A Visit From the Past
2017-08-15 08:06:22.000 – Mike Carmon, Senior Meteorologist & Education Specialist
One of the primary reasons my time at the Observatory’s summit station has been as invaluable as it has is the opportunity for me to be one more segment in its rich and storied history. The long list of men and women that have called the summit of Mount Washington their work and their home is quite a remarkable one, and even though I haven’t met most of these individuals, one can’t help but feel a deeper connection with them nonetheless. The unique experiences we share, the perpetual challenges we face, and the dedication we show to the work that we do—it’s very easy to put oneself in the shoes of any number of observers that came before (although the more efficient heating and effective insulation does make the job a little more pleasant these days).
Back in the 1930’s (1936-1938), an individual by the name of Aubrey Hustead worked as a weather observer at our summit station. This was back in the days when our building was a shadow of what it is today, with a construction not quite as robust as the steel-reinforced concrete Sherman Adams building. The dedication of Aubrey and his fellow observers was staunchly resolute, as shifts lasted months instead of days, and maintenance of a mountaintop weather station did not benefit from the more modern technology that we have at our disposal in 2017.
Yesterday, we had a very special visit that brought with it echoes of the past: Dennis Hustead, the son of former observer Aubrey Hustead, came to visit the Observatory’s summit weather station, bearing old pictures and articles from the days when his father was tasked with the Observatory’s day-to-day operations. Dennis and his wife drove up the Mount Washington Auto Road to our summit station yesterday, sharing stories of his father’s days as a weather observer atop Mount Washington back in the 1930s. The day was a fun and enlightening one, with a level of comity in the atmosphere, hearing about the experiences of those hearty souls that have come before us. It’s interesting to hear what has changed, but perhaps even more astounding is what hasn’t changed: the courage, dedication and resolution of summit observers is still alive and well as it was some 80+ years into the past.
Pictured below is the first ever news bulletin published by the Mount Washington Observatory, back in November of 1937.
WHAT HASN’T CHANGED
“The Observatory staff reports the building an excellent one to live in. The heating equipment is, if anything, too efficient, and even on a light fire is more than enough to keep the building warm, unless the temperature is well below freezing and the wind is blowing hard.”
Our historical records indicate that November of 1937 saw a peak gust of 150 mph on the 13th, and a minimum temperature of -3°F a few days earlier on the 11th. These days, winds of 150 mph, or temperatures below zero, will still bring a decided chill to the inside of our Sherman Adams building, despite the more efficient heat. One can only imagine the draftier construction of the 1930s and the permeating chill that surely must have been felt on those bitter blustery mornings.
“On July 4, 1937, a Mr. XXXX, of Salem, died of heart failure near the summit of Mt. Jefferson. Assistance was sought at the summit and Meteorologist Hustead and Observer Lees from the Observatory, accompanied by some others, went to the spot to offer what help was possible.”
One of the realities of working at a mountaintop weather station renowned for it’s extreme weather, which simultaneously attracts a wide array of outdoor enthusiasts and recreationalists, is the propensity for folks to get themselves in trouble on said mountain and its neighboring peaks. Fast-forward to 2017, and this unfortunate circumstance continues to be a reality, which motivates the staff to produce high-quality and timely weather forecasts.
WHAT HAS CHANGED
“Radio communication from the Observatory is of vital importance due to the frequent failure of telephone service in the winter. Since the beginning of the present Observatory radio communication has been provided with the foot of the mountain and Boston by means of ultra-high frequency, or very short radio waves.”
While UHF radio communications are still utilized by the Observatory, these communications are not nearly as vital as they once were, thanks to the digital age’s shining invention: the internet. Speedy and reliable internet connectivity has opened up the world of communication to our remote location, detracting from that very sense of remoteness that perhaps attracted many to this mountain in the first place. Nevertheless, we remain grateful for our ability to keep in constant touch with our family and friends much more intimately and reliably than the observers of the 1930s.
We’re thankful for the visit of Dennis Hustead, as we keep the roots of the Observatory well in mind while forging resolutely into the future.
Mike Carmon, Senior Meteorologist & Education Specialist