Seasonal Changes On The Summit

2015-11-10 17:35:13.000 – Andrew Henry, Summit Intern


As the seasons change on the summit, so do the number of visitors and staff. During the summer months, thousands of people visit the summit of Mount Washington via the Mount Washington Auto Road, the Mount Washington Cog Railway, and various hiking trails that lead to the summit. Many of these visitors stop in the Extreme Mount Washington Museum to learn about Mount Washington Observatory’s history. Members of the observatory frequently sign up for tours of the observatory weather station during the summer months. To accommodate for this increase in visitors, Mount Washington Observatory employs extra staff members during the summer months. The typical Observatory staff during the summer consists of three weather observers, two interns, a museum attendant, and two volunteers.
Partial rainbow and crepuscular rays at the end of summerPartial rainbow and crepuscular rays at the end of summer
As the weather becomes colder and snow/ice become more frequent during the fall, visitors to the summit become less numerous. As a result, only one intern is on the Observatory staff for the fall season. Typically in mid-October the Mount Washington Auto Road closes for the winter and the Cog Railway begins to run less frequently until it eventually closes for the season. With the two main modes of transportation to and from the summit closed, the number of visitors to the summit dwindles to almost none with only an occasional hiker here and there. The Extreme Mount Washington Museum closes for the season when Mount Washington State Park closes for the season, typically shortly after the closure of the Mount Washington Auto Road. Once the museum closes, the Observatory staff is down to the three observers, one intern, and two volunteers. The month of November is a relatively slow time of year for the Observatory with no planned day trips or overnight educational trips until the New Year approaches. As a result, the Observatory staff drops down to only the three weather observers and an intern for the month. This gives the Observatory staff a chance to bond with each other and develop a strong appreciation for all the hard work volunteers devote to the Observatory.
Lenticular cloud with fall foliage belowLenticular cloud with fall foliage below

Volunteers join the observatory staff again in December as the Observatory prepares for the winter trip season, which will bring a return of occasional small groups of visitors to the summit. The winter Observatory staff will consist of three observers, one intern, and two volunteers until mid-May when the Mt Washington Auto Road and Cog Railway reopen for the summer season, giving visitors easier access to the summit. As visitors to the summit increase, the Extreme Mount Washington exhibit will reopen for the season and the Observatory will return to its summer staff consisting once again of three weather observers, two interns, a museum attendant, and two volunteers.

Mount Washington with a fresh blanket of snow and rime iceMount Washington with a fresh blanket of snow and rime ice

Not only do the changing seasons bring changes in weather and the amount of staff at the Observatory, but I find my daily tasks have changed slightly as well. At the onset of my internship with the observatory in late August, I found myself working in the Extreme Mount Washington Museum and giving tours of the Observatory in addition to composing an afternoon forecast for the higher summits of the White Mountains and helping with observations when I could. Now that the museum is closed and there are no visitors to to provide tours to, I find I have much more time to focus on the meteorological aspects of my internship, such as becoming a better forecaster, and learning how to observe the weather. Additional tasks that the cold weather brings include deicing the instrumentation and shoveling snow away from our fire exits, both of which are tasks I thoroughly enjoy. I have always been an extreme weather enthusiast and nothing I have experienced gives quite the adrenaline rush of deicing the instrument tower in high winds, sub-freezing temperatures and visibilities near zero.

Sun setting into a sea of undercast with rime ice in the foregroundSun setting into a sea of undercast with rime ice in the foreground


Andrew Henry, Summit Intern

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