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Observer Comments

September 2014

18:57 Thu Sep 18th

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Ice building up on the parapet

As Kyle eluded to with his comment yesterday, this week is our shift's first taste of winter this season. Rime and glaze ice are currently building up on the summit structures, with more expected through this evening. After spending the summer going outside with only a light jacket on, today was the first day I had to gather up my winter gear and wear a hat, gloves, and goggles before heading out onto the icy deck for a weather observation.

Although this stretch of below freezing weather will be short lived, de-icing season is upon us up here on the summit. De-icing is when the weather observers have to head to the top of the weather tower and knock ice off our instruments. Due to the frequent fog and high winds seen on the summit of Mount Washington, ice can accumulate very rapidly, sometimes as much as 8 or 9 inches per hour in the worst conditions. Observers may then have to de-ice several times per hour to keep our instruments free of ice. Although it can sometimes be tedious, de-icing in 100mph or greater winds can be one of the more exhilarating parts of our job, and something few people get to experience. Looking forward to what this winter has in store!

Tom Padham – Weather Observer/Meteorologist

18:04 Wed Sep 17th

After returning to the summit after my off week, it was exciting to see that talk of snow and icing are starting to become part of our weekly weather briefings. During my drive back to New Hampshire yesterday it was starting to become clear that summer is quickly winding down and autumn is becoming more prominent. In the valleys, leaves are starting to transition from the summer greens to their fall yellows and oranges, and soon enough they will be falling to the ground. As that is occurring in the valley, the higher summits will be seeing snow and ice on a much more common basis.

As the seasons change, make sure you are prepared if you are planning on taking any hikes to the higher summits. What might be a pleasant autumn day in the valley could be a chilly winter day for the higher summits. Before setting out on you hike, make sure to check the most recently available forecast and pack warm waterproof layers. If you are not prepared, an enjoyable hike could quickly turn into a walk of punishment. Although it is slightly upsetting to see summer ending, it is always nice to see the extreme weather winter brings to the summit of Mount Washington.

Michael Kyle – Weather Observer

23:22 Tue Sep 16th

This week I had the privilege of being a volunteer at the Mount Washington Observatory. It proved to be one of the best weeks ever! Apart from the 'usual' experiences of life at the top, we all experienced exceptional events:

1. Stunning, crystal clear sunrises
2. Beautiful sunsets (again, clear skies)
3. An Aurora Borealis that was, according to the staff 'the best any of them have ever seen'

If you are reading this you no doubt have likely heard of the Aurora Borealis occurrence, as it was exceptional and has received worldwide attention in the days since. However, what you have not heard is how exceptional the whole experience was when you are here for a week.

Every day is a new experience, dependent on weather and planned Observatory events. One has the opportunity to learn as much as he or she wants about the science of weather, hike/walk around the 'land above the clouds,' sit and reflect on life, and to practice one's culinary skills on the staff. Innovative and creative cooking is encouraged.

This was my second time volunteering up here. I never expected this visit to exceed the experience of the first one...but it did!! Everyone who has the time and an adventurous spirit needs to experience an extended 'stay' at the 'Top of the World'. Thank you Mount Washington Observatory for the opportunity!

Ruth Innes – Summit Volunteer

18:26 Mon Sep 15th

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Rime ice on a rock!

I'm pretty sure this has been the most exciting week I have experienced since the start of my internship - and that's saying a lot. This week brought many awesome experiences for me.

There were awesome sunsets over some incredible undercast - which I am still getting used to! Friday night brought the aurora, which was incredible! Definitely beats out the last one I saw in terms of awesome. It was short-lived, but intense. I could actually see colors this time! My eyes were able to detect the greens and reds, though the blues appeared dark grey. Ryan Knapp's photo and Mike Dorfman's timelapse of the event went viral and even got media attention, which was great for them and the Observatory!

