The Darkness Cometh

2012-10-14 20:56:12.000 – Ryan Knapp,  Weather Observer/Meteorologist

A typical week on the summit has a crew that consists of three weather Observers, an intern and one to two volunteers (FYI – in the summer, we gain one additional intern and a museum attendant). Among this small group of people, we divide ourselves into two shifts so we can maintain our hourly weather observations around the clock as we have for the past 80+ years. The two shifts consist of a day shift (two Observers and an intern) that starts at 0630 EDT (0530 EST) and lasts until 1830 EDT (1730 EST) with a night shift (one Observer) that starts at 1830 EDT (1730 EST) and lasting until 0630 EDT (0530 EST) the following morning. These start and end times for both shifts are maintained throughout the year.

While our shifts start and end at the same time year round, the rising and setting of the sun is not working on a similar schedule. In the summer, the sun rises earlier and sets later and in the winter it rises later and sets earlier. As a result, this means that, depending on the time of year, the sun will rise and set during either the day shift or the night shift. Now, it should go without saying that, regardless of when it rises or sets, the day shift will always be working in some amount of daylight and the night shift in some amount of moonlight (when available). In the peak of summer, there is a maximum of 944 minutes (or 15 hours and 44 minutes) of available sunshine which allows for a bit of sunshine at the start of the night shift and a bit of sunshine at the end of the night shift. However, in the dead of winter, we bottom out with only 543 minutes (or 9 hours and 3 minutes) of available sunshine minutes meaning the night shift resides entirely in darkness.

While we still have some time until we hit the minimum of available sunshine minutes (that comes in December and early January) we have hit that time of year where the sun no longer rises or sets during the night observers shift. That means I start my work in darkness and end my work in darkness. Luckily with this time of year, the rise and set times are still near my start and end times, so if they are looking epic, I can still see them. But there does hit a point where I can no longer waste valuable sleeping time to catch them; but that point is still about a month away. But this time of year, we start losing daylight minutes quickly plunging me more and more into darkness and racing us towards that point where I no longer feel like staying up to see the sun rise or wake up early to see it set. Let me illustrate what I mean a bit more with some numbers.

At the start of the month, there was 11 hours and 57 minutes of daylight available but by Halloween, there will only be 10 hours and 27 minutes of available light, a loss of an hour and a half of daylight. Contrast that with December where the sun starts to hit its lowest point on the horizon, the first will have 9 hours and 19 minutes of light and the end has 9 hours and 6 minutes of light, so only a change of 13 minutes. Quite a difference I would say. And while this illustrates my plunge into more darkness, it is also serves as an important reminder for visitors to the summit that you need to start earlier this time of year, start checking the operating schedules on any given day for the Sherman Adams Building, the Mount Washington Auto Road, and The Cog, and start packing flashlights/headlamps just in case you are out later than expected.


Ryan Knapp,  Weather Observer/Meteorologist

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