A Wicked Night!

2010-02-26 21:49:08.000 – Mike Finnegan,  IT Observer

The Crew and Mr. Snowflake

Things here on the summit are finally starting to calm down after a wild night on the mountain this time yesterday. While winds are now approaching a mere 10 mph, last night they were sustained over 100 mph at times and gusting several times into the 120 mph range, topping out at 132 mph. While these winds are quite strong, they are not uncommon on the mountain. We saw a gust on Novermber 28th to 137 mph and another 132 mph gust on New Year’s Day last year. The unusual thing about this storm was that the wind was blowing out of the East, rather than the typical Northwest. This presented several unique circumstances not seen with W or NW winds.

For one, the entrances into the building are sheltered from NW winds whereas with E winds, they are completely exposed. This makes opening and shutting them quite difficult when it is gusting over 100 mph and greatly affects the pressure in the building and in turn one’s ears. Another issue with the doors is their air-tightness. Snow being blown at over 100 mph can find its way into the very wee-est of cracks and this includes door jams. Because of this, we had to shovel snow out of the tower every hour or two just so we could get the door open. In addition to snow coming in the doors, it also piles up outside the doors. This morning the crew spent several hours shoveling 7 foot high drifts from the entrances and fire exits. Perhaps the most memorable difference of east winds is the challenges presented when deicing the instruments. This is a crucial part of our job and is really one of the biggest things that validates our presence on the mountain. With temperatures as they were and the moisture in the air (average snow density was around 20-25%), glaze ice accrued on all the instruments. As you may know, glaze is not our friend most of the time and is quite difficult to remove. Climbing into the parapet to deice with winds gusting into the 120’s is difficult in any scenario. With NW winds however, one can crawl against the wind, position their legs against a pair of posts, and lean back into the wind, while swinging a crowbar to remove the ice. With East winds, the wind hits you as you climb up the ladder so there is no easing into it. Once above the ladder, there is nothing to post your legs against and you can’t lean back because there is no protection behind you. The only option is to stand up quickly and get doubled over the metal ring, try to regain some control, and hit away at the ice. This took absolute teamwork last night. Heading out to deice, I realized the pitot skirt was accumulating far too much ice and it needed to be removed for fear of it blocking the all important static pressure holes. I fetched Ryan to give me a hand, but even with the two of us, we couldn’t safely do it. We then fetched our third musketeer, Brian, who after pondering for a moment, decided the only way to do was just to do it. He climbed up as Ryan and I hung on to his boots to anchor him to the ground, while our faithful intern Nick ran the video. With a few masterful whacks, the ice was removed and we carefully positioned Brian’s feet on the ladder for the quick descent. There was then much rejoicing and adrenaline. Quite the night atop this mountain!

P.S. The video that Nick shot last night of the deicing was posted to our YouTube site today, so check it out!


Mike Finnegan,  IT Observer

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