Gearing up for Winter Transportation
2017-11-28 08:14:21.000 – Tom Padham, Weather Observer/Education Specialist
As November turns to December we begin our transition into the heart of the winter season on the summit, which means transportation gains more challenges. For now we’re still able to use a truck with chains and a plow to lead the way up the Mount Washington Auto Road, but as the snow pack continues to build we’ll likely begin using the snowcat in the next few weeks.
What is only a 20-30 minute trip from the summer season now can take 3+ hours due to the often very poor visibility above tree line along with the top speed of the snowcat only being around 10 mph. The benefits of using the snowcat far outweigh these negatives, since the snowcat has enough power to move huge amounts of snow, the cabin keeps us nice and warm on the trip up, and the tracks offer great traction on steep, snowy and icy slopes.
The Observatory snowcat patiently awaits for more snow near 4,000 feet
My trip back up to the summit was a good reminder that snowcat season is just around the corner. After having off for the Thanksgiving holiday I was able to head up the road with New Hampshire State Park, who are all very experienced with making the trip to the summit, often in very poor weather. A strong cold front had just crossed early that morning, with light snow falling at the base of the mountain just starting to stick to the roads.
As we ascended, light snow began falling more heavily by 3,000 feet, with drifts alongside the road requiring the use of the plow by 4,000 feet (half way). Conditions continued to deteriorate as we rose further, and by 5,000 feet visibility was only 20-50 feet from heavy blowing snow with winds gusting to near 70 mph. Even with this poor of weather we were able to slowly work our way to the summit, and at no point did I feel unsafe on the trip up (I’ve certainly been in worse!). A big thank you to Chris L, Chris U, and Nate for all of their hard work and a safe trip up!
Visibility like this is commonplace during the middle of winter
After receiving 8” of new snow over the past two days and with no significant melting on the horizon we’re almost to the point that we’ll be making the switch to snowcat, but we still need one more good snow storm. Unfortunately for snow lovers there’s no major storms on the horizon, although cold fronts on Wednesday morning and Friday will look to add a few more inches of snow to the summit. For now we’ll enjoy the relatively quick rides up the mountain, but I’m personally looking forward to seeing a lot more snow over the next few months!
Let it snow!
Tom Padham, Weather Observer/Education Specialist