Yearning for Winter? Mount Washington Awaits

By AlpineZone News |
Feb 10 2006 - 01:45 AM

MOUNT WASHINGTON, New Hampshire ??” It’s no secret that many New Englanders – especially outdoor enthusiasts – are yearning for winter. An unusually warm January, and locally low snow levels, have some folks wondering where winter has gone. To find it, you need look no farther than New Hampshire’s Mount Washington.

Weather observers at the Mount Washington Observatory, located atop the northeast’s highest peak, report that winter weather can still be found on that mountain’s summit. ‘We’ve seen temperatures down to 16 below zero Fahrenheit, and there’s a good chance we’ll see some colder readings before winter departs,” notes observer Neil Lareau. He comments, “Though January was much less cold than normal, still our monthly average temperature was only 16 degrees Fahrenheit.”

But cold temperatures are only part of the story. Mount Washington is known for its remarkable winds, and one day in January saw winds that averaged 105 miles per hour, and peaked at 142 miles per hour. ” Almost half the days of January saw winds of hurricane force or greater,” adds Lareau.

While some skiers, boarders, and other snow enthusiasts are longing for more of the white stuff, Lareau says that the Observatory has recorded almost 20 feet of snow this season. While a good amount of that arrived in October, and disappeared in late autumn, even without the excessive snows of October the season’s snowfall total would be above normal.

For individuals who want more of cold, wind, and snow, the Observatory offers overnight educational trips, called “EduTrips”, which allow participants to experience Mount Washington’s summit and to learn more about particular topics related to the mountain environment. According to Peter Crane, Director of Programs for the Observatory, “Admittedly, the EduTrips aren’t for everyone. You do need to be in good health and good condition, and to be clothed and equipped for severe weather. But if your idea of a good time includes a mountain adventure and an opportunity to learn – and if you need a shot of wintry weather – these trips are for you.”

Crane notes that the EduTrip program has several trips scheduled for mid-March to mid-April – which is still a wintry time on the mountain, according to the record books. “The mercury can fall below zero, heavy snowstorms can assail the summit, and high winds can hammer the peak. In fact, the highest wind ever recorded on earth, a remarkable 231 miles per hour, was measured on Mount Washington on April 12, 1934,” he says.

In addition to a March 11-12 EduTrip which explores the challenges of photography in such an extreme environment, there is a March 16-17 trip which takes a look at the history of mapping Mount Washington, including use of the new GPS technology. A look at the role of glaciers in shaping the landscape – from Mount Washington to Antarctica – is explored on March 18-19. Meteorological basics, plus the peculiarities of mountain weather, are investigated on trips on March 25-26, April 6-7, and April 8-9. An overview of the natural history of the alpine zone of Mount Washington, including its unusual vegetation and wildlife, is slated for March 30-31. The Glacial Geology of the White Mountains is considered on April 1-2. The EduTrip season wraps up on April 13-14 with a program on “Winter Mountain Safety”, which highlights skills important to any mountain traveler.

Although the Observatory provides snow tractor transportation to and from the summit for its EduTrippers, the participants in the overnight program still need to be in very good physical shape and properly clothed and equipped for the mountain’s extremes, a precaution that Mount Washington’s severe weather always demands. The trips also include an overnight at the Observatory, meals, a tour of the weather station, instruction, and related materials.

The Mount Washington Observatory is a private, non-profit member-supported organization. Its mission is to maintain a permanently-staffed weather station atop the northeast’s tallest peak and to observe and report on weather conditions year-round, conduct scientific research programs and advance public knowledge of the unique meteorology, natural sub-arctic environment and human history of the White Mountain region. For more information on the Observatory and its EduTrip program, call 1-(800)-706-0432 x 203, or visit www.mountwashington.org.

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