Historic Mount Washington Summit Visibility Investigation & Analysis

To explore manual, hourly prevailing visibility data reported from the summit of Mount Washington, NH from roughly 1942 to present for the existence of significant trends or anomalies. If present, significant temporal patterns in reported prevailing visibility will serve as the baseline for future studies of the relationship between visibility and air quality. A public document summarizing the methods and results will be produced and shared to external researchers for application to other historic datasets.

Motivation and History
Mount Washington Observatory meteorologists have observed prevailing surface visibility nearly every hour since 1942 with few gaps. These data however, have not undergone recent QA/QC and long-term analyses. Specifically, an analysis of prevailing visibility is of interest in order to determine if any long-term trends or anomalies exist.
Motivation for the investigation was initially born from public inquiry about whether MWO was witnessing a significant difference in reported prevailing visibility with a reduction in air traffic and other industry due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Often referred to as the “tailpipe of America,” prevailing west to east winds transport aerosols and particulate pollution from the Ohio River Valley and further west to New England causing reduced visibility and air quality. As the highest point in the Northeast with a treeless summit, Mount Washington’s position allows for an unobstructed view in all directions and a maximum clear-sky visibility of 130 miles with peaks as distant as Mount Marcy in New York State visible to the naked eye.
Unpublished analysis of historical visibility data at Blue Hill Observatory indicates a statistically significant increase in 7am daily visibility reports since 1965 (Iacono 2020). With over 70 years of hourly visibility data, a time-series analysis of MWO’s long-term visibility will help researchers understand if regional visibility has changed over time.
Scope of Work
An exploration and initial analysis of Mount Washington visibility data will be a crucial first step in making public data that otherwise have largely been unexamined. Director of Science & Education Brian Fitzgerald will serve as project manager and MWO’s point of contact for this investigation. Additionally, MWO’s Science Committee and Committee Chair Dr. Mary Stampone will provide project oversight and guidance to MWO Weather Observers who will conduct the majority of this exploration and analysis.

External Relevance
In addition to being valuable to MWO because of the opportunity to investigate this little-explored data set, this project would provide previously unavailable long-term data at a unique elevation (6,288 feet) in Northern New England. Findings from this project would likely be of value to air quality specialists, meteorologists, the general public and beyond because of impact of air quality on weather, climate and environmental health.
Iacono, M.J. (2020). [Blue Hill Observatory Seasonal Visibility, 1965-2019]. Unpublished raw data.
Brian Fitzgerald, Director of Science & Education
(603) 356-2137 ext. 225
Email (link: mailto: bfitzgerald@mountwashington)


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