2010-11-18 23:31:21.000 – Mike Carmon, Staff Meteorologist
As a fleeting resident of this planet, one always wishes to experience as much as is humanly possible before time expires.
As a meteorologist, there are certain experiences that would be particularly memorable, but if you aren’t lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, they might just be forgone.
When I joined the staff on the summit, I was expecting a surfeit of new experiences. There are the obvious trials and tribulations of entering the working world and holding down a job while supporting oneself. There is the unique circumstance this particular occupation presents of living where one works and not only co-working but co-‘habitating’ with one’s fellow professionals. But what I looked forward to the most was throwing myself into the unrelenting weather I had heard so much about.
Working nights has made my experiences particularly unique, as nighttime transforms Mt. Washington into a completely distinct and idiosyncratic world. I’ve had some special nights that are completely calm and peaceful, with stars littering the moonless skies and the shimmering Milky Way painted across the canvas that is the New England sky. As existential as those nights can become, that is not what I signed up for. Nights akin to last night’s adrenaline-pumping episode are what have seduced me to this mountaintop.
The models had been hinting at a ferociously windy evening, but one can never fully comprehend the true intensity and grit of high winds until a complete immersion occurs. I’ve endured nights in the past that have harbored gusts exceeding the 113 mph acme from last night, other nights in which winds have been sustained higher at times than they were last night, but never have I had a night where winds maintained such strength for such a prolonged period through my nighttime hours of 5 p.m. – 5 a.m.
Our first paramount gust was on the mark at 100 mph precisely–a mere five minutes to midnight (11:55 p.m.), and the first of its kind this winter season! Winds thereafter continued to gust in excess of the century mark until 5:54 a.m., when the finale occurred, registering at 106 mph. At the storm’s height, gusts over 110 mph occurred regularly, with rime ice accruing at rates of 5-7 inches per hour! Due to this icy buildup, it was necessary to ascend to the apex of the tower (the parapet), where the full force of the wind is apparent, every 20-30 minutes to keep our pitot tube static anemometer clear and wind speed readings as accurate as possible. Between the excessive amounts of ice building up during the event and the large chunks of glaze ice left over from last shift that were being propelled at high speeds, head protection was obligatory. Gearing up to go outside, amidst vibrating walls and floors with ice chunks slamming into the windows, felt similar to gearing up for battle, which was more than appropriate, because the summit was very much a war zone.
The highlight of the evening came when I made my way to the parapet to de-ice at 1:45 a.m. The moment my head cleared the safety of the concrete wall, I was hit with a force that clearly did not wish for my presence at this location. Wielding the crowbar, I commenced the de-icing procedure, only to be hit from the back with a force that was unmatched by anything I have felt before in my scant 24 years of existence. Little did I know it was the peak wind gust of this event–that 113 mph summit that I mentioned earlier, equal in strength to a category 3 hurricane. I was somewhat shocked, as the highest gust I had experienced prior to this atop the parapet was 109 mph, and this felt exceedingly stronger. Nevertheless, the night raced on in this manner, keeping a close and careful eye on our wind instruments to be sure our data would be as accurate as possible.
The unrelenting conditions took a toll, however, and I must say I was relieved when Steve awoke, a sign that my night was drawing to a close. Despite my physical exhaustion, I was sure that falling asleep was not going to be as trivial as one might think, considering the amount of adrenaline I had pumping. However, when I ultimately put my head down on the pillow, the rush quickly subsided, and I was out within a matter of minutes.
This night was by far the most intense and exhilirating of certainly my time on Mt. Washington, and ranks very near the top on my lifetime list. I’ll enjoy a calmer time tonight, and then I’ll be ready for the next night to push me to the limit! It is all a reminder of the unwielding and unrelenting Power that can, seemingly without lifting a finger, do what we as human beings can only dream of and cower from.
Mike Carmon, Staff Meteorologist