Most Memorable Weather Event (So Far…)

2016-08-20 20:40:05.000 – Ryan Knapp, Weather Observer/Staff Meteorologist

 

I was asked by fellow Observer/Meteorologist Tom Padham the other day, what my most memorable weather experience has been while working up here. With over ten years on the summit, one would think it would be easy to narrow that down to one defining weather moment. However, as I started looking back at things, choosing one moment was a bit more difficult than I thought it would be since I have so many moments to choose from. Do I choose the times where I literally couldn’t see my hand in front of my face? Do I choose the night I felt the coldest ambient temperatures I have experienced? Do I choose the times I have seen severe weather up here where continuous lightning, hail, heavy rain, and downdrafts of 100+ mph made it feel like the end times? So many events to consider, but the one that sticks out the most is the night of October 29/30, 2006.
 
When my shift started at 6pm, winds were averaging speeds over 100 mph. With sustained speeds of 100 mph, that meant wind gusts were well over that, frequently reaching the 120’s, 130’s, and even a few 140’s. As the winds built, I almost didn’t know how to mentally digest it all as I was flooded with emotions – excitement, happiness, wonder, and fear to name a few. I had been here for almost a year, so 100 mph winds were nothing new however, winds of this magnitude were. And I was about to start the night shift when I would be left alone until morning. My coworker at the time, Jim Salge, told me before heading off to bed, wake him (or the intern) up if I need someone to help out.
 
So come 10 pm, I went solo, working cautiously and trying to get my daily tasks done as what sounded like a freight train barrelled towards the summit. During these high winds, it had precipitated which meant the precipitation can in the middle of the summit would need to be collected. If conditions are deemed too dangerous to go out (lightning, high winds, etc), we have the option to collect it and report it at a later time. Leading up to the collection time, I had decided it wasn’t worth it and we would collect it in the morning. As midnight rolled around though, winds lulled to a sustained speed of about 80 mph. With speeds like that, getting the can is a cake walk for me. So I swapped the can, returned to the weather room, measured it, de-iced the instruments, collected the outdoor data, and submitted my observation per usual. The most challenging part of my night shift was past, so I breathed a sigh of relief and was ready for whatever was sent our way the rest of night. I didn’t have to wait long though.
 
The next hour, winds started to build, and build, and build. Sustained winds were rising well above 100 mph with gusts in the 130’s…140’s…then crossing the 150’s. A cup of water on our weather desk was rippling like the T-rex scene from Jurassic Park. The sound outside the storm windows was deafening and unlike anything I had ever heard in my life even to this day. Chunks of rime and ice could be heard hitting the windows like some sci-fi horror film. The difference in pressures in the building from the the gusting winds were making my ears pop every few seconds. This was unique…this was awesome…this…sucked! I read the clock and as we started to crest in speed, it was time to go deice the instruments and gather our weather readings. Yea me!
 
I suited up, strained to open the door to our tower and started to climb the stairs giving me the feeling like I was heading to the gallows. I was trembling as I headed up the stairs thinking, “What are you doing!?” I strained to pull the door open to go in the lee (sheltered side) of the building and gather the temperature readings and heard the ferocity of it all whipping around me outside. Step one was done, now to the matter of deicing. I grabbed a really long crowbar and thought, I will try to do what I can from the safety of the lower parapet. I reached the top, went up a few rungs of the ladder, and swung into the wind seeing my crowbar move like the bullet-time effect scenes from the Matrix. And just like Neo from that movie, all I could say was, “Woah!”
 
Feeling good enough about my deicing task, I retreated back to the weather room shaking from adrenaline as I felt gusts I have never felt before. I got back to the weather room and saw my coworker Jim up as he could hear/feel the change in the winds, and wanted to ensure I was still alive and kicking. Pulling up the database, we checked the peak wind I was out in – 158 mph! The highest wind gust I have experienced and it is what makes it the weather experience that I define as my most memorable on the summit…at least so far…
 
Hays wind chart October 29, 2006Hays wind chart October 29, 2006
 
Hays wind chart October 30, 2006Hays wind chart October 30, 2006

 

Ryan Knapp, Weather Observer/Staff Meteorologist

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