Understanding Weather as a Source of Empowerment and Awe
Francis Tarasiewicz on the summit observation deck.
“For thunderstorms, we either make them or break them.”
“Our winds are typically strongest when they’re coming from the west.”
“You really don’t start to get knocked over until winds get above 80 mph.”
These are a few nuggets of wisdom that I have collected during my first shift on Mount Washington.
Okay, let’s take a breath and rewind. Just how did this meteorologist who – between you and me – is scared of heights end up 6,288 feet above sea level?
To start the story, we have to go back to when I was 4. I caught the weather bug on the earlier side of when meteorologists typically catch it. Growing up in Connecticut, I lived in a world of snowstorms, thunderstorms, and everything else in between. The ability for these events to bring people together, whether it was recovering from their aftermath or simply being awestruck by a beautiful rainbow, inspired me to learn more about the inner workings of these extreme weather events.
Throughout college, I focused on the impacts of severe weather to the most vulnerable parts of our society, specifically our fragile electricity grid. I also developed a passion for communicating the science of climate change, a topic that has caused much fear and polarization over the last few decades.
I suppose the role that I’ve wanted to fill is finding a way to turn the scariest parts of weather into sources of empowerment and awe.
I am no stranger to Mount Washington. In graduate school, I was a part of a team testing low-cost snowpack sensors at Pinkham notch. These sensors measured snow depth, and the amount of liquid water kept within it, to inform flood forecasts in the valleys below. I remember looking up at the towering summit once again, feeling that sense of awe I had when I was just 4 years old.
From graduate school, I went into emergency management to help New Hampshire prepare for a wide variety of weather-related hazards. While this job was fulfilling, I found myself daydreaming about working in the field, about leaving the desk behind and actually living in the extreme weather I had studied. So, when my phone sent me an alert for “A new meteorology job” and I saw that it was for an observer/education specialist on top of Mount Washington, I jumped at the opportunity.
Fast forward about a month, and here I am atop the rock pile, home at last! I have learned and experienced a lot in just the span of a short time. Here are just a few of the highlights from the Home of the World’s Worst Weather: So far, I have been blown around in hurricane-force wind gusts, had the daylights scared out of me by summit lightning strikes, and witnessed the Aurora Borealis. I think the most unique experience I have had so far was witnessing a storm develop on the summit and rain itself out all within the span of 11 minutes, dropping nearly an inch of rain. Side note: this amount is approximate as I made the most common rookie move when measuring precipitation; I spilled some of the rainfall!
Lightning struck the summit on Aug. 5 at 12:38 p.m.
Okay, so I have talked a lot about the weather, but what about all of the other parts of living up here? How is the food? How do we stay entertained? Most importantly, what is our furry summit friend Nimbus like?
Thanks to a wonderful team of volunteers, I have sampled foods from all over the world during my first week up here. One night I was in Morocco eating lentils and curried chicken. The food tour continued into Poland with Pierogis and a side of sauerkraut.
I think even better than the food is the sense of family as we gather around the dinner table. It is rare to do much these days without interacting with someone who is engrossed in his or her phone, but that was not the case at the MWOBS dinner table. Instead of screen-lit faces, dinner was full of tales about the day’s extreme weather or the many interesting characters that stop by the museum.
After dinner, activities have included anything from artsy paint nights to cutthroat Catan games. It is during these times that observers, volunteers, and even state park staff get to know each other the most.
While we are all passionate about the weather in different ways, we each bring unique stories and perspectives to the summit. One staff member who is not afraid to share his perspective is our resident furry friend, a small but vocal cat, Nimbus. Whether it is letting us know that he absolutely needs treats, or if he is bored, Nimbus does not hold back from letting out a wide range of meows, howls, chirps, or wails. Oh, and did I mention that he is the apex predator on top of the summit? Mice and voles beware!
So, there’s my first shift in a nutshell. It has been nothing short of an adventure and a homecoming. I look forward to learning more about this mountain and sharing my experiences, but mostly I look forward to the arrival of winter and the most extreme weather on Earth.
Nimbus and friend.
Francis Tarasiewicz, Weather Observer & Education Specialist