Sunrises, Sunsets, and Halos…Oh My!

2017-09-25 16:19:55.000 – Nicole Tallman, Summit Intern


When you hear about Mount Washington’s weather you typically hear about intense winds, foggy conditions, or rime ice. This week on the mountain has been boring on my standards and has been overwhelmingly clear and calm. Blue skies have filled each day coupled by calm winds and record warmth. While this is not the intense weather that I so anxiously anticipate seeing during my internship I have enjoyed certain aspects of it.

With the calm and clear conditions brought with it the chance for some amazing views. Typically when looking out the window I can only see 1/16th of a mile into a dense cloud but that was not the case so far this shift. Being in the fog so often limits your exposure to what could be some breathtaking views of sunrise, sunset, stars or any other interesting phenomena that may be occurring. This week opened up the opportunity for these views and I was not disappointed with my results. 

Thursday morning, on the first full day of shift, I was woken up to the knocking on my door from one of our observers alerting me to the amazing sunrise that was going on. I could not pass up the opportunity to take in the views, so I rolled out of bed, slipped on my shoes and headed out to the observatory deck. I was amazed by the vibrancy of the colors, bright pinks and oranges lit up the sky. It felt as if I stood tall over the world with the undercast beneath us and the bright sun making it’s way up. This sight would have been enough to make my shift special but it only set the precedent for what was to come.
Thursday afternoon, as the sun angle was lowering, I was told to go outside yet again to see a ice halo that had formed around the sun. Ice halos are a type of atmospheric optical phenomena seen when a thin layer of cirrus clouds cover the sky. The ice particles within this cirrus layer will float around within the cloud and when they catch the sun’s rays just right they will reflect and refract the rays into a perfect circle! This circle is 22 degrees refracted around the sun which is where the name 22 degree halo comes from. I was able to see both the 22 degree halo and a second atmospheric optic that was coupled with it, called sun dogs. Sun dogs are two bright areas along side of the halo that are also caused by the refraction of light through ice crystals within the cloud. Sun dogs become brighter as the sun angle is lower and because I observed this at 4pm when the sun angle was low I was easily able to capture them in a picture! I loved learning about these phenomena in class and enjoy seeing them in real life even more!
It is crazy to believe that that was not the last amazing thing to observe that day. Thursday rounded out with a sunset to compare to the sunrise earlier that day. The colors were just as vibrant and the views were just as beautiful. The undercast that had blanketed the surrounding mountain peaks during sunrise had dissipated by sunset so I was able to see the sun go down between the neighboring peaks. It is safe to say that this past Thursday was a day for the books.
As my week continued I was able to capture even more beautiful sights. Pictures of light fog moving through gave the summits an eerie feel, contrasting the vibrant sunrise/sunset pictures from the day before. During yet another sunrise I was able to see the shadow of Mount Washington appear in the horizon, something I would have overlooked if not for the keen eye of an observer. And to finish out the beauty seen so far, this morning as the sun came up and painted the sky with pastel colors I was able to capture the beginning stages of lenticular clouds forming over Mount Adams and Madison. This was by far the most photogenic week that I have experienced during my internship. 

I think it’s safe to say Marty and I have been blown away by how beautiful the scenery can be when you’re living 6’288 ft above.


Nicole Tallman, Summit Intern

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