Living Life in the Clouds

By Maya Hartley

Hi everyone! My name is Maya Hartley and I am the fourth intern for the MWOBS summer season, writing to tell you all about my experiences so far with my new life in the clouds— literally!

Growing up in Newport, Rhode Island, with an offshore lobsterman for a father and a mother who worked for Naval Station Newport, weather was always the most prevalent topic in our household conversations. When I realized that it was possible for me to be one of the scientists that we watched on The Weather Channel every day, there was no going back. As soon as I graduated high school, I shipped myself off to the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa where I have spent the past three years studying atmospheric sciences from the middle of the Pacific Ocean. My experiences in the tropics have been great, but nothing compares to the home of the world’s worst weather.

On day one of my very first shift I was able to hike to the alpine gardens and see the diapensia in full bloom with a 360 degree view of the Presidential Range that left me breathless. Not three days later, I got my first taste of the winds that the summit is known for, and fully suited up -goggles and all- to go play outside in the 80 mph gusts.

On day one of my second shift, the once-in-a-lifetime experiences continued to roll in. An accidental detour on a group hike led us to a perfect view of a rare set of Kevin-Helmholtz clouds. The next day brought on a historic high temperature and microburst, and the day after that I got to watch the June strawberry moon rise over the observatory.

MWOBS summit staff detouring down Westside Loop to catch the last of the sunlight we will have for the rest of the week, before the clouds roll in to stay.

In between the outdoor adventures, the other interns and I are working on projects that are just as exciting. With firsthand access to almost a century of data, I have the opportunity to analyze the past century’s most extreme winds, which is giving me an incredible perspective of changes happening in our atmosphere. Even better than reading the data, has been my experience of collecting the data, and even more exciting than that has been my experience of helping install the instruments that are actively giving us the data. To say that I was the one who installed the Pitot tube that is reading the highest winds on earth is something I will never get over. I’m sure one day my grandkids will get sick of me talking about my work on the Rockpile, but for now I am just thrilled to be here.

Observer, Charlie Peachy, Intern, Maya Hartley, and Director of Weather Operations, Jay Broccolo, installing the new GE Pitot tube anemometer atop the summit tower.

For my intern project this summer,  I am working on analyzing 98 years of MWOBS data on wind speeds in order to better visualize the trends that are going on with our “big wind events.” Mt. Washington is known for holding the world record for the highest wind speeds ever recorded by man, and it is not unusual for summit winds to exceed 100 mph multiple times a year, throughout the year! Wind speeds here are observed and recorded every hour, on the hour, 24/7/365 since 1932, and my access to all of these observation records has allowed me to learn so much about how our atmosphere has changed since the observatory’s beginning.

Right now, the trends are actually showing signs of a significant decrease in the occurrence of winds over 100 mph. What does this mean for us up here at the summit? What does this mean for the valleys? For the Northern Hemisphere? These are questions that I am still eager to know the answers to, and they only further cement the need for the scientific research that we do up here on the summit.

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