Some Common Questions and Misconceptions About Mount Washington

2019-02-22 09:14:51.000 – Thomas Padham, Weather Observer/Education Specialist


How do you measure snowfall in high winds?

Accurately measuring snowfall can be challenging or even impossible in very high winds. During the early days of the observatory we discovered that using a Nipher Screen can help to more accurately capture snowfall during moderate (30-60 mph) winds. This Nipher screen is basically a large funnel over the top portion of the precipitation stand which helps create a vacuum to capture snowflakes. Our winter precipitation cans are also taller than the summer season can (nearly 4’) which helps to create a larger vacuum.

I heard the anemometer blew away during the former world record wind. How does this count as a record?

The anemometer did not blow away! Following the 231 mph storm in April 1934 the anemometer was sent for testing to MIT and found to calibrated correctly and in perfect working order, therefore verifying a world record at the time. For any official record, the instrument must be verified to be in good working condition both before and after the event in question, and we regularly calibrate all of our instrumentation to the standards of the National Weather Service.

Is Mount Washington the coldest place in the lower 48?

On any given day, Mount Washington may be the coldest inhabited place in the lower 48, but there are several high elevations towns in the western U.S or northern plains that frequently see more extreme cold than Mount Washington. Mount Washington’s average annual temperature of 28°F is more similar to the sub-arctic, but during the winter season we do not see extreme arctic (or Antarctic) cold. Our record low of -47°F pales in comparison to Alaska (-80°F) or the incredible -129°F record of Antarctica! Factoring in our winds we do so some pretty incredible wind chill values, sometimes exceeding -100°F.

Was the 231 mph storm just a fluke?

Short answer: no! Although we’ve “only” recorded a 182 mph gust besides our former-record wind, a similar storm to April 12th, 1934 could happen again. The summit is one of the windiest spots on average on earth, and during the winter season we record 100 mph winds every 4-5 days. The 231 mph storm was exceptional, but even more extreme events may have occurred in the past, and may still occur in the future. The key is we need to have people and instruments up here to measure these incredible events!

Is the Observatory a part of the National Weather Service?

The Observatory is a nonprofit organization that has operated a weather station on top of Mount Washington since 1932. Our focus is on weather observation, education, and research. We do submit our data to the National Weather Service each hour, and receive a small stipend for this service, but the majority of our support comes from thousands of people across the country interested in the work we do.

What sort of research does the observatory do?

The summit of Mount Washington is a great natural laboratory, and over the years we’ve tested the limits of all sorts of things. During the 1940s and 1950s airplane jet engines were tested on the summit to see how they handled the frequent icing conditions we see here. We’ve tested weather instrumentation, clothing, camping gear, even paint! This past summer the AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club) hatched eggs from a species of butterfly only found on and around Mount Washington here at the observatory.


Thomas Padham, Weather Observer/Education Specialist

Find Older Posts