05:27 Mon Dec 11, 2017
"So, When Should I Come Back?"
One of the perks of being a member
of the Mount Washington Observatory is the opportunity to spend a week on the summit as a volunteer
. For weather enthusiasts, it can be quite exciting as a week can bring a plenitude of conditions. Dense fog one day gives way to unlimited vistas the next, calm conditions give way to hurricane force winds, thunderstorms with lightning striking summit structures, hail, heavy rainfall, and snow (even in summer months). For some, it can all be a bit overwhelming to take in, but most people I have met in my years here typically end the week asking “so, when can I come back?
For new volunteers, a summer week is required prior to a winter week. This is done to ensure someone new can handle the tasks, can get along with others, are OK with the facilities, are fit enough to self-evacuate if necessary, and familiarize themselves with what life is like at 6288 ft. If someone ticks all the right boxes, we start looking ahead as to when an individual can come back. Some are dead set on coming back in winter which to them is January/February when temperatures are typically
at their lowest. If that is what they are set on, then it might be year or two before we see them again as several individuals are keen on those months. However, for those that actually ask when they can come back or when the best time to come back is, I typically provide a far different answer and it all depends on what they are looking for.
Is it cold they are after? In that case yes, January and February are the go-to choices. But I would follow up with a December week or a March week. December has gotten down to as low as 46F below (43C below) and March has been as low as 38F below (-39C). For those that counter that those monthly record lows occurred years ago I only have to point back to within the past year to show that December (2016) and March (2017) both tagged out at 35F below (37C below) with plenty of other below zero readings for both months.
Is it snow they are after? In that case, there are plenty of months to choose from. The summit has measured over an inch of snow every month of the year. First snow typically falls in late August/early September with melt-out occurring in late April/early May in any given year. For persistent snow on the ground, late October through early April is key. If looking for storms that dump snow, in my time here those occur in the fall and spring when warm moist air clashes with cold air. That’s not to say the heart of winter doesn’t get its share however, most of my memorable big snow events occurred in October, March, and April.
Is it winds they are after? In that case, any month fits that bill. However, if looking for events with triple digits, those are far more common from October through April. That is not to say the summer months don’t see gusts in the triple digits, it is just less common. During the Oct to April span, every other day typically sees hurricane force gusts and a quarter of a given months gusts will exceed 100 mph. Our 231 mph gust - that took place in April. Next highest - those took place in December and March. Every month has had it fair share of high gusts but if it’s the highest winds someone is seeking, just outside the heart of winter is key, at least statistically speaking.
So, what months do I personally recommend to returnees seeking advice? My personal top three choices are: 1. March, 2. April, and 3. October. Why these months? For any given week during these months, we typically see a great mix of fair weather and extreme weather. From a photographic standpoint, most of my favorite pictures I have captured while working here have taken place in those three months (including the ever-so elusive Northern Lights). And if it is the cold, snowy, and windy conditions they are seeking, I remind them that while winter weather for many in the lowlands is typically viewed as Dec/Jan/Feb because that is when it is occurring in their backyard, for the higher summits, our “backyards” winter is more of a November-April affair. So don’t just focus on three months when there are six months to choose from and still get all those winter experiences they seek. However, no matter the time of year, spending any time on the summit is, in one word - AWESOME!
And what about those that can't do a week or two a year or for those that maybe want a briefer winter experience? We have other opportunities available; learn about them and register for them HERE
Ryan Knapp, Weather Observer/Staff Meteorologist
Assessing the Road After a Storm in March
08:04 Fri Dec 08, 2017
Let it Snow!
With the first full week of December almost behind us it looks like winter has finally set in across Mount Washington and the White Mountains, and that means plenty of snow on the horizon! Two storm systems are set to affect the area over the next several days, resulting in the first widespread snowfall for much of the Eastern Seaboard.
National radar mosaic showing snowfall occurring along the Texas-Mexico border. Image taken with permission from Weathertap.com
The first system has already produced a rare snowfall for portions of far southern Texas and the Gulf Coast. Areas like Corpus Christi, TX haven’t seen an event like this in over a decade, with the last snowfall occurring in 2004. Low pressure developing over the northern Gulf of Mexico will track along the east coast overnight Saturday, with upper level low pressure over the Great Lakes helping to pull the storm closer to the coast. Snow will fall from the southern Appalachians and piedmont area of North Carolina all the way north through Maine, with snow likely starting during the early afternoon hours Saturday across New Hampshire. 4-6” of snow is likely for most of the surrounding region by the time precipitation winds down Sunday around noon, with closer to 6” of snow falling on the summit of Mount Washington.
