up to Tuesday in anticipation of Wednesday’s storm. Exhausted from 10 hours of shoveling, I scrambled to get packed and ready for the next day. After what felt like a short nap, I was up and departing for the base an hour early before scheduled departure to dig out the cars of the staff coming down that day. As I was digging out their cars, flashbacks to big storms like this reminded me of something else needing to be dug out - our Auto Road Vertical Profile Mesonet stations. Sure enough, before heading up, our Director of IT called asking to take photos and check the mesonet sites (glad I wasn’t the only one thinking about them).
 
First up - our 2300 ft site. As we approached it, we could see that it was half buried in snow. Not the worst I have seen it, but still in need of digging out. I grabbed a shovel and without thinking anything about it, stepped off the snowcat packed auto road into loose soft snow. As soon as I stepped off, I immediately sank into chest deep snow. So I slowly waded my way over to the site and started digging snow away from head level then slowly but surely digging downward until I cleared out a nice snow platform around the site. Following my semi-packed trail back out, it was onward and upward.
 
3300 ft - having learned my lesson from the first site, I threw my shovel up to the site and dove in feet first. Again I was confronted with chest deep snow as I scrambled my way up to the site and did my head level digging and compacting until once again I created a nice little platform around the site. Once again I followed my tracks out and we loaded up and continued upward.
 
Observer/Meteorologist Ryan Knapp in chest deep snowObserver/Meteorologist Ryan Knapp in chest deep snow
 
4000 ft - luckily this site gets scoured by the winds, so I knew before we got there that we would only have to (likely) deice the rime ice and move on. Luckily this played out so “clearing” this site was easy-peasy. Having been here long enough though, I knew we still had the hardest site coming up.
 
4300 ft - As we rounded the bend, the top of the site was poking through, but not much else. Getting up to the site was the first challenge. Stepping off, the snow was up to my chin and difficult to compact; it was like quicksand. Bit by bit though, Tom and I dug and grape-stomped our way up a little forged path to the site and begun digging down and out. Digging out had mixed stratus layers of wind blown slabs and soft fluffy snow. The entire time I was digging it out, I kept thinking, please don’t slide/avalanche on us. All ended well though and it was once again onward and upward to the last site.
 
4300 ft mesonet site dig outBefore and after shots of 4300 ft ARVP Mesonet site
 
5300 ft - this site also gets pretty scoured but other times it has been a bit buried. After digging out three sites and all the other shoveling prior, my fingers were crossed that it would only be lightly rimed up and not buried. As it came into sight, I was relieved that all I needed was a brush and an ice scraper. After a short deicing stop, I was finally done with shoveling...at least until later today when we have to dig out our fire exits from the 12+ inches of new snow on the summit. Bring it on!
 
5300 ft mesonet site dig outBefore and after shots of 5300 ft ARVP Mesonet site


Ryan Knapp, Weather Observer/Staff Meteorologist
  

16:40 Tue Feb 14, 2017

Conducting Research at the Home of the World's Worst Weather
Every January, an undergraduate meteorology student from Plymouth State University is selected to be an intern at MWO for two weeks during the University’s winter break. This opportunity, which helps attract some of the best graduating high school students to matriculate in PSU’s renowned Meteorology program, provides a unique winter experience at the “Home of the World’s Worst Weather.” Interns experience and learn about mountain meteorology, make forecasts, assist Observers with a sundry of tasks, and perform a focused research project under the advisement of Dr. Eric Kelsey, MWO Director of Research and PSU Research Assistant Professor in Meteorology.
 The internship provides PSU students new skills and experiences that many employers in the field of atmospheric science are seeking.
 
 
This past January, PSU junior Meghan Wells was selected to be the January intern. She was thrilled to live on the summit January 4-17 shadowing the Observers, shoveling snow, deicing instruments, and making weather forecasts. Meghan experienced an incredible range of weather conditions, from near record warm temperatures of 36F to -23F, wind chill temperatures below -50F, feet of rime ice, and six days of winds exceeding 100 mph. Meghan really enjoyed the tight-knit community of the Observers, volunteers, and periodic guests on Edutrips and day trips.
 
Meghan and Weather Observer Taylor leaning in hurricane force winds 
 
Meghan’s research project involved calculating the lapse rates (change in temperature with elevation) from the Cog Railway base and Auto Road base to the summit. Larger lapse rates are associated with a well-mixed atmosphere between the valleys and summit, and lower lapse rates indicate stable air and the summit being in a different air mass than the boundary layer in the valleys. Her results confirmed our hypotheses: lapse rates are higher during the daytime and summer (when solar heating is strongest), and lower at night and in the winter (when solar heating is lowest). The results of this research support the larger boundary layer research being performed by Dr. Eric Kelsey to understand why the summit of Mount Washington is warming more slowly than the lower elevations of the Northeastern US.
 
