Be Weather Aware
2014-08-03 13:31:21.000 – Arielle Ahrens, Summit Intern
The lack of weather awareness among hikers is surprising to me. Not to say that all hikers are not weather aware, but a good chunk of them are. On Thursday, we received thunderstorms up here on the summit, which included frequent cloud-to-cloud lightning and several cloud-to-ground bolts. Even the summit received a direct strike. This is not uncommon because the summit is often enveloped by the cloud that contains the thunderstorm as it passes through the peaks. Lightning Safety Awareness Week occurred in June and Ryan wrote two comments (first second) describing and demonstrating lightning safety. It is important to know what to do if you get into that type of situation, but it is also important to know whether or not you will be in that situation in the first place. During the storms on Thursday, the summits briefly cleared and we were able to see three hikers near where the Great Gulf Trail crosses the Cog Railway, and they were heading up the summit. Almost simultaneously, we saw a cloud-to-cloud bolt travel across the sky above them. None of them were assuming the ‘lightning position’ (reference Ryan’s second comment linked above for a demonstration of this position), but rather they continued climbing the mountain. Fortunately, these hikers made it through this event alive, but they had found themselves in a very precarious position where their lives were at stake.
Thunderstorms are only one form of dangerous weather phenomena we receive up here on the summit, and often seemingly unthreatening weather can hold just as much potential to be deadly. As you can see in this list, 30 people have died of hypothermia up here on the summit. Many of these deaths have occurred during summer months! The weather up on the summit is often much different than that in the valley and it can change quickly. The best way to be prepared is to be weather aware. Always check the forecast before leaving for a hike! Several reliable places you can receive forecasts are the National Weather Service, and for Mount Washington/higher summits-specific forecasts, the Observatory provides Summit Forecasts and Morning and Evening Summit Reports on our website, here. Furthermore, the Weather Forecast Office in Gray, ME provides a forecast for summits above 4,000 feet in New Hampshire and western Maine.
On a more personal note, a childhood friend went on a hike in the Tetons several months back and found himself in a particularly scary situation. He had planned a 12-mile hike to summit the Middle and South Teton. Within 400 feet of reaching the summit, a thick fog set in and a thunderstorm quickly came upon him. He pressed on trying to beat the storm to the summit, but ended up making the type of decision that most hikers close to the summit wouldn’t make, to turn around and go back down; however conditions associated with storms, such as rain creating runoff and damp rocks, turned his descent into a near-death experience. You can read more about his experience on his blog, Paddle Faster.
Arielle Ahrens, Summit Intern