MOUNT WASHINGTON, NH – Throughout the year, someone monitors the weather from the nearly 6,300-foot summit of the Mount Washington Observatory, known for “the worst weather in the world.”
The nonprofit observatory in New Hampshire is a research station dedicated to weather and climate data. Located on the highest summit in the northeastern US, extreme weather conditions offer a wealth of weather data and challenges for the brave people who live and work there.
“It’s snowing, it’s freezing. It’s windy like it usually is in the fall here on the highest summit in the Northeast,” said Alexandra Branton, a weather observer at the Mount Washington Observatory, who spoke to FOX Weather as conditions in winter started this year in October.
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Weather observers manage the weather station 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, working all week shifts. During the winter, observers use a Snowcat to travel the Mount Washington Auto Road to reach the summit.
On October 8, the summit received its first measurable snowfall of the season with 0.3 inches of snow. The wintry weather continued into mid-October, with 4.5 inches of snowfall on Wednesday and a new thick layer of rime ice.
Rime ice covers everything on the summit and is one of the winter weather hazards that observers have to face during their migrations. Rime ice forms when liquid water droplets from fog form at sub-freezing temperatures.
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“Mount Washington is in fog 60% of the year, meaning most of the time we’re in a cloud,” Branton said. “Anytime liquid water droplets come into contact with anything, whether it’s the building, instruments, or even yourself walking out there, it freezes on contact.”
Weather observers go out every hour in extreme temperatures and strong winds because the weather station is not automated like others around the world due to ice and strong winds.
“We all go regardless of the weather,” Branton said. “When the wind is blowing 100 miles an hour, when it’s snowing heavily. The only time we don’t go out is when it’s lightning.”
Because rime ice covers everything, the instruments used by the MWO require help from weather observers and less energy.
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“We climbed up to the top of the tower, which was about 100 feet above the rest of the deck below it. instrument we used that day,” said Branton.
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The MWO measures snow almost every month of the year, but last June was exceptional. The 8.4 inches of snow in June set a new record for the month, and that data goes back to 1932.
The total was “about seven inches above the average seen throughout the summer and June,” Branton said.
Observations from the MWO are used by the National Weather Service for forecast models.