Have an Ice Night

2020-11-16 20:20:20.000 – Sam Robinson, Weather Observer/Engineer


Hello from the blustery summit of Mount Washington!

I usually write long observers comments but I need to keep it short this time because I am writing this during a storm, while working the night shift alone. As I type this, it is currently around 26 degrees with winds close to 90 mph, and freezing rain (~09:30 PM on Nov. 15). I just came in from de-icing the instruments and my jacket and pants are stiff from glaze ice accumulation. I was outside for less than 10 minutes but I now look and feel like a human icicle.

Thermoshack Coated in Glaze Icing

I am one of the day time observers here at the observatory but this week our usual night observer Ryan took a well needed and well deserved vacation, and I had to take over nights for this shift week. It has been quite an eye opening experience to say the least, and I have gained a lot of respect for Ryan and David, our full-time night observers up here. It takes a different breed of scientist to work the night shift, and while I am making due for the time being, I am not one of them. The calm, clear nights I’ve been able to experience so far this shift week have been breathtaking. The way the night sky looks from up here on the summit is inexplicably beautiful, and I have seen at least 2 dozen shooting stars as well. The not so calm, foggy nights have been a completely different type of experience with a very eerie feel to them. It seems to take much longer to get my eyes to adjust with the fog, and once they adjust, still not much can be seen. It is hard enough to see through fog during the day, so you may be able to imagine what it is like in the dark. Tonight has been wild so far, we started with some snow grains (small, white balls of snowflakes), transitioned to ice pellets (small, clear balls of ice), and have since switched over to full freezing rain. This is my first time dealing with freezing rain up here, as well as with the glaze icing it creates, and I am humbled by it. It coats everything with a hard, greyish coating of ice, which is much harder to de-ice than the normal feathery rime I am used to.

A-Frame Coated in Glaze Icing with Blowing Freezing Rain Visible

This storm system has also been a learning experience for forecasting for myself, and I think my fellow daytime observer Nicole, as well. The forecast for tonight looked like mainly snow for elevations above roughly 4000 feet, with rain for lower elevations. The odd thing I noticed was that the models were not showing much snow accumulation, which I assumed was due to the fast moving nature of this system, but I assumed wrong. Winds have also been from the south, which is funneling in relatively warm air, causing the precipitation to stay liquid as it falls. There does not seem to be a cool enough portion of the atmosphere for snowflakes to form, as of this point in the night. Our higher summit forecasts did not mention the chance of freezing rain, although now I realize there were a few signs that this was coming. It has been a learning experience to say the least. I have to head back outside to de-ice the instruments, so I will end here. I hope you enjoyed reading this and I hope to write more soon.


Sam Robinson, Weather Observer/Engineer

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