How much snow is really on the summit?

2012-01-30 17:34:16.000 – Brian Fitzgerald,  Summit Intern

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So begins my second week on the summit as the ‘esteemed winter intern’. With projects, radio reports, and many visitors frequenting the Observatory it’s actually easy to forget that I’m sitting atop the highest peak in the Northeast. Our bunker-like facility, near constant fog and ice-covered windows only adds to the effect. I’ve been spending my time lately looking back at historical snowfall data purposefully looking at some of Mount Washington’s meanest and leanest winters. Our best example of a mean winter on top of Mount Washington has got to be the winter of 1968-1969. That historic year brought 566.4 inches of snowfall to the summit though interestingly enough, there was never more than 32 inches of snow and ice reported on the ground. Naturally this begs the question: where did it all go? Any backcountry skier or winter adventurer who has seen Tuckerman Ravine might be able to point you in the right direction. The glacial cirque that sits south and east of the summit is a favorite dumping ground for snow carried on the predominant north and west winds which in a typical year result in 55 feet of snow in the ravine. Back on the summit, we are reporting 26 inches of snow and ice on the ground (with deeper drifts) as of this morning, which is not all that far away from the 32 inches we saw on the ground in 1969 at the peak of that historic year’s snowpack. However, if you’ve been present in New England so far this year you are probably aware of the fact that this has been anything but a historically big snowfall year. So does that mean 32 inches is the maximum snowpack the mountain can hold? Well, that might be another question for another day. As for me, I’m using this project as an excuse to head outside and see how big or small some of these drifts are.

 

Brian Fitzgerald,  Summit Intern

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