World’s Worst Weather, Why?

2018-07-28 16:18:03.000 – Sarah Thunberg, Summit Intern


Mount Washington holds the title of “Home of the world’s worst weather” and holds the record for highest wind speed observed by man. At 6,288 ft. high, Mount Washington is not the tallest mountain in the world, it doesn’t even compare to many of the Rockies. So why does it have the worst weather in the world? Worst is a subjective term, it could mean high winds, heavy rain, lightning, or flying chunks of ice and debris. With regards to winds, Mount Washington has a clear leg above most other places on the surface of the Earth. The main reason behind the high winds is the shape of the surrounding mountains. Below is a map of elevation in the White Mountains from the US Geological Survey, Mount Washington is located at the black dot. When winds are coming from the west, the mountains create a funnel approximately 75 miles wide that converges on the Mount Washington.
Topographic map of Northern New Hampshire from the US Geological SurveyTopographic map of Northern New Hampshire from the US Geological Survey
This funnel speeds up the winds the same way putting your thumb over the end of a hose speeds up the water flowing out. The elevation of the mountain compared to its surroundings also plays a role. The Adirondack Mountains in New York reach up to 5,000 ft. meaning there is 1,000 ft. of air that hasn’t been slowed down by any surface friction for miles hitting the summit at full speed. The nearest place that has an elevation of 6,000 ft. is the Black Hills in South Dakota, over 2,000 miles away. Mount Washington is the only place around for miles as high as it is, so there is no friction to slow down the winds, and it has a funnel to speed them up even more.

Storm tracks map from mount washington observatory

Storms also tend to pass over New England more than other areas in the US. The map above took 30 years’ worth of storms and tracked the path they took over the US. Most of these storms tracked over New England at some point. In the winter Mount Washington sees a new storm system every 3 days or so giving it lots of opportunities to see all ranges of extreme weather.

Glaze ice on cairn and summit sign

With respect to other categories of worst weather, Mount Washington still holds its own. Lightning? Yep, in most thunderstorms that come near the summit, the weather tower itself gets hit. Heavy rain? If you consider rain coming from every direction, up, down, sideways, while in the middle of the rain cloud heavy, then yes. Let’s not forget the flying chunks of ice. In most winter storms, the winds can easily get over 100 mph. If there’s any ice up on the summit, it’s not unreasonable to have large chunks of ice be blown off the buildings in those winds. Below is a picture of the ice buildup from one storm, now think if that building up storm after storm. Yeah, I would be scared to go outside as well, that’s why we have bulletproof windows.
So “Home of the world’s worst weather”? Yeah, I think so.


Sarah Thunberg, Summit Intern

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