 On the observation deck


Eric P. Kelsey, Ph.D., Director of Research
  

21:14 Mon Feb 13, 2017

The Snowy Winter Continues!

Well things are beginning to wind down up here after a rather eventful 24 hours. As of our last precipitation can collection, snow totals from this winter storm are just shy of 2 feet! We will likely exceed 2 feet following our next collection after midnight thanks to a band of snow that is being rather stubborn over the Whites. For me personally, this is around the most snow that I have seen fall in a 24-hour period since I first began observing the weather as a toddler (I grew up in Pennsylvania, sue me). I remember that period in my life well and there were just never any big snowstorms to get me out of going to pre-school…

This was an exciting snowstorm for my fellow Observers and I up here especially due to the winds remaining on the lighter side throughout the storm (per Mount Washington Standards). While we are always hoping to see the winds ramp up and gust as far over 100 mph as possible, it is always nice to see the snow falling (almost) vertically up here. The winds did get strong for a period today, but not quite as high as we were anticipating due to the low-pressure center tracking a bit further east than expected.

February averages 40.1 inches of snowfall and we have now surpassed that number only halfway through the month. With the latest collections, our total snowfall this month is up to 44.8 inches! This has been a great winter up here so far, especially if you are as fond for snow as Weather Observer Adam Gill is! Our snow depth is now at 30 inches, which is very rare for us to report because of the winds that usually scour the summit cone clean sending all of our snow to our lucky neighbors. Snowdrifts are beginning to form around the summit that nearly reach the roofs of the buildings! On my way to the last can collection I trekked through drifts that were up to my waist. It truly is a winter wonderland up here and when the fog clears tomorrow it should be a breathtaking sight! While tomorrow looks to be a beautiful day, clouds will stream in late ahead of another storm looking to drop several more inches over the region Wednesday and Thursday. While it would be nice to experience the snowiest February on record here on the summit (173 inches - 1969), I am thinking it will take a bit too much. That February in 1969 had a storm drop 49 inches of snow in a 24-hour period! Where were those snowstorms when I was a toddler? Oh well…



Caleb Meute, Weather Observer/Meteorologist
  

16:16 Sat Feb 11, 2017

What is this Storm Going to Do?

This has been a question us Observers have been trying to answer over the past couple of days. Usually when you see a storm this intense near Mount Washington it is 300 hours out in fantasy land on the computer models. (The reason it is called fantasy land is due to how crazy all the storms are from model error!)

One thing that has not been a question is if we are going to see a lot of snow. The dynamics with this storm have heavy snow accumulations over a wide area and the White Mountains are right in the middle. A small shift in the storm track is not going to affect our snowfall totals too much. Currently we are expecting close to 2 feet of snow by the end of the storm!

The big question we have is how high the winds are going to get. This has been really tough to figure out because of how small the field of intense winds will be. A small shift to the west could mean that we could see some serious winds with this storm, possibly the highest that we have seen in years! But on the reverse side, if there is a small shift east, then the winds will not be anything major. Either or, we are likely going to see winds in excess of 100 mph. If the storm ends up moving a little further west, I would not be surprised to see wind gusts getting into the 140-150 mph range. With an easterly track, the more likely result will be gusts into the 120 mph range, which is still pretty windy!

 

This is 850mb winds or winds at 5000ft above sea level. There is a very tight wind gradient from east to west with this storm and we are just outside of the sweet spot right now!

Another issue is that there is an inverted trough that will be present just behind the low. Underneath an inverted trough, a lot of times the winds are really light in the upper atmosphere. The plus side to being under the inverted trough would mean that we would see more snow that would actually fall into the precipitation can in the lighter winds.

 

In higher resolution models in the 850mb winds there is a pronounced elongated area of lighter winds just behind the storm. This is the inverted trough and being under that would mean much lighter winds.

These two factors are going to play a huge role and we may not know until as close as 12 hours before the storm. Even then we can still get big sudden gusts, especially with a storm this strong that could exceed expectations!



Adam Gill, Weather Observer/IT Specialist
  

14:08 Thu Feb 09, 2017

Seek the Peak 2017

 

 
With a Nor'easter currently dropping another round of significant snowfall on New Hampshire, it’s time to warm up our thoughts and think summer by looking ahead to Seek the Peak 2017!

It's never too early to start talking Seek the Peak, and this year's event is shaping up to be another special and successful occasion for the Mount Washington Observatory. The annual Seek the Peak hike-a-thon is our largest annual fundraiser, and we're already gearing up for this two-day event set to take place July 21-22, 2017.

