Summer vs. winter

2009-06-15 05:32:29.000 – Mike Carmon,  Observer and Meteorologist


Summer vs. winter.

It’s an ageless struggle that will continue as long as the sun shines and the earth spins and tilts. Which do you prefer? Do you like the beach, the warmth, the sun, and the sweat? Or would you rather the snow, the chill, the wind, and the ice? If you ask most of us who hang around up here, winter is probably their preference. This is fairly logical, considering winter lasts an intimidating 7-8 months (the first significant snow is usually in October, and the last is generally in May). It can be a long 8 months, especially for someone like me who would much rather be sweating than shivering. However it is interesting how certain contrasts are amplified up on the summit.

As a forecaster, the two seasons bring with them many unique challenges. The biggest headache in winter (mainly in the transition months) is precipitation type forecasting. That is, will it be rain, freezing rain, sleet or snow? Will it change over, when will it change over, if it changes over? Unfortunately the most subtle changes in the atmosphere can lead to a busted forecast. And don’t forget, this is all based on model predictions, which are by no means flawless. And then there is the forecasting of the winds in probably one of the most difficult places in the world to forecast this phenomenon. Winter brings the strongest winds for us, and again, subtle changes in the forecasted track of a storm can create a significant discrepancy between the actual and forecasted winds.

As the snow pack begins to dwindle, and the buildings begin to thaw, and the furious winds begin to ease, it is apparent that winter is loosening its grip and summer is on the way. Two other changes that mark this transition is the appearance of the air and cloud development. One will start to notice that the air becomes hazier due to the increasing amount of moisture it contains. In addition, clouds will begin to tower higher into the sky thanks to increased instability of the environment.

During these summer months, I’ve found so far that forecasting convection (thunderstorms) can be a bit of a struggle, especially in a mountainous region. In order for thunderstorms to fire, upward motion, or lift (among other ingredients), is required. It doesn’t take a meteorologist to realize that winds forced to pass over a mountain provide a good jump-start for this upward motion. As a result, models can sometimes grossly underestimate the potential for convection in an area such as this, which forces us to draw on past experience to make a valid forecast. If I mention ‘a chance of thunderstorms’ in a forecast, and wake up to the sounds of hail pelting the windows, I’m a happy guy. However, if I make the fateful decision to omit this phrase from a forecast, and awake to claps of thunder, I reluctantly trudge to the nearest computer to check out the models and see what went wrong.

As I mentioned before, summer is definitely the season I prefer. Since I can remember, watching a dark and ominous cloud mass roll in while feeling the winds pick up and hearing faint rumbles of thunder in the background always gave me a rush of adrenaline, but also, paradoxically, provided a sense of calm. It is a situation I have been lucky enough to experience a number of times since coming to the summit in August of last year. But at the same time, I’ve gained a new-found appreciation for winter weather. The numerous cold and callous blizzards left me astonished as to the power of snow and ice combined with wind.

So, on whatever side of the fence you reside, you can only sit back and watch with awe during the reign of the opposing side, knowing there is light at the end of the tunnel every time.


Mike Carmon,  Observer and Meteorologist

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