A Week In the Life of a Weather Observer

Thursday, October 19

For me, Thursdays are the most difficult because this is the first full day of an 8 day shift on the summit after six days off. My day began at 5:45am to get ready for my 6:30am day shift. Upon opening the Current Summit Conditions page on the Mount Washington Website when I woke up, I noticed our new website was up and running. This website was a long time coming and took a lot of work, particularly from Keith Garrett, Director of Technology. Thank you Keith! First on my agenda was a briefing from the night observer, Alexis George, and getting ready for the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) radio call at 7am. This radio broadcast goes out to backcountry huts throughout the White Mountains where we provide them with current conditions and the forecast for the next 48 hours. Next, I prepared for the daily radio call with Mount Washington Valley’s WMWV. Similar to the AMC hut call, we present the current summit conditions and the 48 hour forecast for WMWV’s listeners at 7:45am. Next up for this Thursday morning, I had the incredible opportunity to appear on Fox Weather at 9:15am. I was nervous before going on air since this was my first time being on live television, but I quickly became comfortable having a conversation about Mount Washington with meteorologist Amy Freeze. Soon after at 10am, fellow observer Charlie Peachey and I had a development meeting with Charlie Buterbaugh and Ellen Estabrook to talk about social media strategies and other media opportunities. Once the morning finally calmed down, I finally had time to eat breakfast and walk around the building for daily checks. During this walk, I noticed the water filters for the observatory’s main water supply were dirty. Noticing this, myself and Director of Weather Operations, Jay Broccolo, replaced the dirty filters with new ones. Shortly after completing this task, temperatures outside rose to above freezing. This meant it was time to put the RMYoung wind instrument back up. When temperatures are below freezing, we take this instrument down to protect it against icing. Putting the instrument back up involves running the wire through the post on the top of the tower, screwing the instrument until its tight, and rewiring it back into the data logger. It may seem like an easy, straightforward process, but it can be challenging if winds are blowing strong. Luckily, it was an easy task today. By this time, it was 11:45am and it was my turn to take weather observations. From this time until 6pm, I must go outside every hour to record various meteorological variables and input them into our database. Also during this block of time, it is my turn to write the Higher Summits Forecast. After the forecast is uploaded on our website and my final observation was done, it is time to eat dinner with the summit staff and our volunteers for the week. Tonight, its chicken fajitas and mac & cheese. To wrap up the day, the other observers and I played Super Mario Bros. on our Nintendo Switch and hung out with Nimbus in the living quarters. Finally, I talk on the phone with family right before going to sleep around 8:30pm.

I interviewed with FOX Weather to share insights about the winter season and what it’s like being a weather observer.

Friday, October 20

Once again, my day started at 5:45am so that I could prepare for my 6:30am shift. I was on morning observations today, meaning for the first six hours of the day I went outside every hour to record the weather. Periodically throughout the morning, I shoveled snow and deiced various instruments, objects, and structures outside. Also in the morning, it was my turn to do daily chart checks. This consists of checking every form and digital database from the day prior to make sure that everything is correct and consistent. This usually takes a couple of hours and, and combined with observations and deicing, takes up the whole morning. At 12pm, observation duties transition to my co-observer, Charlie. At 1:45pm, it’s time to switch the precipitation can. The precipitation can sits in the middle of the summit for 6 hours at a time and collects precipitation. Switching the precipitation can requires carrying an empty one across the summit, removing the active can from its stand, replacing the active can with the empty can, and carrying the can with 6 hours’ worth of precipitation back to the weather room to be measured. This may not seem difficult; however, when winds are high, the ground is icy, and visibility is low (as it is most of the time in the winter), it can be difficult to walk across the summit. You are also carrying data that you cannot get back if you spill it onto the ground. Taking this into consideration, I consider swapping the precipitation can a difficult task. Luckily today, winds were only about 40mph and visibility was 1/16 of a mile, so it was not particularly difficult. After measuring the precipitation, I settle in at my desk to get some computer tasks done. Today, I reviewed candidates for the 2024 winter internship. I had 15 resumes and applicant questionnaires to sift through and this took a few hours to complete. Next on the agenda was Facebook Live. On Fridays, we present the weekend’s Higher Summits Forecast on Facebook Live in an effort to inform those planning a weekend trip to the White Mountains of expected weather conditions on the higher terrain. After I wrap up Facebook Live, its 6pm and time for dinner. Tonight, its BLT’s and leftover mac & cheese. To end the day, Fall summit intern Amy and I sat down to plan a backpacking trip for our upcoming off week. Unfortunately, the weather does not look great for backpacking in the White Mountains next week, but hopefully things change and we can get outside. After some snuggles with Nimbus, it’s time for bed.