Freezing temperatures brought us freezing rain/drizzle and ice pellets late Saturday afternoon with freezing fog overnight into Sunday which resulted in rime ice. This was my first experience with rime ice and it totally felt like Christmas morning when I ran outside and saw it all over everything. As you can see in the picture, it didn't matter how large or small the object was, there was no escaping the rime ice.

Arielle Ahrens – Summit Intern

19:10 Sun Sep 14th

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Rime ice coats the Observation Deck this morning

The air has a chill
That invokes a shiver
Sending ripples down the spine
Causing the body to quiver

The sound of the wind
Howling past my ear
Is a familiar reminder
We've reached this time of year

I pull my hat down
And zipper up tight
I walk across the deck
And soak up the sight

The sun has just risen
Peeking above the silhouettes
The cloud bank rolls in
And settles all debts

Crunch, scrunch, crack
Reverberating through the air
The rime has returned
After it once was so rare

Plodding along
To the rhythm of the beat
My footsteps are now
Sounding so sweet

Kaitlyn O`Brien – Weather Observer/Education Specialist

19:28 Sat Sep 13th

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Last night's Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights)

Last night we were treated to a short but beautiful display of the Northern Lights. As the event was occurring we posted an image to our Facebook feed and our Twitter feed which you can see in the thumbnail to this comment. This image has been making the rounds today in not only the Social Media sphere but the News sphere too. With this image, there have been several questions asked by individuals. So, I thought I'd take this comment to address a few of the common ones we have seen/responded to through the day.

1. What kind of webcam/camera did you use? What were its settings?

While the Mount Washington Observatory does have a webcam that aims north, it does not currently have a sensor large enough or settings long enough to allow for 'live' viewing at night. So, in this case, the camera that was used was a Canon 60D (DSLR). The settings were 17mm lens, f2.8, ISO 400, 15 sec exposure, shot in RAW and edited through Canon RAW editing software.

2. Can I have permission to use this image in our media?

Yes, so long as you provide credit to the member supported, non-profit Mount Washington Observatory and it is used in good taste. And, if possible, we would appreciate it if you can drop us a line to let us know where and when you used it.

3. Did you take any video of it?

Yes, one of our Observers used his camera to do some time-lapses of the event. It is available HERE.

4. Are they really that vivid?

No. The colors are a lot more muted to the naked eye and most see more of an 'alien green' or grey. Occasionally though, color can be seen and some individuals can see all the colors, again muted though. However, while the colors may not be as vivid, the curtains, pillars, and movements can be seen with the naked eye.

5. When can we see them again?

The Mount Washington Observatory is a weather observatory and does not measure or monitor space related activity. If, when doing an hourly weather observation we spot an Aurora, we will code it as 'AURBO' in our METARs and try to share an image to our Facebook and Twitter feeds as they occur. If you are looking for information as to when they might occur again, you can check out spaceweather.gov, solarham.com, or any other available prediction sites or smartphone apps.

6. I didn't see it last night! How long do they normally last? How do I see them?

They can last anywhere from a couple of minutes to sometimes several hours. In the case of last night, they only lasted about 2 hours with another flare up late in the night that lasted about 30 minutes. Optimal viewing is on nights when a CME is expected to hit Earth - the larger the better for our latitudes or further south. You want cloudless skies, or at least cloudless to the north as much as possible. Get away from city lights as much as possible, too and hope there is little to no moonlight. Even a sliver of a moon can muddle things. Going north helps, but you can also aim for locations that provide you with long northern vistas such as lakes, meadows, hills, or mountains. And lastly, be patient! I have gone out several times in my off time and waited all night only to head home empty handed. Sometimes you'll see them sometimes you won't. It is all just about being at the right place at the right time.

7. Can I drive up and see them? Can I hike up and see them?

The Mt. Washington Auto Road operates separately from the Mount Washington Observatory. As of now, they do not have any overnight operating hours. So you will not be able to drive to the summit of Mt. Washington. But if you are looking for elevation gain, there are several roads that go up lower elevation mountains and passes. If you hike up, you can view them from the summit but be aware that there are no facilities open through the night and camping is prohibited within the NH State Park boundaries or anywhere above tree line. So, you can hike up but be prepared to hike down.

