21:06 Tue Mar 03, 2020
First Week on the Summit!
Greetings from the Summit of Mount Washington!
My name is David DeCou, and I am the new Night Observer in training here at the Observatory. I originally grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and spent the last few months of my life working in Antarctica at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station as a Weather Observer. It has been an exciting week of many firsts for me, and I don’t think anything could have prepared me for my amazing experiences here during my first time on the Summit.
On Wednesday, it was my first time taking a ride in a snowcat, my first time ascending the Auto Road, and my first day in the clouds at the Observatory. As I joined the crew during my first ascent (I was lucky enough to ride in the front!), I was in a constant state of amazement, despite the view being cut short by a wall of cloud that seemed to follow us the entire way. It took some days before I had my first real view from the summit. While visibility was low, conditions were relatively calm the day I arrived. This was not the case the following day.
Conditions on the Summit can change quickly from being in the clear to being shrouded in passing fog. This was largely my view for my first couple of days here!
At the South Pole, while temperatures are extremely cold, actual weather conditions are pretty calm year round – the strongest winds I experienced there reached about 30 mph, but are 10-15 mph on average. On Thursday morning at Mount Washington Summit, I awoke to the sound of rattling, from sustained 100+ mph winds buffeting the building. Antarctica was nowhere near enough to prepare me for the winter weather at the Observatory. I went outside with Ian and Caleb, micro-spikes on our boots, to replace and collect the precipitation can for the morning synoptic observation. At that time, winds were around 115 mph from the East, and we received a maximum gust of 132 mph sometime that morning. The moment we left the front rotunda door, it was chaos. Every time my feet left the precious ground to take a step forward, the roaring winds punched my legs forward and into the air, while flinging countless shards of ice debris all around us. It felt like an endless stream of frozen paintballs, and there was the constant danger of being toppled over. There were brief moments where we had to brace ourselves during a strong gust and wait for an opening to continue moving. On our short (but difficult) journey back to the door, we had to move against the wind, with the added challenge of needing to keep the filled precip can upright. It was as fun as it was scary. Count 100+ mph winds as another first for me (on only day 2)!!
During my first week, I’ve had a wonderful time working with and getting to know Ian, Jay, and Caleb, as well as our two fantastic volunteers this week, Sue and Sandra (thank you for all the wonderful food!!!). I have begun to learn the daily routine, shadowing Ian and Caleb for observations, daily checks, forecasts, and various tasks like de-icing the instruments on the Observatory tower, where rime ice accumulates frequently during winter weather.
Rime ice built up on the Observatory tower during an unexpected spell of clear skies on Tuesday.
We were in the clouds until Sunday, where I got to enjoy not only my first gorgeous views from the Summit, but also my very first sunset. With undercast skies to the West, it was both the most beautiful yet least relaxing sunset I have ever experienced. The incredible view was absolutely worth being buffeted by strong NW winds on the tower parapet.
West view from the observation deck on my first clear day at the Observatory! It may not look it, but the powerful unobstructed NW winds made it very difficult to take this photo.
Undercast skies to the West made my first-ever sunset at the Observatory an unforgettable one. It was well worth the wind chill on the tower!
I feel lucky for the opportunity to be here and can't wait to experience everything Mount Washington Summit has to offer as I continue to train as an Observer here at the Home of the World's Worst Weather. A huge thank you to Ian, Jay, and Caleb for being patient, orienting me with the Observatory, and for continuing to show me the ropes! Another huge thank you to Sue and Sandra for the amazing cooking and help this week!
Northeast-facing windows of the Observatory rotunda on the first clear day of this shift.
David DeCou, Weather Observer