Why We Are Relevant

2006-11-06 08:18:38.000 – Jon Cotton,  Observer

Sunrise in Serenity

Saturday night’s EMS climbing trip was a blast. I think everyone enjoyed themselves and learned a few things about us as an observatory and a mountain. Right from the start were inquisitive questions about weather specifics, climate change and our jobs. The big question was “why are you relevant”?

I won’t give a comprehensive answer. A complete answer to such a broad question would require input from our education, outreach, scientific and research facets as well as of course us rockstar Observers. Such an answer would be a fascinating dissertation. Edge of the seat kind of writing. The short version would be a mission statement. This is the medium length version. All of those page turning aspects are included in the job of observer. From live Q&A video conferencing tours to instrument testing to writing these comments and occasionally cooking bacon for visitors, this job is really varied.

All lot of people ask why do we need staff on the summit, why can’t the instruments be automated. Come up here in the winter and see the rate of ice accumulation. Ice needs removing or things would break. Besides, thermometers need to be exposed to air to measure air temp. A visibility meter clogged with ice doesn’t see very far. (The device we have can only measure 22% of the total distance we can see anyway). Another variable we report every hour is sky condition – cloud cover and type. The typical ceilometer only views a certain percentage of the sky and detects cloud heights to a limited altitude. Our vista is horizon-to-horizon, 360 degrees and below into the valleys. There’s more to say about automated instrument limitations.

The Observatory produces twice daily the only 36 hour forecast for the White Mountains. Given the number of visitors in all seasons subjected to the weather, this is an important tool in preparation. In the day to day, we report current conditions that could not be determined or inferred from the limited aspects of Whitefield, Berlin, or more distant airports to the south. We just had a wind gust of 158mph last week. Who else in New England got that much wind?

Mt Washington is a popular, highly accessible peak. It is the highest in the northeast. It is a proud icon of the Granite State. Given its notoriety, our location here gives us a strong opportunity to inform visitors (physical and online) of weather dynamics, the alpine zone, air quality, etc. Our outreach educator can bring concise hands-on learning to schools with tight academic syllabi. Our scientists have 70 years of data to contribute to the increasingly important study of climate trends. We test instruments. We test L.L. Bean gear. We are fairly unique as a mountain top weather observatory, especially since we are a private non-profit. What we do is interesting. What drew our overnight visitors to hike through winter to spend a night here? (They did get a beautiful sunrise…) As a visitor to this site you could give me some reasons.

I believe we are relevant because we provide answers to the inquisitive minds that want to learn more about mountains, weather and climate. We do this from a solid history and understanding of both the science of meteorology and the human aspect of living in the appealing extremes. Besides, we are good company.


Jon Cotton,  Observer

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