8. Can I purchase this image?

Yes! We have made this image and others available on our SmugMug site. Orders are handled entirely by SmugMug, but a portion of your proceeds will go towards supporting the membership supported, nonprofit Mount Washington Observatory. It should be noted that if you are interested in printing the entire pano, they do not have a standard stock sizes that will fit it. So to get around this, choose an image size and when checking out, before paying there will be an option to adjust the cropping of the image. If you choose 'NONE', you will lose the stock crop and will get the full pano with two white bars (one above, one below) that can then be cut off and framed as you see fit. And it seems most people have been going with an 11x14 uncropped image according to the stats SmugMug provided us with.

Ryan Knapp – Weather Observer/Meteorologist

17:55 Fri Sep 12th

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Photo Stack of the Sunrise

The last week has brought absolutely incredible weather. I woke up and took a glance out the Weather Room window, and it looked like winter! Not in the traditional way of ice and snow, but rather the solid deck of stratus below us, with bluebird skies above. This phenomenon, known to the observers on the summit as an "undercast," occurs more frequently in the winter due to sinking cold air on the mountains. As this cold air pools in the valley, it forces the air that previously sat in the valley to move upward. This upward moving air then condenses and forms a uniform deck of clouds below the summit. During these events, an inversion sets up, which is defined by air that increases in temperature with altitude.

This mountain is very much like Marty the cat here on the summit - fickle and antisocial around 60 percent of the time, but cuddly when you least expect it. With an inversion and a nearly full undercast in place this morning, the mountain offered its beautiful sunrise views to those up early enough to see it, making for great pictures (and an incredible time-lapse!). I decided to "stack" all the images of the time-lapse together, and the result was an iridescent pink and white flow of clouds over the Northern Presidentials (see attached picture). The clouds themselves were not iridescent, but the layering of the pink clouds over the white clouds gave them that appearance.

The Mount Washington Observatory is leading its annual White Mountains Geology workshop on September 20th. With a fascinating indoor presentation followed by outdoor work at local sites of significant geological interest, this day-long workshop is sure to be interesting. There are only eight spots left, so buy your ticket now before it is too late! We hope to see you there!

Mike Dorfman – Weather Observer/IT Specialist

16:29 Thu Sep 11th

WOW! We have had a spectacular week up on the Rock Pile! As summit volunteers, we quickly forged friendships and bonded over the awe-inspiring experience! We cooked dinners for the meteorologists and crew. This has been such a treat to find our way around the kitchen, create menus, and get to know the observers. They are like family up here, sharing dinner and living space for a week at a time, and we get to join them! Even Marty the cat is here with family expectations!

We have had lovely weather, and have had a chance to get out and explore the area; hiking, scrambling, and just taking it all in! Imagine reading a novel, seeing a falcon (yes we really did see one), tracking a butterfly's flight, and sharing home cooked meals under the sun at 6000+ feet (6288' to be exact) and above the clouds! The views have been great and we have even had two beautiful sunrises so far. Being 'socked in' the fog can even feel adventurous! As for further descriptors - think superlative beauty with hues of brilliant light! Orange, yellow, red, pink, purple, blue! If this hasn't been on your bucket list, it might be time to add the Mount Washington Observatory Volunteer Week Adventure!

Linda Gifford & Laura Dorfman – Summit Volunteers

19:59 Wed Sep 10th

My season as Summit Museum Attendant is coming to an end. However, as much as I enjoyed living this summer on the Rock Pile, I enjoy the winter months in the lower Whites as well.

As I look back at the weeks I have spent living with the Mount Washington Observatory staff, volunteers and New Hampshire State Park staff, I realize I have several fond memories. I learned that having a sense of humor is a must when working and living on the summit. As we all found ourselves hearing, seeing and doing some very interesting things with our visitors.