Facebook Live behind the scenes.

Saturday, October 21

Saturdays are the usually the least busy days on the summit. I started my morning at 4:45am so that I could get a run in on the treadmill. At 6:30am, it was time for the start of my workday by getting ready for the WMWV radio show. I spent the rest of the morning developing education programs for the 2024 Solar Eclipse. At 11:45, it was my turn to take over on outdoor observations. Rain, wet fog, and melting snow made for a soggy day. Conditions like this ensure that you are soaking wet every time you go outdoors and only partially dry off when spending time indoors between observations. In the time that I spent in the weather room between observations, we had college football playing on the big TV monitor. Since Saturday marks the middle of the summit shift, we try to have a chill day by watching sports or a movie as we work. Summit intern Amy was on schedule for creating the Higher Summit’s Forecast today. She is at the point where she is comfortable forecasting on her own, but I spent some time finalizing it with her. After the forecast is posted and the last observation is submitted, we join or volunteers for a chili dinner. We continued to watch football and play with Nimbus, who was particularly energetic tonight, until it is time for bed.

Sunday, October 22

Today, I woke up to below freezing temperatures, snow, and slightly elevated winds (~40 mph). It was my turn to do morning observations, which meant I had to go outside in these conditions less than an hour after waking up. Climbing to the top of the tower and deicing this early in the morning is always a bit difficult. Deicing involves standing on the top of the tower and hitting the posts that the instruments are mounted on with a rubber mallet until the ice falls off. Typically, this is done every hour with the hourly observations but sometimes has to be done as frequently as every 15 minutes. Shortly after the first observation was submitted, our instrument that reports wind direction, a sonic anemometer, became disconnected. This caused a domino effect, which resulted in the malfunction of many of our digital tools. My co-observer Charlie and summit intern Amy spent almost an hour deicing the sonic anemometer so that it could be dismounted. Deicing took so long because the screws holding it in place were iced over and were difficult to remove. It took another couple of hours for them to fix the instrument. In the meantime, I was on the phone with director of technology, Keith Garrett, so that he could help guide us to get everything back in working order. To make things worse, Keith lost phone service during our call and we were on our own during one of the most important observations of the day, the 7am synoptic observation. During this few hours, I was unable to input any data into our database; I had to manually code our observations into METAR form, use a compass to determine wind direction, and use paper forms to keep track of my observations. Luckily, by 11am, after several hours spent outside working on the instrument and making phone calls to Keith, we are able to get everything back up and running. Thank you Keith! By this time, the morning was over and observation duties were handed over to Charlie. Sunday afternoon football was turned on in the weather room and we resumed operations as normal. Unfortunately, dedicating the whole morning to fixing an instrument meant we had to make up unfinished work in the afternoon. For me, that meant completing daily chart check and the transportation weather forecast. The transportation weather forecast is done every Sunday and is forecast for road conditions on the Mount Washington Auto Road. This is only sent to our Transportation Coordinator and snow tractor operators, Jon Powers and Craig Hill. This forecast helps them to plan transportation on the road and make decisions about the usage of chains and when and where we should use the snow tractor. At 4:45pm, all summit tasks were complete and we had 1 hour until the next and last observation of the day. With some free time, we took advantage of the opportunity to play in the newly fallen snow! After playing in the snow and submitting the last observation, it was time for dinner and to watch more football. Tonight, we had spaghetti and warm chocolate chip cookies.

