Extraordinary Views to Total Darkness
2016-05-07 12:54:41.000 – Caleb Meute, Weather Observer/Staff Meteorologist
My first week on the summit was a fond reminder of why I decided to return to work for the Mount Washington Observatory. On average, the summit of this mountain is shrouded in fog 61% of the year. Traveling to the summit offers the chance to see truly spectacular views if you happen to be up here on a clear day. On clear days, when the atmosphere is relatively dry and free of haze, it really feels like you are on top of the world as you can see as far as 131 miles at times. As the sun rises over the Atlantic Ocean (65 miles from the summit) each clear morning, you can see a bright orange strip directly on the horizon. Looking to the west on the absolute clearest of days you can see Mt. Marcy in New York, which is 131 miles from the summit! Obviously, during the night we cannot see these far away mountain peaks, so we use city lights to determine our visibility. The furthest city that we can see at night is all the way to Portsmouth NH, which is 87 miles to our south! Portland Maine shimmers to the southeast 65 miles away and sometimes at night with the moonlight reflecting off the Atlantic Ocean that also appears as a strip of light on the horizon.
All of these remarkable views were frequently showing up for us on our last shift, which made it a difficult week for my cell phone. Prior to the start of this shift, I had to delete upwards of 600 pictures. I should probably get an actual camera at some point, but that is beside the point. This week has been a different story so far. An active weather pattern originating at the upper levels of the atmosphere where a stubborn trough has continued to produce low pressure systems off of the Carolina coast sending them towards New England resulting in a surplus of moisture. As a result, we have not seen much this week. I did luck out yesterday morning at the end of my shift as clouds eventually cleared out revealing a beautiful undercast, but after I stared at it for a bit I had to go to bed for a good days sleep. Clear weather stuck around for much of the day until I woke up. Almost as if the atmosphere sensed I was awake again, clouds ripped up over the mountain and hid the views from me (real mature, clouds).
Being a night observer has given me a new appreciation for what total darkness really looks like. This was the case Thursday night when the atmosphere served the summit a tasty cloud sandwich, without a side of fries (they would have cost extra). Clouds just above the summit blocked out the moonlight and astral light, while clouds below the summit hid all city lights from me. I had the lights off in the weather room so that when I went outside it would not take my eyes any time to adjust. That was not the case. Upon going outside, I cautiously made my way to the end of the A-Frame a mere 15 feet from the door and stared into complete darkness. It actually took my eyes at least 5 minutes to adjust to the lack of light! Once they had finally adjusted, it was still hard to determine where all of the cloud layers were located. I did not think it could get much darker than that until last night when we were in some of the densest fog I have seen up here. Well honestly, it is more like the densest fog that I have not seen up here. I would post a picture, but you would just as well look at a piece of black construction paper. My girlfriend loves scary movies, but she will have to watch them on her own as long as I am the night observer.
Caleb Meute, Weather Observer/Staff Meteorologist