How My Fear Of Weather Led Me to the Summit
2016-06-05 15:42:12.000 – Claudia Pukropski, Summit Intern
When I was in 2nd grade my teacher, Ms.Phillips, brought my class to our elementary school library to watch a movie. Usually the films served as some kind of educational purpose, and one week in particular was about severe weather, focusing mostly on tornadoes. I remember watching and never being more scared in my entire eight years of life. Even though I was a South Jersey native, my naïve mind thought tornadoes were a very realistic possibility. Fourteen years later, I still can remember the fear that was instilled upon me from that video. Later that day I went home crying to my mom with the anxiety that one day my home would get destroyed by a tornado. I had many sleepless nights following this traumatic event. I became obsessed with knowing everything there is to know about serve weather. I wanted to be prepared for the possibly of tornado hitting the small town of Blackwood, NJ.
I did everything I thought possible to teach myself every little thing there is to know about weather. I rented every book on the subject at my school and local library, and even searched things on the web. But this was in 2002, when Google was relatively new, so I had to stick to the old fashion way of doing research. I used to stay up for hours reading about severe weather, my heart rate increasing with every word I read.
This obsession soon began controlling my life to an unhealthy level. I would cry if dark clouds rolled in and one of my beloved family members wouldn’t get out of the pool, thinking they were going to suddenly get struck my lightening and die, and that they were too ignorant to know the signs of a thunderstorm. Even when it was the slightest bit windier then normal, I would go into full on panic mode. Whenever there was a thunderstorm, I would refuse to wear anything metal, even something as small as the button on my jeans, and I would wait out the storm in my pantry because it was the only room in my house without windows. I knew all the precautions to take when dealing with severe weather and I followed them religiously. I remember one time in particular, I was in the 5th grade and my mom was watching Oprah, and all of the sudden the sound cut out, and a loud buzz came on over it. Then, at bottom of the screen, a red banner scrolls through with the news of a “Tornado Watch,” and I just about lost it. My worst nightmare was coming true. I begged everyone in my house to come into the basement with me, informing them that I was well versed in this subject of tornado safety and that they should trust me. No one came with me and I stayed in my basement alone until the next morning, refusing to come up until I was certain I was safe. Now I know enough that a tornado watch just means that conditions are right for one to maybe form, but at the time it felt like the world was ending and I was sure that my precious small home town was going to be destroyed. Back then no one ever really took me seriously, and looking back I now realize how irrational I was being. But for years those fears were real to me.
As I grew up, I never really stopped obsessing over weather. But sometime during middle school that fear turned into an interest and slowly started to diminish my anxieties. I was obsessing about weather in a whole new way. I moved past severe weather, although I still find it incredibly fascinating, and started reading and learning about winter storms, weather patterns, and Earth’s overall climate system. And I knew by the time I entered high school that I was going to study meteorology in college.
My love for Meteorology has taken me to incredible places I never would’ve imagined as a fear-stricken eight-year-old. I attended the past two American Meteorological Society’s Annual meetings in Phoenix, AZ and New Orleans, LA, which has allowed me to meet some impressive people in this field and is how I found out about the Mount Washington Observatory. And two summers ago I actually went storm chasing cross the Midwest, and through tornado alley. I saw some impressive supercells, a dustnado, and yes, I even got to see a tornado in northeastern New Mexico. My family and friends couldn’t believe how just a couple years prior I was hiding in my basement with fear of a possible tornado, to purposely chasing them. I had evolved into a full on weather nerd and was fascinated with the science behind Mother Nature. Through these experiences I also learned things that I never put great thought into. As a Meteorology student, we find destructive forces of natures to be beautiful. But we often forget the damage it can do. During my trip, we drove through the town of Joplin, MO, where the famous EF 5 tornado had hit in May of 2011. At the time, this was three years later, and parts of the town were still destroyed. It was absolutely devastating. It made me think about how these residences had experienced my greatest life’s fear. This only enhanced my motivation of understanding weather phenomenon more, so that I can one day help prevent this kind of destruction and loss by being better prepared. This is why we do what we do. Why we observe and record the weather, so that we can go back and look at patterns to better understand why certain weather events happen. I want to be a part of future revelations in Meteorology. These experiences just reiterated it for me.
Everything that has happened in my past twenty-two years has lead me here, to the summit of Mount Washington, and I could not be happier. I feel incredibly blessed to even have the means and the opportunity to study my passion at Rutgers University, and all the opportunities going there has provided me. I realize that a lot of people are not as fortunate and I take every day I get to study my passion as a blessing.
I hope to get as much as possible out of this internship. I just started four days ago, and in that short time have learned so much about observing weather, research, and how to forecast at 6,288 feet! I have learned about the different instruments that we use when taking observations. We have the second oldest barometer, which is used to measure atmospheric pressure that was donated to us by Blue Hills Observatory right outside of Boston. I learned how to use a Sling psychrometer, which measures the wet bulb temperature, which is what the temperature would be if the parcel of air was cooled to saturation, and dry bulb temperature, which is the temperature of the air shielded by radiation and moisture. When fog is present, which it is about 60% of the year on the summit, the two temperatures equal each other. I learned how to figure out if clouds will form around the summit by using a Skew-T diagram, and I obtained over all new forecasting skills I can use in the future. And at one point, stood at the top of the parapet, our observation tower, and at a brief moment was the highest peak in the Northeast just east of the Black Hills in South Dakota and North of the Smokey Mountains in North Carolina. I got to first hand observe different formation of clouds such as stratus, altocumulus, and lenticular. I even experienced the well-known views of undercast clouds forming below the observation deck on the summit. It was a breath taking view, which one of our volunteer Mei described as a “beautiful ocean of clouds.” To me this is absolutely fascinating. It’s a dream come true and I have not stopped smiling since I came here. I love all the people I have met on the summit so far and thinks it’s pretty cool that the second highest wind recording ever was observed here in April of 1934 with a reading of a whopping 231 mph!
I have come such a long way since seeing that life changing educational video on tornadoes in the 2nd grade. Now every time severe weather rolls around, my heart still races, but now instead of fear, it’s from excitement. I hope to learn a lot this summer and over all have a better understanding of meteorology as a whole. The days are long, and I go to sleep every night exhausted, but I love every minute of it. I am eager to see where my passion of meteorology takes me. I want to learn as much as possible, and where’s a better place to do that then the, “Home of the World’s Worst Weather”!
Claudia Pukropski, Summit Intern