A Dream Fulfilled
2016-03-24 17:41:00.000 – Andrew Henry, Summit Intern
My passion for weather, particularly winter weather, was sparked at age ten by a powerful Nor’easter that dumped close to two feet of snow and sleet in the Philadelphia area on President’s Day weekend 2003. From that day forward I knew that I wanted to be a meteorologist when I grew up. As a child and even through my high school years whenever there was a chance of interesting weather, whether it snow, thunderstorms or hurricanes I would be glued to the television waiting for the weather report to come on. Upon graduation from high school I went on to Millersville University to pursue my life goal of becoming a meteorologist. I initially heard about Mount Washington Observatory during my first year of college. After doing a little research I quickly found out that the observatory experiences some of the most extreme weather in the world and I set a goal to one day work in the observatory atop Mount Washington.
After graduating from Millersville I applied for the fall internship. I was super excited when notified that I was granted an interview atop Mount Washington in the observatory. The day prior to my interview I had work so I drove through the night with a friend to help me stay awake for the 8 hour long drive. I arrived at the base of the auto road shortly after 4 a.m. and was able to get roughly an hour of shuteye prior to the sun coming up and illuminating the breathtaking mountains. I wandered around, taking pictures of the beautiful landscape that surrounded me until the upcoming shift showed up and we piled in a van to venture up the steep, narrow, winding auto road. I was looking forward to the view from the top; however, upon reaching the summit the view was obscured by thick fog like it is 60% of the year. Shortly after reaching the summit I was given a tour of the observatory by the summer interns, Nate and Thai. Running on adrenaline, due to lack of sleep and the excitement of possibly working at the observatory, I was then called into the conference room where I was interviewed and offered the internship on the spot. To say I was overjoyed was an understatement!
My friend Anthony (right) and I at the summit sign on the day of my interview
I spent the next few weeks anxiously waiting to start my internship. I could not wait to return to the White Mountains and explore an area that was completely new to me. During my first week I was learning the ropes from Elena, one of the summer interns up for her last week. I quickly learned how to perform the typical intern tasks such as the AMC hut call, giving tours, helping out in the museum, forecasting, the evening broadcast, and assisting with weather observations. The first week on the summit had me hooked. After seeing a wind gust up to 87 mph and the natural beauty of the White Mountains including Undercast, sunrises, sunsets and the views of surrounding mountains I could not wait to come back for my next shift! I also got to bond with my shift and make many new friendships during my first week. One evening I Hiked down the Nelson crag trail with Elena and Mike D. to watch the sunset. In the meantime a full moon was rising to the east. The views were phenomenal and I knew I was in for many more treats over the months to come.
Sunset into Undercast from the Nelson Crag Trail
During my first off week the summit saw pleasant weather and I decided to hike up Tuckerman’s Ravine with my summit manager, Kaitlyn. It was one of the most difficult hikes I’ve ever been on, but the many views along the way made the experience well worth it.
Looking into Tuckerman’s Ravine
October was period of change on the summit. We started to see more below freezing temperatures, higher winds, rime ice and even some snow. Rime Ice is a unique phenomenon I hadn’t seen before. It forms when the summit is in the fog and temperatures are below freezing. Tiny water droplets in the fog become super-cooled, meaning they remain in the liquid phase even though they’re below freezing. The tiny water droplets then freeze instantaneously on contact with an object creating beautiful feathery ice structures.
Rime ice on the observation deck railing
With more winter-like conditions setting in, the state park closed for the season followed by the Auto Road and Cog Railway, causing a drastic decrease in the number of visitors to the summit. It was nice having some peace and quiet on the summit for a change. November was an even quieter month on the summit because the observatory had no volunteers during the month. This was also nice in a way because the staff really got to know each other and it made me develop more of an appreciation for all the hard work our volunteers do. It was certainly different spending Thanksgiving away from my family for the first time, but my co-workers at the observatory are some of the nicest people I’ve met and I think of them as my summit family. Plus I got to see a spectacular sunrise and go hiking for a few hours in the afternoon.
On December 15th I experienced the strongest wind of my life. It is something I will never forget! I suited up to clear glaze ice from the instrument tower during one of the last observations of the day shift. Winds had been increasing gradually all day and were sustained between 80 and 90 mph at the time I headed out. While on top of the instrument tower the winds suddenly gusted to 113 mph, pinning me up against the railing. This gave me the biggest adrenaline rush of my life, far greater than any roller coaster I’ve been on! The winds peaked shortly after with a gust to 121 mph, making it the windiest day I’ve seen on the summit.
A relatively mild start to winter allowed us to take regular 4-wheel drive vehicles all the way to the summit until the end of December. That changed in January when I finally got the opportunity to ride in the Mount Washington Observatory Snow Cat; an experience I had been looking forward to since my internship began. The experience was like no other! It felt like how I would imagine it would feel like to ride in a tank, only with many more windows.
Mount Washington Observatory Snow Cat
Throughout the winter I enjoyed tasks such as de-icing the instrument tower and shoveling snow. To this day it is thrilling every time I climb the instrument tower to de-ice. Also, one of my favorite experiences while interning was the appearance of the Aurora Borealis on a few occasions, including an appearance during halftime of the Super Bowl. With some help from Ryan, the night observer on my shift, I was able to learn a few things about night time photography and snap a photo of the most recent Aurora visible from the observatory.
Aurora Borealis (right) as seen on 3/6/2016
Lastly, I would like to thank Mount Washington Observatory and the entire summit staff for the opportunity to hone my forecasting skills and learn about mountain meteorology through weather observations. My time spent here has been an awesome experience all around from extreme weather to new friendships and many laughs. No matter where life takes me, I’m sure nothing will compare to the memories I have living at 6,288 feet. Thank you for a dream fulfilled and the experience of a lifetime!
Andrew Henry, Summit Intern