Thankful For A Warm and Sturdy Observatory

2015-02-22 16:04:58.000 – Caleb Meute, Weather Observer/Education Specialist


Tonight, the temperatures will be falling to around 21 degrees below zero by the time that the sun rises in the morning. As a day observer, we generally split the day observations in half so that we can get our other jobs done throughout the day. I will be on afternoon observations tomorrow, and I will be bundling up more so than I ever have before. The low temperatures are looking to approach the mid-30s below zero in the afternoon with winds that will be sustained in the 70-90 mph range. Tomorrows wind chills on exposed skin will be in the range of 80-90 degrees below zero! The record low temperature for February 23rd is 36 degrees below zero so there is a chance that we reach or exceed that number.

Conditions like the ones we will see tomorrow and what we have been experiencing for much of this winter can be extremely dangerous. I will provide some climatology on the summit of Mount Washington to convey the extreme elements that this wind swept peak is exposed to on such a frequent basis. Average daily wind speeds here on the summit are 35 mph. Hurricane force winds which are at least 75 mph occur on average 110 days each year. On average during the winter months, these hurricane force winds occur more often than every other day. Winds over 100 mph have been recorded in each month of the year, and on average they occur 30 days each year. Temperatures here on the summit are also obviously quite extreme. The record high temperature recorded on the summit is 72 degrees and the record low is 47 degrees below zero. On average, freezing temperatures are recorded 243 days out of the year with temperatures at or below zero occurring 66 days out of the year. On top of the cold and wind, the summit averages 97 inches of liquid each year. In terms of snow, the summit normally receives 248 inches annually. We also get a LOT of rime ice… This mountain is EXTREME!

This picture was taken by summit intern, Adam Freierman, on Friday when the blowing snow was illuminated in front of the setting sun.
Because of the severity of this winter, I was curious about reading through some of the articles we have laying around up here and one in particular written by Greg Gordon titled: “The Home of Boreas: Mount Washington’s Meteorological Phenomena”, included these statistics along with the following anecdotes. “The wind kept increasing until toward morning, when… it must have blown at the highest point, 110 to 120 miles per hour. We expected any moment to have the building come down around our heads, and we were prepared to make an effort for our lives, having put hardtack in our pockets, and armed with axe and saw in case we found it necessary, to “cut” our way out, getting also some of our thickest blankets ready for use, and preparing with considerable excitement for any emergency” (Signal Corps Observer, 1870).

Although anything is possible up here, it is quite nice to be able to live in a sturdy building which is undoubtedly a lot safer than the buildings that observers occupied many years ago. To put this in even more perspective, the following recollection comes from a time where people inhabited the Yankee Building. It is quite lengthy so I will just take the highlights from it: “The extreme cold and high winds made it increasingly difficult to maintain a comfortable environment within our living quarters and even with the furnace turning its best and the burners, oven, and portable electric heaters going the temperature at eye level remained between 40 and 50 degrees. On the floor it was nearer 17 degrees. Frost accumulated on the inside of all the windows”. Now this comes from the same recollection but is speaking on high winds: “Everything that wasn’t nailed down managed to move about and the roar outside was deafening. The interior of the building had become a natural vacuum and opening the front door never failed to trigger a rather elaborate sequence of events. A loud hissing noise would precede the opening of the cellar door, which would then bang violently into the clothes rack; all the clothes on the rack would extend themselves horizontally in the direction of the hallway; the trap door in the kitchen ceiling would rise a full foot above its opening and then come clattering back into place when the terrific suction would at last slam the front door shut, ones ears would pop”.

It truly is hard to fathom the conditions that early observers and inhabitants of this mountain endured here on the summit. While the elements can still be quite intense, it is truly nice to be able to come back into the heated observatory and go down into our living quarters where after a long day of battling the weather, we can enjoy a delicious meal and relax on our comfortable couches watching our favorite shows. We are so thankful to all of our generous members for making that possible!


Caleb Meute, Weather Observer/Education Specialist

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