Right Place, Right Time

2012-09-03 16:30:13.000 – Ryan Knapp,  Weather Observer/Meteorologist

Sunrise this morning at the right place and time.

I’ve heard it been said that luck is being in the right place at the right time but location and timing are in some extent under our control. If this is true, I was either lucky two separate times last night or I had really good control over my location and timing. Working up here, I tend to put more on the side of luck than anything else. People who frequent our Facebook page or these Observer Comments are familiar with the pictures we post. While I can’t speak for everyone who shoots up here, I know personally, anything I photograph and post is unplanned and mostly luck. I just go out, shoot, shoot, shoot…and then come back in and hope I luck out and get something interesting to post from the right place at the right time. But let me illustrate what I mean with my two examples I mentioned earlier.

Example 1: Last night, I was walking on the deck and felt my foot slip a bit. The two thoughts that flashed into my mind were (a) I gained a lot of instantaneous swagger or (b) there was frost forming on the deck. I wanted to go with the first thought, but knowing that we are heading into fall, the second seemed more likely. What was odd and puzzling at first was the ambient air temperature of 40F when frost needs to be closer to freezing to form. So, how could this be? It all came down to right place at the right time. The skies were clear, and where the frost was forming was in the shadow of the physical summit and the Tip Top House, making it a wind wind free location – literally – I took a handheld anemometer out there to confirm this. This wind free location allowed the tiles of the deck to radiate out their heat and as the cold night air sank in this windless location, the temperature right at ground level reached freezing allowing the water vapor in the air to crystallize into frost. While the ground at this location was at freezing, when you took the ambient air temperature above it at a height of 4-6 feet off the ground, it was inverted and still reading 40F. As a result of the warmer air aloft, areas that were experiencing a draft were mixing well enough to allow for wet or dry tiles across the remainder of the deck. It was an interesting sight but a common occurrence this time of year on summits and valleys (think of when your car windows are frosted over but nothing else is). So, for this small patch of frost, it formed at the right place at the right time, with me being at the right place at the right time to witness and photograph it.

Example 2: Growing up in California, we had an occurrence twice a year in which the setting sun would hit Horsetail Falls in Yosemite just right that it would glow a brilliant orange or yellow, giving it the appearance of the Firefalls that used to be man-made in the park. A brilliant sight to behold that is all about being at the right place at the right time to witness it. A similar artificial event involving the setting sun at the right place at the right time on the east coast is “Manhattanhenge”. This is a biannual event in which the sun sets at just the right location that it aligns with the east-west orientation of the streets, shining straight down them. On the summit, we have a similar biannual event but it involves a rising sun and being at the right place at the right time to witness its occurrence; and that day was today. In what I have dubbed “Obshenge”, the rising sun, twice a year, aligns with our Weather Observatories semi-east-west oriented hallway (it curves slightly), allowing for the rays of light to shine straight down it. While neat to see, what I like about it even more is it allows for a scaled sunrise on our topography map.

So, these were two events last night/this morning that were all about being at the right place at the right time. Was it all about luck or was I subconsciously seeking out these events. I’m going to continue to say it was all about luck but you can think what you want. Either way, I was happy to be up here to witness and photograph these two events which in turn allows me to share them with you in this Observer Comments blog in the form of words and pictures.


Ryan Knapp,  Weather Observer/Meteorologist

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