Plowing Through Shift Change Challenges

2017-01-12 10:13:08.000 – Mike Carmon, Senior Weather Observer & Education Specialist


There are a host of operational challenges of the Mount Washington Observatory’s summit weather station, as one can imagine! One of the trickiest parts of our jobs is the weekly commute to work. Shift changes in the winter time, which traditionally take place on Wednesdays, can be a breeze, with the Snow Cat cruising to the summit in an hour or so.

However, this is Mount Washington. The place where simple-sounding tasks become complex feats of ingenuity as snow, fog, and wind produce a distinctively complicated environment to traverse. Yesterday’s weekly shift change was no exception to this.

The summit picked up 4.5 inches of snowfall with the storm system that moved through New England on Tuesday night. Doesn’t sound like much, right? Well, when you add hurricane force winds to the equation, it only takes 3-4 inches of snowfall to yield some massive snow drifts. Unfortunately for my crew yesterday, those drifts decided to plant themselves on one section of our normal path to the summit, impeding our ability to get through via Snow Cat.

 Note the blowing snow coming off the summit near the top-right of the image. Despite the bluebird day, blowing snow was the culprit yesterday!

It’s a funny story, as the skies were relatively clear, with sun shining, and temperatures on the decidedly warmer side (20-30°F) coming up yesterday. However, the 5-6 foot drifts (bigger in some cases) were enough to make our ride decidedly complicated. Thanks to some work by our talented Snow Cat operators for both the Observatory and the Mt. Washington State Park, we were able to get through to the summit in the fading light of the evening.

 The summit visible in the distance.
All in all, it took us a grand total of 6 hours to get from base to summit yesterday, ultimately arriving on at our summit station right around 5PM as the sun set on a challenging Mount Washington day.

After yesterday’s trials and tribulations, we’re all crossing our fingers for a bout of high pressure next Wednesday! But again—this is Mount Washington.

And this is why we’re all here.

The fading light of Wednesday as we near the summit station!


Mike Carmon, Senior Weather Observer & Education Specialist

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