An Epic Storm Summary
2018-04-19 06:14:10.000 – Caleb Meute, Weather Observer / Meteorologist
As this past shift elapsed, our eyes turned to an impending storm that looked to bring a mess of wintry precipitation and STRONG winds Saturday through Tuesday. We became especially excited through the weekend as the storm setup looked eerily similar to the storm that brought the summit a 231 mph wind gust in 1934. The only difference was going to be the strength of the high and low pressure systems in play, so we knew that it would not be breaking any records, BUT we had a feeling the winds were going to roar. In the days leading up to the storm, the forecast personally had me pulling my hair out (I am bald now) (but not really). The issue was a strong temperature inversion that was going to set up beneath the summit, or so I thought. The colder air at the surface was the result of high pressure to the north sending a backdoor cold front into New England. I mistakenly forecasted for the summit to remain above the inversion and in a layer of air that would be above freezing, thus expecting our dominant precipitation type to be rain during the worst of the storm. As you are likely aware of now, this was not the case…
3 foot long rime ice feather plucked off of the tower!
Rain, freezing rain, sleet and snow fell on Friday heading into the weekend and the ice already began to accrue atop the Rockpile. Plain rain fell late Friday night, and that was the last time we would have any non-freezing precipitation through Tuesday. One inch of snow and sleet accumulated on Saturday as a warm front lifted through New England (although that warm air remained above the summits). The result was wet snow, sleet and some freezing drizzle. The front stalled out on Sunday and the day was very similar to Saturday, although precipitation fell more as freezing rain and sleet this go around. Sunday was when the hair pulling really took off as my forecast for Monday was determining just how high that temperature inversion would set up as the worst of the storm barreled through.
The wind forecast was okay! The temperature and precipitation type were not. I went to bed Monday morning, already a little exhausted from battling glaze ice that had been accruing on our instrumentation for a few days straight. My anticipation was to wake up and hear the winds roaring, and heavy rain falling, assuming the mercury had risen above freezing. I woke up to what felt like an alternate reality if I am being perfectly honest. Upon waking up in the afternoon, Adam informed me that the temperature was in the teens and VERY heavy sleet had been falling through the afternoon. When it came time for my first observation at the start of my shift, I climbed to the top of the tower where it felt as though I was under fire from an army wielding BB guns. It was not JUST heavy sleet (and I mean HEAVY), it was very large sleet, forming in a convective nature. These large balls of sleet were coming at me at category 1 hurricane strength and occasionally hitting me along a gust over 100 mph. This may “sound” awful, but it was truly remarkable to experience… After my second observation, Adam and I went to the observation deck door to film a quick video to give everyone a taste of what was going on. As we were filming the video, we opened the door and realized the heavy sleet had transitioned to very heavy freezing rain that was causing glaze ice to form at a tremendous rate. The second that my phone was exposed to the freezing rain, wind and cold, it unfortunately died so we could not get the footage we were hoping for. To give you an idea of how hard the freezing rain was coming down, after being outside for a few minutes I came back inside and was covered in glaze ice myself.
I took this right after coming inside from one of my observations. I was outside for a few minutes and became encased in glaze ice!
After filming the video, we came back down to the weather room to watch it. In the middle of it, the building began to shake amidst a loud roar as a rogue gust of wind seemed to come out of nowhere. Adam shouted “WHAT WAS THAT?!” as we both looked towards the Hays Chart and saw the needle pushing towards the outer edge of calibration. We ran over and realized that we hit 131 mph!
Hays Chart showing our peak gust of 131 mph at 8:19pm EDT.
Adam is okay, so I figure I share this next part because looking back on it now is very funny. He ran downstairs to get our intern Jill, and summit volunteer, John. In a fit of joy and rapid motion, he slid all the way down the stairs to where John was waiting at the bottom and saw the whole thing. The stairs were actually covered in sleet that had blown through the door, so this is understandable. Full of adrenaline, he came back upstairs and we all enjoyed the loud roars of wind gusts consistently hitting 110-120 mph for the next couple of hours before they began to diminish. Freezing rain continued for several more hours before finally transitioning to snow showers by the wee hours of Tuesday morning. By daybreak, it was a fascinating sight atop the Rockpile as every surface was covered in FEET of hard rime and glaze ice. In addition to all of the ice, over 3 inches of liquid precipitation had fallen on Monday, which was composed of freezing rain and 6.7” of sleet! So much sleet was accruing and being lifted up by the winds causing us to report blowing snow, which was actually composed solely of sleet. As you walked through the drifts of sleet, each step you took resulted in a splash as the tiny beads of ice displaced outward. It was another epic storm that I will undoubtedly remember for the rest of my life!
Caleb Meute, Weather Observer / Meteorologist