13:18 Mon Nov 13, 2017
The Evolution of a Summit Intern
Life can be a series of repeating patterns. This sounds comfortable and boring, but when you apply it to a different viewpoint, it’s how you seek your adventure. It’s about jumping into a new environment, learning and building yourself up, persevering, and then looking back at how you have grown. Being an intern on Mount Washington follows this process, as much as it did in that first job out of school and school itself.
I filled out my intern application right on the deadline for the fall. It was nearing the end of my season as IT support at Acadia National Park, and needed to find a position to get into my desired field of meteorology. To hear back and later receive the internship was a great opportunity. Having never visited or even viewed the summit of Mount Washington, I was excited about what the future held. I had that burning question, what exactly does an intern do?
Well, intern things. Meaning, its wide open. During the fall, there is a fairly equal share of tasks related to building duties and weather. Ideally I wanted to go straight in and tackle the weather tasks, all of them. Then I realized there was more than weather to be learned on this internship, adapting to something new each week.
The Extreme Mount Washington Museum is open during the summer that tells the 85 year history of taking weather observations in some of the most extreme weather on Earth. In addition to the museum, there is a gift shop selling all things Marty and weather. During these summer months, a dedicated museum attendant will work the register in the gift shop. The intern will also take time to relieve the attendant and expedite clean up at closing time. This was my first experience in retail, unless you count the time I assisted in a concession stand at my cousin’s baseball game some 10+ years ago (probably eating more candy than selling). It was fun interacting with visitors to the summit, and sharing what stories I had already made.
Figure 1. A sun pillar highlights a sunset at the end of an overcast and snowy day.
Interacting with visitors turned out to be a big theme for the greater part of the internship. My first assignment in the observation room was shadowing the observers giving tours of the facility for members and their guests. This includes three main stops, the topographic map, the observation room, and the tower. The observers were eager to pass it off to me, but there was a lot of history and facts to learn! After getting a rhythm down, I learned that this was a great networking opportunity. Similar hobbies and career paths crossed and it was fulfilling to see visitors from around the world feeling the wind go over the parapet. Still working part time at Acadia, I found myself spilling my tour information in casual conversation as it all became second nature!
My first weather task was creating the 48-hour higher summits forecast. It wasn’t until the first day that it dawned on me what I was forecasting for, the tippy tops of 5000’ mountains. This becomes a challenge because unless you have local knowledge of weather patterns, numerical models can nullify these peaks. The current main suite of weather models do not have high enough resolution to fully detail and resolve possible conditions here. Harking back to the WxChallenge, a collegiate weather forecasting competition, I remembered cities around mountains were always a real challenge. Thanks to the observers on my shift, they were constantly pointing out tips and explaining patterns or numbers that leaned towards this weather condition rather than the other. A week or two into generating these forecasts, the process became quicker and my confidence climbed as the conditions verified. Sure there were ‘busts’ but I was learning, and that’s what interns do best. With the seasons’ change, snow forecasting has taken over as the next fun challenge!
Another weather task was broadcasting to the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) huts, via radio, the 48 hour higher summits and valley forecast. We create these forecasts for a reason; weather up here can get dangerous, fast. Experienced adventurers can predict weather out a couple hours by looking at the sky and current conditions, but the magnitude or strength of the impending conditions can remain an unknown variable. By relaying our forecast to hiker huts across the White Mountains, we fill in this number for hikers by warning about approaching hurricane force winds, dangerous -50 degree wind chills, or the chance of pop-up thunderstorms. Although there is little to no feedback, this was one of the most rewarding tasks on the shift because you were helping people complete their hiking task for the day (or night) throughout the White Mountains. That hike can be for day leisure or a milestone accomplishment in their life!
Figure 2. Look closely and trail cairns of the Lawn Cutoff can be seen scaling above Tuckerman Ravine, one of many trails that summit Mount Washington.
The regularly scheduled tasks are fun, but sometimes the most challenging tasks are those that just happen. Due to morning scheduling recently, I was tasked with calling into a radio show to share our forecast for the summits and valleys. The hosts were great and guided me through the normal procedure. Other times, I will occasionally step outside and start ‘slinging’ aka gathering the wet bulb and dry bulb temperatures with a sling psychrometer. This must accompany each hourly observation unless we are in the clouds (fog). When temperatures drop below freezing, sometimes the moist cloth can freeze and cause the wet bulb to read higher. This is when you, “just keep slinging,” until the proper evaporation takes place, sometimes 10 minutes later. Another fun task is removing the RM Young anemometer when rime ice formation is in the forecast. Our heated pitot-static anemometer is capable of inhibiting ice fairly well, but the RM Young has a prop that can jam with icing conditions. This puts wear on the bearings as well as gives inaccurate wind speed readings. This process means climbing to the very top of the tower with a big pipe wrench to dismount the sensor after carefully stopping the prop from spinning.
While witnessing the extreme weather of Mount Washington is a big draw, it is just icing on the cake of these other core experiences the internship offers. I was excited to add operational weather forecasting to my resume at the conclusion of the internship, but this truly has been a great example of it all being about the journey, not the destination!
Greg Cornwell, Summit Intern