All registered hikers are asked to raise a minimum of $200 as part of their participation, and in turn, you're awarded with the chance to win all sorts of awesome prizes. If you're one of the first 500 registered hikers to reach the $200 minimum, you’ll earn an exclusive Seek the Peak backpack and T-shirt.

No need to go it alone, either! You can join Seek the Peak as a registered team and raise funds together with your friends and hiking partners!

 
 
If you're not up for the hike up and down Mount Washington, check out our list of alternative hikes at mountwashington.org/seek-the-peak/alternative-hikes.aspx.
 
If hiking is just not in the cards for you at all, this year you can register as a virtual hiker at mountwashington.org/seek-the-peak/
 
 

Highlights from the weekend (besides getting out on the awe-inspiring trails of the White Mountains of New Hampshire):

  • Our Friday night registration and kick-off party at the Weather Discovery Center
  • Behind-the-scenes tours of the historic summit weather station
  • Saturday’s Outdoor Expo at the base of the Mt. Washington Auto Road, featuring our premier sponsors (Eastern Mountain Sports and Vasque), in addition to many other vendors
  • Saturday evening's After Party, featuring a gear giveaway, dinner, and live entertainment

Head to mountwashington.org/seek-the-peak/ to register today!



Mike Carmon, Senior Weather Observer & Education Specialist
  

15:07 Tue Feb 07, 2017

Living up to our Reputation!

We’ve had a very active winter so far on the summit of Mount Washington, and that trend is definitely going to continue in the week ahead. With 193” of snow so far this season, we’re already over 3 feet above average for this point in the winter, with plenty more snow on the way.

Low pressure will track through the St. Lawrence Valley overnight Tuesday and heading into Wednesday morning, with a warm front pushing moderate to heavy precipitation through New England. Snow today will change over to sleet and possibly some freezing rain for lower elevations of New Hampshire, with enough cold air in place for all snow on Mount Washington. 6-10” of new snow are expected through tomorrow morning with this system, with an additional trace to 2” of snow through the day Wednesday. On the backside of this storm winds will pick up to sustained speeds of hurricane force, with gusts approaching 100 mph likely creating blowing snow and whiteout conditions above tree line.

Less than 24 hours after the departure of the first storm, a second potentially even stronger storm system will be taking aim once again at New England. Low pressure is expected to quickly develop over the Mid-Atlantic coast and “bomb out” as it tracks into the Gulf of Maine, with models starting to trend closer to the coast the last few runs. It’s looking more likely that several more inches of snowfall, along with hurricane force winds will occur from early Thursday morning through the evening. If the storm tracks even further inland potentially a foot or more of new snow could be possible, along with 100+ mph winds. Keep an eye on our higher summits forecast and current summit conditions over the next few days, we’re certainly living up to our reputation as the “home of the world’s worst weather”! 

 
GFS model showing low pressure centered near Cape Cod early Thursday afternoon.


Tom Padham, Weather Observer/Meteorologist
  

13:34 Mon Feb 06, 2017

Ravens: Playful Tricksters of the Sky

Few creatures make their permanent home upon the summit of Mount Washington. Even we observers only pull (roughly) one week stints up here, before heading down the rambling mountain road to our “week off” homes. We often say that Marty the cat rules the summit, being the only full-time resident of the Observatory, but in reality, had he no warm shelter, brimming with treats and near-continual head scratches, Marty would not reside up here either.

The summit is remote and mysterious, shrouded by clouds nearly 70% of the time and plagued by frequent high winds and driving precipitation. Its location on the map subjects it to a confluence of storm tracks, hurricane-force winds, and blasts of Arctic air. The summit cone is considered an Alpine zone, and has terrain similar to the Arctic tundra, nearly 1000 miles northward. It is a forbidding place, and one that is inhospitable to all but the most persuasive and persistent of life.

It is here, among the crags and boulders that make up our beloved “Rockpile” that the common raven happily comes to play. These cliff-nesting birds frolic about the summit on crystal clear days, delighting in the racing winds and in following the contours of the mountain as they gracefully zip along with the currents, performing acrobatic flips and rolls midair.

These massive birds are jet-black from beak to claw, and are highly adaptable to varying terrain. They can nest on cliffs and up to treeline on mountain sides, and can be territorial, especially when breeding. Ravens are believed to mate for life, and while preferring to socialize in pairs, have been known to join forces, particularly in winter, to pursue larger prey.

