From night into day

2010-02-27 15:01:31.000 – Ryan Knapp,  Staff Meteorologist

Snow so dense, it’s blue!

Most weeks I am on the summit, I work nights. But this is nothing new for me. In fact, I have been working nights since 2002 between working at an airport flight tower in San Jose and working here at the Mount Washington Observatory. The only times I have worked days was occasionally a shift in San Jose, the one month I was an intern here back in Dec. 05/Jan. 06, and (as far as I can remember) four other shifts as a full time meteorologist since then. But this week, I’m an evening person in a morning world. This means I have to make adjustments to my work routine on the summits. It leaves me with the feeling of someone from the United States driving through eastern Canada; it feels familiar but there are minor things that remind you you’re visiting an unfamiliar way of life.

So what are some of these differences in shifts I am talking about? I’ll start with the most obvious: time. My normal shift runs from 1730 EST until 0530 EST the following day. This means for this time of year, my shift starts in the dark and ends in the dark. The vistas (if we were in the clear at all this week) would consist of stars above and city lights below. In the fog, like this week, it’s mostly black with shades of grey. But this week, I am working roughly from 0800 EST until 2000 EST which means my foggy vistas are shades of grey with white from all the blowing snow. And if it ever gets clear, I will see blue skies and a wintry landscape below. It’s the same view just seen through a different perspective.

Next up: coworkers. Working nights, coworkers exist at the start of my shift for about 5 hours and about 15 minutes before the end of my shift. The time in between is filled with work backed with music (and one person karaoke and dance parties) and occasional conversations with the cat. If trouble arises, I have to figure it out alone or trouble someone to wake up and help out. But this week, I am having actual conversations with real people that can talk back. I have had to cut back on singing and dancing since now there’s an audience and I’m not the greatest at either of these talents despite a few classes in college. And now I have camaraderie during my whole shift and beyond (as evident in the video we posted on youtube when all four of my coworkers had to deice).

Then there is the workload. Both shifts check over our various forms but usually I am checking back over the day shifts work instead of looking over the entire previous days work. Instead of filling out the various forms at midnight, I’m looking over the entries made by a coworker. Instead of the phone ringing once or twice my entire shift (which are usually the girlfriends of my coworkers), the phone constantly rings all day long with calls from our valley offices, media outlets, professional guides, USFS avalanche officials and several other groups of people. Radio shows during the day aren’t prerecorded and emailed out, I’m live. So, I have to remind myself to be weary of what I say because I can’t go in and edit out those parts in post production like I do for my overnight radio shows. There are two daily video conference connections with our Weather Discovery Center this past week since we were open with special hours for week two of vacation week. There is radio chatter with our Bombardier snow tractor operators as they try to get up the auto road (but due to all the snow neither State Park nor we have been able to summit). And then there’s shoveling.

During the overnight hours, I am used to heading out the doors with accumulating piles of snow forming and I usually will just walk up and over it or make a large enough path for one. But during the day, the intern and the day observers (and with all the snow this week, our volunteer and State Park) have to clear out all the snow to keep the fire exits clear. Sometimes this takes a few minutes but as you’ve seen and read in earlier comments this week, this was a daily 2+ hour endeavor as drifts several feet high had to be cleared. It’s not the largest drifts I have seen in the exit coves but it was some largest amounts in some time and some of the densest I have seen. It was packed so tightly that while removing it, there were several times in small fissures when blue shades of snow could be seen. I haven’t been this sore from shoveling up here since I was an intern.

So apart from the weather this week, it has been interesting work week for me seeing how the other half of my shift works up here when usually I’m left in the dark as to what’s going on up here (I know it’s a cheesy pun, but it fits). But, unfortunately, I will not be experiencing a full shift week of days as I will be heading down either late Sunday or Monday since I am (hopefully) going on vacation for a week and a half. I say hopefully because as I stated early, none of the snow tractors have been able to come to the summit since Wednesday. Tomorrow will be another attempt but given the trend and the amount of drifting that’s occurred, I am now prepping myself to possibly hike down. But unlike most hikers that come up in degrading weather and have the option to read the USFS sign warning people to turn around in bad weather, I will have to start in the bad weather and attempt to head down. But even hiking might be out of the question as dense fog, snow, and blowing snow have made visibility less than 20 feet. This makes it difficult to follow the posts along the auto road and the cairns along the trails. And skiing/sledding down is totally out of the question with the high avalanche danger the USFS has assigned to all ravines. So my options are becoming very limited but I will continue to be optimistic and plan accordingly. And if it comes down to it, I will continue my week and hope to get down on Wednesday. So now I play the waiting game…


Ryan Knapp,  Staff Meteorologist

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