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Don Paul: Looking for a deep freeze? Check out Mount Washington

The week of Jan. 8th will be much less harsh than the previous 10 days, and the absolute worst of our cold wave will be over for the foreseeable future. It was pretty rough and occasionally dangerous while it lasted. That’s not to say you can’t find some crusty types who claim we and our schoolkids have been wussified.

There is one spot in the Northeast in which no wussification has occurred.

The Mount Washington Observatory/MWO in North Conway, N.H., lies atop the most prominent peak east of the Mississippi and is 6,288 feet above sea level. It has no school to close, or that school would be closed much of the time.

The observatory is a research center for Alpine weather. Its shape, orientation and location near the confluence of frequent higher-velocity winds make it subject to some of the strongest gusts in the world. On April 12, 1934, a measured gust was recorded at 231 mph, the strongest North American gust ever and the second-strongest measured gust in the world. (A gust of 254 mph was measured at Barrow Island off the western Australian coast during the passage of a tropical cyclone.)

The observatory is fully staffed with meteorologists, technicians and an intern around the clock. It has been in operation since 1932, although observations at the summit were first taken by the U.S. Army Signal Service in 1870. This mountain summit is no place for flimsy construction. I was impressed with the construction when I visited the NOAA/University of Oklahoma’s beautiful National Weather Center in Norman a few years ago. Its walls are lined with Kevlar and its windows can withstand gusts of 250 mph. But engineers say the Mount Washington Observatory's  main building can withstand winds of 300 mph. That’s over-engineering!

I visited the observatory on a rare tranquil day in summer many years ago. Spectacular vistas could be seen in all directions, with 50 miles visibility. But this view, captured mid-afternoon on Friday from a webcam pointed north is more typical in the winter…not much to see, except blowing snow and accumulated ice: 


Here is the same view, taken with clear weather:

A webcam view looking north in summer at the Mount Washington Observatory. (Photo from Mount Washington Observatory)


The inside of the observatory is warm, cozy, and dry although noisy from the howling, buffeting winds. A technician or meteorologist has to go outside once every hour to take measured observations, except when lightning is nearby.

Here is a link to current forecast and conditions at the Mount Washington Observatory: MWO current forecast and conditions. 

That link is a great site to bookmark for weather geeks who like to live vicariously through horrific weather elsewhere. Saturday, wind chill values were 80 below zero.

Here is the basic year-round climatology of the Mount Washington Observatory: Archive of Mount Washington weather data

The observatory now operates 19 high-quality weather instrument suites on the mountain.

In addition to alpine meteorological research conducted by the on-site scientists, the gathered data is also sent into the National Weather Service supercomputer models in Maryland to improve the detail and resolution of those models. Most of the observatory's operating budget comes from the private sector, including foundations, businesses, and individuals. MWO is a not-for-profit, private educational institution which makes its own return contributions to the public welfare. For individuals who may be interested in making some  a donation, here is the link: Donating to Mount Washington Observatory.

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