The raven features prominently in the fabric of many different cultures. Many Native American tribes hold the raven to be the creator of light, as well as a trickster, acting mainly in self-interest, even while bestowing good things upon the people. Given that ravens may dine on carrion, they have adopted a foreboding aura, branding them to some as a bird of ill-omen. Edgar Allen Poe immortalized the raven as a harbinger of dark introspection in his poem, “The Raven.” Conversely, in England, six ravens live in captivity at the Tower of London, with legend holding that, should the ravens leave the tower; the Crown will fall, taking Britain with it.

What about on the summit of Mount Washington? On days when the sky is a forlorn shade of gray, the blue sky cloaked in a mask of overcast, where shadows, despite the hour, are not cast, I half expect the utterance “nevermore” to break forth through the fog. But the truth is that the ravens here are playful. They shed their stigma of being an ill-omen and brighten the day of any observer who happens to witness their antics. And after many days on the summit, enrobed in thick fog and hidden from sunlight, the appearance of the ravens upon a break in the clouds is a welcome and warming sight.

Several times, I have been out on the observation deck or wandering the immediate summit, snapping pictures of sunrise, when a raven will soar by overhead. They say that ravens are among the most intelligent of birds, and I often find that as I swivel my camera to try and snag a picture, the raven will playfully drop out of view. Wistfully, I return my camera to the sunrise, only to have the raven return aloft with a raspy croak. This game of tag persists for several minutes until either I am driven inside by the cold or the raven thinks of a more interesting pursuit.

 
Ravens playing in the winds at sunset.


Taylor Regan, Weather Observer
  

11:35 Sun Feb 05, 2017

Mother Nature Rules the Rockpile

Wednesday morning my shift met at the base of the Auto Road just like any other typical shift change morning. A weak system was departing New Hampshire at the time and had left a few inches of additional snow in the valleys and notches surrounding the summit. With the potential of some upslope snow showers continuing through the day in the Whites, it was pretty clear that the snowcat trip would be a slow and cautious climb. We ended up making pretty good time to near treeline despite the falling and drifting snow, but close to 4,000 feet, the visibility rapidly deteriorated and it became difficult to make out the road in front of us. It was decided that the safe and logical choice was to turn back and give it another go the next morning.

The process was repeated again Thursday morning, and this time the conditions at the base were more favorable. It looked like perhaps we had found a perfect window to make our ascent. Once again, our trip to around 4,000 feet was extremely smooth and timely. The visibility bottomed out around treeline just like it had the morning prior, and we were once again unable to push any further as complete whiteout conditions overtook our line of sight.

Friday held better fortune for the summit crew, and finally we found ourselves safely able to reach our destination. The temperature had dropped significantly, but with care, the fog was passable. While it isn’t all that often that shift change needs to be delayed to this extent, it is clear that the mountain holds a different set of dangers each day, especially during the winter. Be sure to check the summits forecast before venturing out above treeline, and always have a secondary plan in case conditions worsen. It is the best way to ensure your own safety and the safety of everyone on the mountain.

 
 Wind sculpted snow near tree line along the road


Nathan Flinchbaugh, Summit Intern
  

06:23 Wed Feb 01, 2017

A Volunteer Week
I have returned to the summit for my fourth trip as a volunteer with the Mount Washington Observatory. As usual, this place is never twice the same when drawing comparisons between each of my trips. I have experienced the month of July with sunny days, and opportunities to see many travelers on the summit and the Observatory. January (3 times) with its snow, ice formations, cold temperatures, and of course the extreme winds, which is my favorite season.

This's week started with a Snowcat ride Wednesday that was fortunate to fit into a small window of opportunity between weather events that allowed us to make the summit. Overnight conditions worsened, causing our additional guests to stay an additional two days on the summit and be present during some pretty exciting weather events. Some of the previous posts by Caleb Meute identify what it was like during the additional 48 hours for our visitors. Excitement builds during these events when we see the data support the forecasts as the storms build, and in the case of the twin 127 mph event surpass what was expected. The film team in turn was able to capture a great deal more footage of what MWOBS is all about on the summit.
 
In addition to the weather excitement on the summit, my co-volunteer Jan Berriochoa and I have the responsibility of creating meals for the team, and our guests to the summit. We also complete a basic tasking schedule. Adaptation is key when putting together meal plans for the week. I can say that for every trip I have taken to the summit, there is always a variety of beef, chicken, and vegetables to create complete meals. There is never a shortage of food options to prepare, and we always have a lot of fun creating them.

Thank you Mike Carmon, Adam Gill, Caleb Meute, Aryeh Cooperman, Jan Berriochoa, and Sharon Schilling for another great week on the summit!

Always looking forward to the next winter volunteer trip to the summit!

Jeff Swanson, Summit Volunteer
  
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