Snow showers on the back side of this storm will likely bring another 1-3” or so of snow through the day Monday on the summit before another storm system looks to affect the area Tuesday. This system will start as a clipper dropping south out of Saskatchewan before picking up steam as it crosses the Great Lakes. Typically storms that take the track of a clipper (tracking southeast through Canada into the U.S) have limited moisture but this storm will likely be able to tap into moisture off the Atlantic and Gulf of Maine, resulting in enhanced snowfall especially in the mountains. Although this storm is still several days away and things could change, there has been enough consistency between model runs to see 6-12+ inches of additional snow as a distinct possibility for Mount Washington and the surrounding peaks with this storm.
Total snowfall through 7AM EST Wednesday, December 13th across the Northeast.
By the time my shift is over next Wednesday we could see 1-2 feet of new snow, something I’m very much looking forward to!
Tom Padham, Weather Observer/Education Specialist
07:59 Wed Dec 06, 2017
My Summit Vices Part 3: TV, Crafts, Home, and the Cat
As Mike and Adam have already hinted at, life on the summit is not always beautiful views with bluebird skies. We are quite often socked in the clouds limiting not only visibility but also the time we spend outside. When the weather cooperates it is nice to go for a hike around the summit cone, or sit on one of the many rocks of the Rockpile and take in a stunning sunset. However, there is a high demand for indoor activities to keep you sane throughout the many foggy days. Here are some of the daily things that keep my sanity in check (mostly).
Figure 1: One of the beautiful views we have when not socked in the fog.
First up, after shift Shenanigans:
One thing is for sure that you have to be a unique person to want to work at 6288’. With that said, the shift that I have been interning on is full of many quirks and personalities. If you follow the Mount Washington Snapchat (shameless self-promotion: MWObs231), you have seen the goofiness that usually comes about right around 7 pm. We all gather in the living room to either watch one of our many TV series we follow (Stranger Things, GoT, or anything with Gordon Ramsay), watch football (Go Giants!), play games, or in many cases to just enjoy some laughs together. Pillow fights and YouTube videos often fill the night with many laughs and smiles which is much needed after some long days in the clouds.
Secondly, a familiar face:
Working about 450 miles from home can come with some challenges, like missing football games, family parties, birthdays or just missing a casual gathering of friends. Every so often when I find myself missing out, I’ll get a video chat from friends and family. Their calls consistently put a smile on my face and let me feel included even when I am far away. I also love being able to show them my life on the summit!
Figure 2: Video chatting with my pup!
Can’t forget arts and crafts time:
When I interviewed for this internship they asked me about some of my indoor hobbies. While I’m sure I gave them the typical “I enjoy reading” answer I also have other somewhat quirky hobbies. I like to embrace my inner grandma and knit quite frequently once the weather gets cold (which is all the time up here). I recently have been keeping my hands busy after shift by knitting scarves as Christmas presents. I occasionally get some strange looks from my shift members as I sit on the couch cranking out knits and purls. I have also recently picked up calligraphy which I am able to practice in between forecasting, observing and writing these blog posts!
Figure 3: Some of my projects I am currently working on in my off time at the summit.
Last but certainly not least, everyone’s favorite MWObs staff member:
Marty! It is true that having a pet makes this building atop a mountain top feel more like a home. When work gets stressful or you've just had a long day, a few pets to our beloved furry friend will put a smile on your face. I was not a cat person before interning at the observatory, to be honest, I was convinced cats were out to kill us all, but Marty has changed those views! He will definitely be missed when I move on after this internship.
Figure 4: Everyone's favorite MWObs staffer deciding that I have done enough work for the day.
Nicole Tallman, Summit Intern
20:54 Mon Dec 04, 2017
My Summit Vices Part 2: Walks, Plants, and Reddit
I have some similar vices up on the summit as Mike like Coffee but since that has already been stated, here are a few that I enjoy in my free time.
I will usually wake up an hour before my shift and go for a walk while listening to music. Usually I will do laps around the Rotunda because the sun has not come up yet and usually the weather is not too great outside to go wandering around in the dark. In the summer when the sun comes up early and there is a calm, nice morning, I will go out on a few of the trail loops around the summit. My goal is to get about a mile and a half of walking in before I start work for the day. Throughout the day, if I am stumped on a coding project and need to think of a new solution, I will take a small walk around the summit cone. And then if I have not reached my step goal by the time I am done with my shift, I will usually spend the last 30 minutes before bed back out in the rotunda doing laps.
A unique vice that I have is growing plants, specifically carnivorous plants. I have grown these plants for years and since most of the plants on the summit are dormant for 9 months of the year, there isn’t too much greenery up here. I have had a plant terrarium for years to grow some of the tougher species that can’t grow outside or need higher humidity. Last winter, I finally brought the terrarium up to the summit along with a few test plants to see if it was even feasible. Luckily it is quite feasible, even in the incredibly dry air that can happen up here. I do have to keep the grow lights on longer on the terrarium due to the lower lights from being socked in the fog for most of the year.
