55 mph Up Here vs. Down There

2012-07-10 16:53:56.000 – Ryan Knapp,  Weather Observer/Meteorologist

This is what 55 mph looks like up here.

It’s Tuesday, which means tomorrow we will be heading home; something I think we all look forward to since it means six days off for a bit of rest and relaxation after being up here working for eight days straight. But, this also means that I’ll be doing something that I always initially dread doing every down going Wednesday – driving home. It’s not that I particularly hate the act of driving or that I have a gnarly commute – heck, a traffic jam is something caused by a moose crossing the road. No, it’s none of that; it’s the sensation of driving at 55 mph that I fear.

Now, anyone familiar with where I work might read that last sentence and think to themselves “Really, driving at 55 mph freaks you out; don’t you work on Mount Washington, a place that sees 55+ mph winds on a regular basis?” And you would be correct, but I would counter that 55 mph in a car is nothing like the sensation from a 55 mph wind. The differences come down to how the two different types of speeds are sensed. One speed is experienced while I am (typically) stationary while the other is experienced by me moving through the world at that rate.

When I am stationary up here during me work week, I calibrate my senses to become tuned with how 55 mph winds affect three of my senses: touch, sight, and sound. I know it is roughly 55 mph by how it’s pressing down my clothes or ripping off my hat. I know it is roughly 55 mph by the amount of incline my body is in to walk into the air flow. I know it is 55 mph roughly by the way it is making my loose clothing whip in the wind. I know it is 55 mph by the way the grasses are being whipped about and steam is being sheared off to the side of their vents. I know it is 55 mph by the way it sounds as it roars over the observation deck, around the tower, past the summit sign, and past my ears. I know it is 55 mph by the way it is chilling me quicker that it normally would without winds that high. And I know it is 55 mph by listening to tourists’ claim that is must be blowing 100 mph.

But then comes Wednesdays and my ride home. I hope in my car, buckle in, and start pulling away, picking up my speed to 55 mph. After a week of remaining stationary and allowing air to move past me at 55 mph, now I’m moving through the air at 55 mph and usually in a sealed car. So, gone are the sensations of touch and sound leaving me with only with the sensation of sight as the world zips by at 55 mph. If you drive on a daily basis, the sight of 55 mph blurring the world around you is second nature and is something you probably don’t even second guess. But after remaining stationary for a week with a nearly static world around me, seeing the world blur by at a rate of 55 mph is a lot (for at least my mind) to initially take in and handle. So, for a brief moment, I have a mini-panic attack as I try to comprehend what is going on around me. I’m sure if you were to mount GoPro’s in my car, for a brief period you would see an image reminiscent of what a deer behind the wheel might look like or what someone riding a roller coaster might look like after their first ride down the initial pitch. But, luckily this feeling is brief and it passes as I gradually get used to the world passing me by at 55 mph. But, this recalibration of my senses lasts only for a week, and then I have to start the process all over again. So, until teleportation becomes mastered, this weekly recalibration of the senses will just continue to be a way of life for me.


Ryan Knapp,  Weather Observer/Meteorologist

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