Ups and Downs

2009-11-08 23:20:12.000 – Ryan Knapp,  Staff Meteorologist

Tonights sunset ends the day but starts my shift

There are many things I like about being a night observer this time of year but some aspects I don’t. Let me start with the positives though. I like how it is a roller coaster of weather (like Brian called it yesterday). One night it might be single digits while the next night it is in the 20s or 30s. And while that doesn’t sound very warm, it requires less layers and I can usually go out without a facemask on. The winds will be dead calm one night then category I the next night, which is normal for winter months to do. I like blowing snow limiting my visibility as it piles into dunes taller than me as I get the precipitation can. I like how clear the nights are providing the 120 miles vistas that are more common in winter than summer. I like the way the stars glimmer and the city lights glow on the horizon. I like watching the cars below as they head to or from their destinations and wonder what they might be doing and if they are looking up here and wondering what I am doing. I like how rime coats everything in a wintry white with spears and spirals like fingers or feathers reaching out towards the winds that formed them. I like watching my breath turn to fog. I like the noise snow makes under my feet. I like looking at the steps of where people once walked and wonder who made them then the next day, like a giant shaken etch-a-sketch, the prints are gone and filled with blown in snow creating a clean slate. I like the crisp sunsets and moonrises. And this list, I am sure, could go on but it’s not all roses being the night observer this time of year.

When it is single digits, it can take two minutes to get dressed to go outside, sometimes more time than the actual observation itself takes to do. While I like the severe weather, there is inherent danger attached to having high winds, blowing snow, rime, etc. Once everyone is asleep, I have to depend on our two-way radio waking someone and getting help if it arises. If I get injured, help is even further away since the road requires either the Bombardier snow tractor or a truck with chains making rescues take on the Golden Day rule rather than the Golden Hour rule. The disappearing footsteps in heavy fog and blowing snow can make something like getting the precipitation can, a task that usually takes 5 minutes, into an adventure than can take 15 to 30 minutes. My shift starts in the dark and ends in the dark. That means I have to stay up for sunrise and get up for sunsets. I don’t usually see hikers and the ones I do see don’t usually stick around due to the cold. Rescues in the winter tend to be fewer (which is good) but when they do occur, they tend to be more serious and more dangerous for us pending on the weather conditions. And while some of these are pretty scary things, luckily there occurrences up here are far and few between. And while every job has its good days (nights) and its bad, I would say that out of the 365 days in a year, out of the ones I work, maybe only a total of five or less make me think “Why am I working nights again?” But then the next night rolls along and replaces that feeling with “This, right here, is why I work here and why I work nights.”


Ryan Knapp,  Staff Meteorologist

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