Dear Self, Mount Washington has A Lot to Teach You
2022-07-26 12:34:31.000 – Alexis George, Weather Observer & Meteorologist
I loaded my backpack with power tools and then I was ready. Ready to hike up Virginia’s highest peak to perform maintenance on one of Virginia Tech’s weather stations.
Located in southwestern Virginia, Mt. Rogers is well known for its wild ponies, sweeping views, and most importantly, unpredictable weather. On this blistering hot day, it was hard to believe that just two weeks prior, the summit was shrouded in wind-driven snow, with gusts up to 50 miles per hour. As a student working towards their meteorology degree at the time, I understood that winter-like conditions are not uncommon at the highest of elevations in May.
The solar-powered weather station is a few meters high and collects data such as wind speed, temperature, humidity, and rainfall. The remotely accessed weather station translates data to an online resource, which is vital to researchers as well as visitors wanting to know current weather conditions at Mt. Rogers.
Alexis George, left, performing maintenance on a Mt. Rogers weather station with the Meteorology department at Virginia Tech.
My team and I spent the entire day in the fierce heat making sure the weather station was operational. At the time, I wondered where that field experience would take me by the time I graduated college. I never imagined that I would be working as a Night Observer at the Home of the World’s Worst Weather a year later.
My name is Alexis George, and my most memorable experience since joining the weather observation team at Mount Washington Observatory has been the snowstorm that hit the summit last month, on June 19.
It was surreal to see snow right at the start of summer, and I was beyond excited to see rime ice forming for the first time. With a B.S. in Meteorology, part of what drew me to work at Mount Washington was the extreme winter weather. I had never visited Mount Washington prior to my first day on the job, but I arrived eager to experience the freezing temperatures, hurricane-force winds, and snow that turns the summit into an Arctic wonderland that I had only read about.
Snow and ice coated Mount Washington on June 19.
I just started working at the Observatory at the beginning of June, so I had not seen snow on Mount Washington yet. Temperatures dropped well below freezing and winds were gusting over 90 mph by the time the night shift started on June 19. With sub-zero temperatures and high wind speeds, it is critical that observers wear the right gear to go outside. I needed to make sure I wore several warm layers, a waterproof jacket, winter hiking boots, gloves, and ski goggles when I went outside that night to make weather observations.
During below-freezing temperatures, observers are required to de-ice the weather instruments hourly. I was still in the process of being trained as a new weather observer, so I was also on shift with another night observer, Ryan Knapp, when the snow storm hit. While I climbed the ladders to the top of the weather station, Ryan instructed me on how to de-ice the instruments. He was instructing inside because I ultimately would not be able to hear him over the raging winds outside.
Choosing a heavy mallet as my weapon of choice to break up the rime ice forming on the weather instruments, I remember that sound of the wind that struck me first as I stepped onto the observation tower. The winds were so ferocious that it sounded like a freight train outside. It was exhilarating just using brute force to break up the rime ice, but I learned quickly to be cautious of where and how I stood while de-icing. If I was not careful, one smack of the mallet and the hurricane-force winds could send large chunks of rime ice flying into the air right back at me.
Rime ice formation on the observation tower.
De-icing the weather instruments every hour is a very physically demanding task, but, at the end of the day, I value the hard work I put in as a weather observer. There is a satisfying sense of accomplishment I get after finishing a night shift, exhausted, and digging into a giant bowl of pasta before hitting the sack. Some people might look at the extreme weather on Mount Washington and be trepidatious. However, it was fascinating for me to witness just how powerful the Earth can be when I was up on the observation tower de-icing the weather instruments.
Even though most of my time working at Mount Washington has been during the more mild summer season so far, I look forward to experiencing the full force that the winter season has to offer at the summit. I know that the winter will be completely different from anything that I have experienced so far, but given my enthusiasm for weather science, I believe it will be well worth it.
Alexis at the summit.
Alexis George, Weather Observer & Meteorologist