I commend all the Mount Washington Observatory Observers for their dedication in continuing the legacy of the founding observers. Putting in the long days that they do is not an easy task by no means. Not to mention facing the extreme elements to retrieve their data, something most meteorologists only get to experience occasionally.

It has been an honor and a privilege to work for and with such an amazing crew and organization. But what I will miss most is Marty (Kitty) walking me to work and joining me in the museum. He's a true trailblazer if I ever saw one.

Jan Berriochoa – Summit Museum Attendant

19:08 Tue Sep 9th

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110 Miles of Visibility!

Well today has brought with it some of the driest air I have seen up here on the summit since arriving in the middle of May. Currently, the dewpoint is 8.3 degrees F below zero making for a relative humidity of only 10 %. This is leading to a spectacular view of 110 miles. Being able to report that type of visibility is unique to our station. We can actually report up to a maximum distance of 135 miles when the summit of Mount Marcy is visible in the Adirondack Mountains. I am still learning the names of different peaks surrounding Mount Washington, but they serve as the perfect visual aids for us to measure horizontal visibility.

This week has been truly spectacular as we have seen different weather phenomena that make living up here so interesting. We have experienced undercast conditions which is where there is a layer of clouds beneath the summit resembling an ocean of gray when you look out. Friday, the skies were clear and you would think that our visibility would have been exceptional, however due to an extremely thick layer of haze, horizontal visibility was 20 miles or less throughout the whole day. Saturday, a cold front brought showery weather to the summits, and severe weather, which just missed us to the south. Severe thunderstorms from this weather complex did end up moving through southern New Hampshire in Hillsborough County leading to a microburst of 110 mph. Luckily, no people were injured from this storm, despite downed trees being reported with rootballs up to 15 feet in diameter! In the wake of this cold front, much cooler air infiltrated the region causing the coldest temperatures that I have felt up here yet. Perhaps this is a wakeup call for me to prepare for the severely cold temperatures of the approaching winter season.

I will end with a quick anecdote. I was working on the 36 hour forecast, Sunday, with the help of our staff meteorologist, Tom Padham. When I got to the overnight period I was forecasting wind chills between 20-30 degrees F which seemed pretty intense to me. I decided to describe this wind chill range as "bitter" which gave Tom a good laugh. He instructed me to remove that adjective as, per Mount Washington standards, bitter is way less than a 20-30 degree F wind chill. He then mentioned that towards the end of our winter season, when wind chills are rising back into the 20-30 degree range, I will be describing them as a "relief" to our cold temperatures. I think I need a better coat.

Caleb Meute – Summit Intern

07:23 Mon Sep 8th

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This Morning's Glow

A few days ago, I spoke about the above-average temperatures that we were experiencing on the summit, that were much more indicative of summertime conditions.

All of that warm weather is a distant memory as I compose this comment.

My first observation this morning, at 5:45 AM, told a much different story than the start of our shift. Temperatures are lingering in the upper 30s F this morning, with blustery northwest winds gusting near 40 mph, which is providing us with a wind chill down in the 20s F. We're expecting highs only in the mid to upper 40s today, which is just about average for this time of year.

Who needs morning coffee when one has access to this sort of weather in the waking hours?

The long-range models do not show any signs of significant warm ups, for summit or valley locations, so it appears autumn is truly beginning to settle in as the first third of September comes to a close.

Time is running short for a visit to the Mount Washington Observatory in the summer season, so be sure to come see our new Extreme Mount Washington museum, and request a weather station tour (given by our trusty summit intern, Caleb, or myself) before the Mount Washington Auto Road shuts its gates next month!

