Best Day Ever, Part 1: An Irrational Pi Day
2017-11-03 09:12:58.000 – Mike Carmon, Senior Meteorologist & Education Specialist
It can be remarkably difficult to pinpoint one’s most memorable experience in a place teeming with endless opportunities for once-in-lifetime events. Occasionally I’ll say to myself “I should seriously catalog these memories somehow,” but in the same manner as these events pertain to, these thoughts are fleeting and become amalgamated in a haze of similar situations. Nevertheless, there are certainly a few weather events that stick out from the rest of the pack as far as their notoriety, and the subsequent level s of excitement that are achieved within the confines of our weather station.
My most notable day during my time on Mount Washington’s summit came just this past winter; a winter in which over 400 inches of fallen snow were recorded, making it the sixth-snowiest winter in MWO history. That amount of snow in and of itself presented a myriad of distinctive storm systems that could be contenders for my personal top spot, but there is, without a doubt in my mind, one event that has a clear edge over all the rest. That storm came on March 14, 2017, which we affectionately refer to as the “Pi Day Blizzard.”
Pi Day is named as such thanks to the mathematical constant pi, which is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. This ratio is a constant for all circles, and is equivalent to a value of approximately 3.14, which has given all serious scientists a not-so-elaborate excuse to celebrate the date 3/14 with a few freshly-baked pies. But I digress.
The Pi Day Blizzard was the result of a strong coastal Nor’easter, which formed off the Carolina coastline, and was launched northward by an exceptionally strong and progressive upper-level jet stream. A bone-chilling air mass that had anchored itself over New England the previous few days set the stage for the snowstorm: the minimum air temperature just three days prior on the 11th was a frosty -35°F, and air temperatures struggled to climb out of the negative readings for the next few days leading up to the event, topping out at a mere 11°F the morning of the 14th.
Caption: Some of the first flakes that fell from the Pi Day Blizzard, captured on our snow board.
While the storm was still gathering itself around 1AM the morning of the 14th off the North Carolina coast, it rapidly accelerated and barreled northward in a remarkably hurried fashion, spreading snowfall into the White Mountains by 5AM. Light to moderate snow continued for a few hours, until some extremely heavy bands of snowfall began parading through the region by 10AM. The snowfall rates atop Mount Washington were tremendous, and by far the most significant I had ever witnessed in 9+ years of weather observations at 6,288 feet, at times exceeding rates of 3-4”/hour.
Caption: A satellite view of the Pi Day Blizzard on March 14th, 2017.
The chilly air in place drove up the snow-to-liquid ratios, resulting in a light and powdery snow that was easily picked up and blown about by the steadily accelerating wind speeds. As the center of the juggernaut system made its closest pass to the White Mountains, a region of intense low-level winds wrapping around the seaward edge of the rapidly-intensifying cyclone came surging onshore in a beeline towards Mount Washington, resulting in an abrupt spike in wind speeds atop the summit. Winds became sustained in excess of 100 mph from 3-5PM, reaching a maximum instantaneous gust of 138 MPH—equivalent to the force of a Category 4 Hurricane! This marked the highest gust I have ever witnessed in nine winters on Mount Washington’s summit. The sheer volume of snow careening over top of the summit at super-hurricane force speeds was an incredible spectacle to behold. After calling this location home for such a lengthy time and witnessing countless “once-in-a-lifetime” sights over the years, it’s fair to say that I don’t utter “I’ve never seen that before” very often. This day not only brought with it a new peak wind speed for me personally, but by far the most incredible blizzard I have ever experienced in my lifetime. It was a special day, and one that rivals any other weather event I’ve had the privilege to observe in my 31 years of weather-watching.
Caption: A surface analysis of the storm as winds were at their maximum, around 4PM on 3/14/17.
If you’re interested in finding out more about this Pi Day event, I’ll be delving a little more into the observed data on Mount Washington, and at surrounding weather stations, next weekend at the Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop in Fryeburg, ME. My presentation, entitled April Fool’s & Pi Day: Two Snowstorm Case Studies will look at two similar-tracked storms that produced different results in the White Mountains.
The conference takes place on November 11th; for more information, and to register for the workshop, check out http://www.esaw.org
Mike Carmon, Senior Meteorologist & Education Specialist