Amy throwing a snowball.

Monday, October 23

Today, I woke up early after receiving a text message from night observer Alexis George, which said she was having trouble with a wind instrument. Charlie had woken up at 3am to help and I woke up at 4:30am. As soon as I woke up, I threw on my snow pants and coat over my pajamas and was ready to help! The instrument took Charlie a few hours to fix while I helped Alexis with submitting observations and fixing/verifying data. By the time everything was back in working order, I had just enough time for a treadmill workout before my 6:30am shift. I started my normal shift with the WMWV radio call and then began daily chart check. At 10am, it was time for my first virtual program of the day. Today, I presented the Extreme Weather Observations program to all 3rd grade classes in Concord New Hampshire. These programs are my favorite because I get to interact with kids who are so intrigued by Mount Washington and the work of meteorologists at MWOBS. They usually ask funny questions, like, “has anyone ever fallen off the mountain?” This was the first of two programs for the day and it lasted until 11am. When the program concluded, I began creating the grocery list for the next shift. Because we live on the mountain for 8 days at a time, we eat on the mountain for those 8 days. This requires grocery shopping and it is done by a weather observer on their upbound shift change day. Since my shift is currently on the mountain, it is our job to send an upbound observer a grocery list. In between programs, it was also my turn to take over weather observations at 12:45. After sending the grocery list and taking my first weather observation of the day, it is almost time for my next program, which was scheduled for 1:30-2:30pm. This was the same program I had given earlier to the same grade level. At the end of the day, I had shared the extreme weather of the mountain and what it takes to live and work on Mount Washington with 14 3rd grade classrooms! As I was wrapping up the program, we finally started to clear from the fog! Charlie, Amy, and I ran outside to take photos of the newly fallen snow and the blue sky. We also took the opportunity to play in the snow. After about an hour, everyone returned inside while I took a weather observation. After, I continued to work on daily chart check in between observations until dinner. Tonight, we had grilled cheese. Unfortunately, I had not finished all tasks for the day so I continued working after dinner until 9pm. During this time, I completed daily chart check and helped Alexis remount the RM Young anemometer. This was not an easy task and we had to troubleshoot errors before it was back in working order. After a fifteen hour day, it was finally time for bed.

Mounting the RM Young anemometer on the instrument tower.

Tuesday, October 23

Tuesday is the last full day of the shift and everyone is looking forward to going home. Today, I started on morning observations. Shortly after beginning the day shift, we did an alignment check with the anemometers due to the issues we were having with them throughout the week. After re-aligning the instruments, we were confident that they would be in working order for the next shift when they arrived on Wednesday. Next on the agenda was 10am resource meeting. This is the only time where summit staff and all departments of the valley staff have the opportunity to share what they are working on and what they experienced over the past week. During the meeting, Director of Weather Operations and Director of Technology, Jay and Keith, arrived on the summit to work on various things. Several things needed their attention today and they worked on the summit until 4:30pm. Charlie helped Jay and Keith while I took on a full day of observations and completed daily chart check. In between tasks, we all contributed to cleaning the office and the living quarters. After the last observation was submitted and summit intern Amy submitted her forecast, it was time for our last dinner of the week on the summit. Tonight, we had breakfast for dinner, which we ate quickly so that we could pack our bags and finish cleaning. Reflecting back on the entire week, it was certainly an exhausting one and I am looking forward to a restful off week. Nevertheless, I really enjoy working on the summit and I will be ready to return next Wednesday.

Amy under a fogbow.

Alexandra Branton, Weather Observer & Education Specialist

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