The war years of the early 1940’s were challenging ones for the Observatory. Staff members were hard to come by, with so many suitable candidates in the military or in war-related work. But the Observatory persisted, knowing that its weather information and its summit research were small but important parts of the war effort. After World War II, Mount Washington became a focal point for cold-weather research, especially related to atmospheric icing and its effect on aviation, including the new technologies of jet aircraft and helicopters. Such research work was led by the United States military and by large civilian contractors, with the Observatory also playing a role in such work. Research activities in this era of the Observatory focused on a variety of topics such as the nature of atmospheric icing, cloud seeding, atmospheric electricity, and cosmic radiation.
A jet testing facility on the summit.
The 1960’s and 1970’s saw a continuation of partnerships with various organizations on a variety of scientific research projects. This period also saw some major changes for the Observatory. While the organization had long played a role in informing and educating the public about the mountain, weather, and the alpine environment, that activity became more pronounced as the number of visitors increased in the 1960’s. To answer the need for enhanced public contact opportunities, the Mount Washington Museum was opened in 1973. The Museum, now in the Sherman Adams Building and currently known as “Extreme Mount Washington,” continues service to this day.
In 1980, the Observatory moved its weather station into the new Mount Washington State Park Sherman Adams Building. The new location for the Observatory had more suitable space for staff quarters and for visiting scientists. And in 1991, the Observatory opened a valley office in North Conway, to serve as a support facility for its on-the-mountain operations, and to house the Observatory’s research library and archives.
Mount Washington State Parks’ Sherman Adams Summit Building
In 1993, the Observatory expanded its educational offerings to include EduTrips, winter overnight visits to the summit providing instruction in topics pertinent to the mountain environment. While Observatory staff have, for many decades, provided in-person presentations to educational and civic groups about the Observatory and Mount Washington, those activities have been enhanced in recent years with more virtual programs, plus a renewed attention to programs for schools, science centers, libraries, and other such venues.
In recent years, the Observatory has originated or participated in many studies of the mountain environment. As concern for changes in Earth’s climate have become greater, the value of the Observatory’s long meteorological record has been better recognized, with detailed studies of the record made by Observatory staff and other researchers, such as those of the AMC. Lessons learned measuring wind on the summit for nearly a century have been applied to further enhance the performance of the Observatory’s wind instruments, and have also been applied to developing wind instruments to monitor conditions near the summit of Mount Everest.
Now approaching one hundred years of service to the scientific community and to the public, the Mount Washington Observatory continues its work in the three main areas of activity for which it was founded: to maintain a rigorous program of weather observations and related environmental monitoring, to perform and to collaborate with others in performing basic and applied scientific research, and to participate in public education about weather, climate, and the mountain environment.
-Dr. Peter Crane
Mount Washington Observatory