Reddit is a website that is made to waste time for the most part. The thing that I like about it is that I am able to follow specific forums with other people that have similar hobbies as me. I get my daily dose of pictures of carnivorous plants from people who grow them around the world. I also get to follow some of the coding languages that I use up here for my projects to get a head on updates as well as see some cool projects that other people have accomplished, learning from their skill. Lastly, I follow a lot of weather pages as well to be able to see all the interesting weather that is occurring all over the world and share exciting weather that is happening up here! This site is something I force myself to limit to just lunch break or the time between the end of the shift and dinner so I don’t waste too much of my time!
Adam Gill, Weather Observer/IT Specialsit
14:17 Sat Dec 02, 2017
My Summit Vices, Part 1: Coffee, Tunes, and 'Flix
We work hard 12-14 hour days (or nights) while on shift, and although our work is enjoyable and rewarding, it can also be a bit tiring. Just like most of you folks probably do, all of us up here at our summit office/home have those activities that keep us running throughout the sometimes long and foggy weeks. While they may not necessarily be considered vices, we may indulge a little too much in some of these things, which may from the outside (and to our very-understanding coworkers) appear as overindulgences. Nevertheless, it's these perks and niceties that keep our bodies and brains operating at maximum efficiency for week-long stints at 6,288 feet.
(1) (1) THE DARK ROAST GROUNDS
…aka coffee. I've never been a morning person (just ask Caleb, Adam, Kyle, or any number of former interns), so 5:30AM always seems to come remarkably early for me. One of my tried-and-true morning rituals is a hazy walk over to the coffee machine in the corner of the office, measuring out a healthy 5 or 6 heaping scoops of strong Good Vibes coffee, pouring water in, and tapping the proverbial On button for the machine to do its magic. The wonderful sound of the drip, drip into the coffee pot, the intoxicating aroma infiltrating the still morning air in the office, and the inevitable soft yet stern beep signaling that the concoction is ready for consumption is a ritualistic progression that brings about the most rewarding of sips come approx. 6AM. I probably average about 3 cups throughout the work day, with my final cup making its appearance about an hour after lunchtime to bring me out of the inevitable post-lunch drag. Some days I'm pushing 4-5 cups if sleep the night before was a little hard to come by, but all in all, I'm satisfied that my coffee habit is in a fine and healthy balance.
(2) (2) THE CRANKED SPEAKERS
…aka music. Through the bulk of the day, particularly during the summer months, the weather room is a hub of activity: tours, radio shows, facebook live programs, educational videoconferences, day and overnight guests, etc. However, during those pre- and post- hustle-and-bustle times, the weather room sits largely still and silent. It's an exceptionally nice perk of working in a remote location to crank up the tunes, particularly as darkness approaches, and get lost in work tasks with a soundtrack of perfection filling the background void. The members of my shift all have quite different tastes in music with a little bit of crossover here and there. Largely, you can find me listening to my reliably favorite artists: Twenty One Pilots, Foster the People, Cage the Elephant, The Black Keys, New Medicine, New Politics, Papa Roach, and many, many more.
♫"My name's Blurryface and I care what you think."♫
(3) (3) SUSTAINED STREAMING SESSIONS
…aka Streaming Movies, Shows, etc. The weather keeps us inside for large chunks of time due to its severity, so having indoor hobbies during downtime is important. While I could tell you that I’m an avid reader and spend my evenings curled up on the couch with a good book, that's just not true (although I do enjoy a good read occasionally). On the other hand, our reliable internet connectivity allows us to stream virtually anything we'd want via Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now, Comedy Central, etc. Our shift certainly has its favorites: Game of Thrones is at the top of the list, along with Stranger Things, Parks and Recreation, The Office, and The Daily Show. On fall and winter Sundays, it’s always football time on our shift, and when we're in the mood for a change of pace, we'll find a good flick to carry us through the non-working hours.
(4) (4) FELINE TIME
…It is nice to have a furry friend at our summit home. While Marty certainly has his own special brand of personality, he does provide the occasional distraction from work duties.
(5) (5) PHONE A FAMILY, VID CHAT A FRIEND
This is certainly no vice here. It can be a tricky thing, leaving behind one's life in the valley every other week for the vastly-different pace and environment of the summit. Staying in touch with loved ones at home is lifeblood for me personally while on shift, and thanks to the perpetually-expanding world of social media, this has never been easier. I can seamlessly call my family at home in New Jersey and check in on matters down there from my desk perched atop the Rockpile. I always look forward to my video chats throughout the course of a shift with my lovely fiancé Jesse and our positively playful pup, Skook, whose happy faces (and tail wags, in Skook’s case) still translate wonderfully over FaceTime. It can be easy to lose touch with the world below being engrossed in the day-to-day of work atop the summit, so this for me is by far the most vital of my list.
Mike Carmon, Senior Meteorologist & Education Specialist