So Cold, Even the Rime was Shivering

2017-12-29 20:33:13.000 – Caleb Meute, Weather Observer / Meteorologist


If you have not heard, the past few days have not been warm here atop the Rockpile. In fact, it has been quite cold. How cold? Record-breaking cold. What record? We broke the daily record low on December 28th which was -31°F by an impressive 3°F as the temperature dropped to -34°F. I was awake through the night as the mercury plunged into the 30s below much like a rock plunges through water (It happened fast). Let me tell you how it feels when the temperatures fall into the 30s below and the winds ramp up to being sustained around 90 mph… Not great! With that being said, it was a pretty incredible experience and one that I will remember for the rest of my life. We have been throwing around some impressive wind chill numbers with the lowest we found throughout the night at -89°F. Wind chill numbers pack a punch. They have flare. They get the people going! In reality, wind chill should not be a factor when it starts to drop this low because it is extremely dangerous. Wind chill is only a factor on exposed skin, and if you have skin exposed to a wind chill of -89°F you are going to get frostbite. In a matter of seconds, you would begin to feel the effects on your skin and then one to two minutes later, you would likely have permanent damage. Because of this, we do not mess around up here and we cover our skin. We are lucky enough to be sponsored by Eastern Mountain Sports, and they do a great job at providing us with everything that we need to bundle up and be unaffected by these dangerously low temperatures.


For this particular night, the main issue for me was the dryness of the air. I could not believe how dry it was when I went outside for an observation during the coldest part of the night. The second I got outside, I began to cough and struggle with each breath to inhale this moisture-deprived air. It was remarkable how much of a factor this played in being comfortable outside. My skin was covered and I was plenty bundled up to feel nice and warm, but it was impossible to be out there for too long due to the struggles brought on by the severely dry air. Conditions such as these that I experienced through the night really help me to appreciate how dangerous this mountain can be. For us, we have a sturdy shelter to hunker down in that allows us to safely go outside and experience these conditions in short bursts. The New Hampshire Fish and Game Commission conduct an average of 180 search and rescues per year for hikers in the Presidential Mountains. These are for a variety of different reasons, and many of them are not in the harshest of winter conditions. 157 people have died throughout this Mountain Range, and on nights such as these I truly understand how lethal this environment can be. During the wee hours of Thursday morning, the summit of Mount Washington was listed as being tied for the 9th coldest place on the planet. That in itself is impressive but you had better believe that with winds gusting over 100 mph, thick fog and blowing snow, this climate was the most unforgiving.


It is crucial that you check our forecasts before venturing up this mountain. We live up here in this environment and study the climate diligently. Since our establishment in 1932, we have been taking weather observations, forecasting, researching and surviving (it is a bit easier now) in one of the most treacherous environments on the planet. We know what you can expect when attempting to summit Mount Washington. We offer a forecast throughout the White Mountains Region that is specific to the higher summits. We do this because we are passionate for this environment and we respect it and are always trying to learn as much as we can. Our goal is for everyone to safely enjoy hiking and skiing, driving up the auto road or taking the Cog up top, which is why our forecasts are free to everyone who visits our website. We are a non-profit organization relying greatly on our support from members and anyone that utilizes our data and our forecasts. To continue operating up here on the summit, producing daily forecasts and taking daily weather observations we need your support! We are coming to the end of our annual appeal (TWO DAYS LEFT), short of our goal and in need of additional support. Please donate to this amazing organization so that we can carry on the legacy of the Mount Washington Observatory. Also, so that we can pay rent and keep the heat on when the temperatures drop into the 30s below zero…


Thank you!


Caleb Meute, Weather Observer / Meteorologist

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