An Intern in the Wind
2021-01-25 14:16:48.000 – Jackie Bellefontaine, Summit Intern
Growing up, I had a Guinness World Record book that featured Mount Washington’s record for fastest wind recorded by man — an astonishing 231 mph gust which occurred on April 12th, 1934. I could not wrap my head around what such an extreme wind could possibly feel like, I had never felt a gust stronger than 50 mph. Well now as a summit intern at Mount Washington, I was finally able to get a taste of the powerful winds I had heard so much about!
This past Thursday, January 21st, the extended forecast had suggested that we would be seeing extreme wind speeds beginning Saturday night. As the week progressed towards the weekend, the forecast showed that we were in for potentially even stronger winds gusting over 100 mph starting mid night Saturday and continuing into Sunday! Excitement and anticipation filled the air around the summit station. Observer Nicole was particularly excited as the forecast suggested that her personal record for highest wind speed experienced — 133 mph — may be broken! As Saturday came, the wind speeds began to ramp up to an impressive, yet not too spectacular by Mount Washington’s standards, sustained 90 mph by 8pm. Sam, Nicole and I sat in the Weather Room, the wind howled outside as they recalled their highest wind speed experiences. They told stories about how the building rumbled from the wind, then how the peak gust hit the building much harder, prompting them to excitedly run over to the Hay’s Chart to see how fast it was. I grew eager to have my own high wind experience story!
The forecast showed that the winds would potentially peak around 3 AM and Sam was covering the night shift, thus Nicole and I asked him to wake us up if the winds began to trend to gusts over 120 mph. I went to bed, though I didn’t really sleep due to the anticipation. I listened to the wind get louder outside of my bunk room window and tried to estimate how fast a particularly loud gust was. I eventually fell asleep for a bit until I heard knocking on my door. At first, I thought it was Sam waking me up to witness high gusts but it was actually the door to the living quarters being shaken rather violently by the building rumbling in the wind. I went upstairs to the Weather Room to see what the wind speed was being reported as, Sam informed me that it was “only” gusting to 110 mph. I decided to go back down to my bunk room after that false alarm and get more sleep before the real action was supposed to start later in the night.
Around 2:30 AM, I woke up to Sam actually knocking on my door saying that we were gusting over 120 mph! Nicole and I joined Sam in the Weather Room listening to the wind and watching the needle on the Hay’s Chart bounce around. A bit later, Nicole and I were in the middle of a conversation as a strong gust of wind slammed into the northside of the building, shaking the windows as well as launching huge chunks of rime ice into them. We all paused and looked at each other. Was that it? The peak gust? Sam rushed out of his chair and over to the Hay’s Chart, he told us that the needle went off the chart — the Hay’s Chart measures wind speeds up to around 140 mph! Sam then confirmed, using the data reported from the pitot up on the tower, that the intense gust we just witnessed was 151 mph, breaking all of our personal records for highest winds experienced!
Hay’s Chart recording strong gusts since 12 AM on Sunday, Jan. 24th
Later around 3 AM, Nicole and I decided to go up to the tower parapet to further experience the wind. Nicole was first to go up the ladder to the top of the tower and open the door to the parapet — the sound of the wind roaring as she opened the door is something that I won’t soon forget. We stood in a semi-sheltered area on the parapet as the wind rushed around us at a sustained speed of 110 mph, gusting a bit over 120 mph. Feeling the force of the wind was absolutely incredible! After coming down from the tower, I decided that I had my fill for the night assuming that 151 mph was going to be our peak gust, thus, I went back to bed. However, 151 mph was not our peak as a gust of 157 mph came roaring into the building around 6 AM! Only Nicole was awake to experience this gust, but I was very excited for her as her record of 133 mph was completely shattered!
Observer Nicole de-icing the instrumentation on top of the tower in sustained 89 mph winds with gusts around 112 mph
Throughout Sunday, the wind still raged on at an average speed of 84 mph with gusts still over 100 mph before steadily decreasing. I was able to go outside and experience the high gusts while assisting Nicole with the daily observations. Some of the gusts were so strong that I found myself pinned up against the A-frame outside of the lower tower door! At one point, I had waited for a lull in the wind before making my way over to the small shack, which sits several feet from the A-frame, called the “Cosmo Shack”. I had hoped to sit on the support beam along the Cosmo Shack to use the sling psychrometer for the hourly observation in the shade of the shack after the sun broke through the fog (the radiation from the sun can affect the thermometers on the sling). Well, bad idea and exactly the reason we work as a team on wild days like this. I found myself clinging onto the beam and sling trying so hard not to be blown off my feet as the winds gusted over 100 mph. Working with Nicole, I passed her the sling so I could regain my footing and return to the safety of the summit building. The adrenaline was high and the feeling of the strong winds on me like that was equal parts terrifying and exhilarating! I look forward to experiencing more extreme winds during the rest of my internship at the Mount Washington Observatory.
Me clinging onto the A-frame while the wind gusted to 108 mph
I hope you enjoyed my story of my first extreme wind experience!
Jackie Bellefontaine, Summit Intern