Mike Carmon – Weather Observer/Education Specialist

18:46 Sat Sep 6th

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The Meteorologist From ABC On The Tower

It's been a busy day up on the summit and it is not over yet. This afternoon, we had the meteorologists from ABC visit the observatory. While they were here we gave them a tour of the observatory and showed them our new Extreme Mount Washington museum. During their visit the weather even cooperated and gave them a taste of the extreme conditions that are common for the summit, but abnormal for New York City metro area. Now that the meteorologists from ABC have left, we are getting ready to host the Sunset Soiree. Here's hoping that the stormy weather we are having today becomes more subdued. The rain, gusty winds, and foggy conditions we are currently seeing, might not give us great views of the sunset. However when members and fans of the observatory get together, it is bound to be a good time!

Michael Kyle – Weather Observer

07:37 Fri Sep 5th

It may officially be meteorological fall now, but summer has continued to hang on with a loose grip.

Our high temperatures on the summit upon the turn of the calendar into September have all been above average:

September 1: 58
September 2: 60
September 3: 54
September 4: 55

Today, September 5, is forecasted by the computer models to be the warmest day yet in this young September, with highs possibly reaching above the 60-degree mark under partial sunshine.

The ship will inevitably right itself, however. A cold front approaching the region tomorrow will knock temperatures back down to what we'd consider 'average' for this time of year by Sunday, and will remain in that general range through early next week. These changes will not come without a price, though, as the cold front looks to drop plenty of rain across the summits tomorrow, on the order of 3/4 of an inch to possibly an inch.

In addition, thunderstorms and gusty winds are likely tomorrow afternoon and evening, with gusts in excess of 60 mph likely with the frontal passage tomorrow evening!

Mike Carmon – Weather Observer/Education Specialist

22:34 Wed Sep 3rd

A week spent volunteering on the summit of Mount Washington was awesome. There is no other place in the world where you can spend a week like this. I was able to experience amazing sunsets and beautiful star-lit nights lying on the observatory deck. The weather allowed for a few fantastic hikes on trails that you otherwise would not choose to hike, and we even were able to see a bear! Of course, we also enjoyed the great comradery and learning experience of spending a week with the crew at the top. We also experienced some interesting weather like strong winds that were so strong you could lean into it at a 45-degree angle and still not fall! I cannot wait to do this again!

Bruce Caplain – Summit Volunteer

12:49 Tue Sep 2nd

Today is one of my last days working at the Observatory this summer. It's been great being part of the inaugural run of Extreme Mount Washington, which has been exceptionally well-received. I've gotten the chance to meet so many of our visitors and supporters, each with their own unique experiences and memories of the mountain. Living on the summit has left me with plenty of my own as well - from playing in 80 mph winds to laying on the observation deck on a clear night and gazing at the Milky Way. I'm also sure I'll never forget watching lightning strike the radio tower just outside our building - a moment I was extremely grateful to be inside for.

Although I will be leaving a bit early this year to go back to school, there is still plenty of time to come to the summit and see the brand new museum! Make sure you check the Auto Road and Cog Railway schedules before arriving, as their hours will be changing as autumn approaches. Also, don't forget that you can still sign up to see the Observatory in the winter - head over to our Winter Day Trips & Winter Overnights pages for more information.

AJ Grimes – Summit Museum Attendant

18:39 Mon Sep 1st

Today is the first day of meteorological fall!

Why does meteorological fall begin on the first of September and not on the equinox, like astronomical fall? That's because the meteorological and astronomical seasons are based on different things. The astronomical calendar is dependent on Earth's position in relation to the sun, and the meteorological calendar is based on the annual temperature cycle. Meteorological summer encompasses the warmest months in the year (June, July, August), while meteorological winter encompasses the coldest months (December, January, February). Meteorological spring is defined as March, April, and May, and meteorological fall as September, October, and November. These are the transitional seasons. Of course, in the southern hemisphere, these would all be opposite! The National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) does a great job of explaining this, here.

Speaking of fall, I am excited to be sticking around for the season as a summit intern with Kaitlyn, Ryan, and Mike D. I had an absolute blast as a summer intern and am looking forward to all the new experiences these next few months will bring!

Arielle Ahrens – Summit Intern

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