MWOBS/MWAC Internship & Research Overview

By Laura Wilson

It feels like only last shift I was writing my intro blog, but here we are, over three months later, and I have no idea how to fit everything into a single blog post. This week alone I finished a full draft of my case study, hiked a section of the Presidential Traverse, lapped the snowfields, said goodbye to Tricia (the other shift’s winter intern) and saw my first ever northern lights. Every week has something new, and I feel incredibly lucky to have spent my winter working on top of the Northeast.

De-icing instruments at the top of the tower.

I came into this internship having studied earth sciences and glaciology, with only a rudimentary understanding of meteorology. The observers on my shift, Alex, Alexis, and Charlie, have taught me so much and it’s amazing to reflect on how far my forecasting skills have come. It’s been an honor to write for the Higher Summits Forecast and I’m looking forward to recognizing the names of my friends and mentors as I read these forecasts in the coming months.

Summit staff with the northern lights.

I still have a few days left with the USFS Mount Washington Avalanche Center and am looking forward to hiking back up to the bowl to see how spring conditions are developing (ironically, it is snowing on the summit as I write this). It’s been an invaluable experience to witness firsthand the development of snowpack on Mount Washington; from midwinter snowpack, to April-like conditions in March, to a historic avalanche cycle less than a month later (large enough to bury Connection Cache!!!), to true spring conditions and the slow melt out of the ravines, this is the sort of experience that cannot be acquired without consistent time out on the mountain. The added context of witnessing summit conditions and their direct impacts on regional avalanche forecasting along with the incredible mentorship from the MWAC team, Jeff, Kate, Patrick, and Charlotte, have helped me begin to develop the skills and intuition to competently predict snowpack development, and there’s still so much to learn!

Snow at Hermit Lake, resulting in one of the largest avalanches in decades.

I am also incredibly lucky to have spent the winter working with observer Charlie Peachey to develop a case study on the December 2023 rain on snow (ROS) flooding event to complement his larger paper on overall ROS trends on the Mount Washington summit.

In short, a coastal low moving north along the eastern seaboard dropped 4.1 inches of rain at the Mount Washington summit across 31 hours, from December 17-19. This rain fell on a below average early season snowpack, almost completely eradicating the snowpack at all elevations. While this rain event resulted in catastrophic flooding across New England, it is particularly notable in the Mount Washington region for its excessive runoff production from “only” 4 inches of precipitation. This event produced the sixth largest runoff response seen by the Saco River stream gauge since 1903. Not only that, but the recurrence intervals generated at both this gauge and the Ammonoosuc gauge in Bethlehem were close to 800 years for December 18th and higher than 100 years for December 19th. This event produced the largest runoff response of any out-of-season (non-spring snowmelt) ROS event on record for the four Mount Washington adjacent stream gauges.

As Charlie’s larger ROS study has found an increase in both frequency and magnitude of Mount Washington ROS events with time, this event is a fantastic example of the potential size and impacts of both present and future ROS events.

After my last few days with MWAC, I’m headed out to the Wind River range to assist with some spring snowpack studies. I’m ecstatic to have the opportunity to further my understanding of alpine snowpacks and am incredibly grateful to be able to draw on the skills I’ve spent the entire winter developing. With any luck, I’ll be able to use the knowledge I’ve gained this winter to develop my own research project and begin contributing to existing knowledge of windblown snow. I truly believe that I’ll use the knowledge and skills I’ve gained this winter throughout the rest of my life and career. I’m going to miss summit skis, Nimbus cuddles, and everyone I’ve met on the mountain. I will never forget this experience and can’t wait to visit again soon.

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