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A big week on the big mountain

By Tom Eastman
SARGENT'S PURCHASE — From a new record for January warmth Sunday, followed by a visit by ABC-TV's “Good Morning America” Tuesday, to an avalanche in Huntington Ravine involving a team of climbers in support of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation Thursday, it's been quite the week for news on 6,288-foot Mount Washington.
The week's January thaw gave The Rockpile a new monthly high temperature reading on Sunday, Jan. 13. The Mount Washington Weather Observatory recorded a new January high temperature of 48 degrees at 6 a.m.
It broke the old January mark of 47 degrees set on Jan. 19, 1995, and was the highest January reading in the 80-year history of the observatory.
Observer Mike Carmon was on duty when the mark was set. In his observer blog, Carmon described how the new mark came about.
“During the waning hours of my shift on Sunday morning (January 13th), all of our temperature devices were hovering right around 39F, as they had been throughout most of that night,” wrote Carmon. “The models were forecasting a serious jump in temperatures on that day, which looked likely to come when winds, which were blowing around 30 to 40 mph, began to relax. 

“Suddenly,” wrote Carmon, “around 4:30 a.m. or so, the summit inherited a much quieter tone, as winds abruptly dropped off. At that time, the mercury showed a dramatic spike. This phenomenon occurs because wind acts as a great 'stirrer' of the atmosphere. A steady breeze ensures that the air is sufficiently mixed, preventing any uneven heating and/or cooling, and thus, generally guarding against temperature spikes that appear to be anomalous or extraordinary (frontal passages are an exception to this rule, where a spike in winds is usually accompanied by a spike or stark drop in temperature).”

“During the 5 to 6 a.m. hour,” added Carmon, “all three observers kept our eyes glued to our temperature sensor display, as it soared from 40F inexplicably up to 47F, reaching its peak sometime around 5:45 a.m. It was at this time that I ran out to our official maximum thermometer, located on our observation deck, to see what it had recorded. Sure enough, it was displaying a reading that day observers Brian Fitzgerald and Steve Welsh later recorded as 47.6F.” 

Due to their perpetual desire for accurate data, the situation didn't end there.
“In an important matter such as a possible monthly record high, we want to ensure that this reading grabbed by our maximum thermometer was not a fluke. To do this,” wrote Carmon, “I later assembled all of the temperature data from each of our temperature-recording instruments, and compared, looking for inconsistencies.” 

Examining all of this data revealed that, before, during, and after the time of the temperature peak, all of their instruments were quite consistent with each other, right down to the recorded time of their respective maximum temperature readings.
“Knowing that,” wrote Carmon, “I made the decision that this 47.6F (rounded to 48F) reading was valid, and sent it to the record books as the all-time record for the month of January!”

“It is always exciting as a scientist to see long-standing records broken, particularly extraordinary records such as this. It should be kept in mind, though,” cautioned Carmon, “that this was a one-time event; a 'snapshot' in a long history of climate data. This event, by itself, cannot be used as evidence for or against any theories of climate currently circulating in the mainstream.”
Margaret Curtis, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine, said that the high mark for North Conway early Sunday was 38 degrees, 10 degrees cooler than the summit of Mount Washington at the same time.
“It was warmer for a time on top of Mount Washington than it was in Phoenix or San Diego,” sad Curtis Monday. “There's a trough on the West Coast, and a ridge in the East, so it's cold out west and warmer along the East Coast,” she said.
“The warmest section of the mountain was at about the 4,000-foot elevation, where it was 50 degrees,” said Welsh.
“The temperature inversion was caused by the high pressure system which sweeps the [warmer] air down. So, it was warmer here than down in the valleys,” said Curtis.
That changed on Monday, as temperatures neared 60 degrees in North Conway.
Observer Steve Welsh said the temperature on the summit dropped Sunday as the wind picked up. At the time of the high temperature reading, he said there was little wind.
He said such temperature extremes do cause disruption for the usual modes of attire in winter for observers.
“You get used to getting all bundled up when you go outside [for the hourly weather instrument readings], but on Sunday, it was almost T-shirt weather. For the end of the week, the model is calling for temperatures Friday of negative 22 degrees, so that would be quite the temperature swing,” said Welsh Monday.
Located within Mount Washington State Park, the Mount Washington Observatory is a private, non-profit, member-supported research and educational institution with a mission to advance understanding of Earth’s weather and climate. Since 1932, the observatory has been observing Mount Washington’s incredible extremes, conducting scientific research, educating the public about the science of weather and climate, and amassing one of North America’s longest and most unique climate records. For weather reports, webcams, summit trips, photos and more, visit MountWashington.org.

'Good Morning America' visits summit
On Tuesday, the Mount Washington Observatory was visited by a five-person group from ABC-TV's “Good Morning America,” accompanied a four-person local team of guides.
The footage is tentatively slated to air on “GMA” Feb. 8 or 9, according to Cara Rudio, marketing and communications manager for the observatory.
An experienced climber, Rudio climbed to the summit with “GMA” weekend edition co-anchor Bianna Golodryga, her husband, Peter R. Orszag, former director of the Office of Management and Budget for the Obama Administration and a vice chair of global banking at Citigroup, and “Good Morning America” weekend edition meteorologist Ginger “Zee” Zuigeest, a “GMA” cameraman and a “GMA” producer.
They were led by Omni Mount Washington Resort climbing guide Steve Nichipor, who was assisted by Bretton Woods director of operations Chris Ellms and Canopy Tour/West Climbing Wall guide Patrick McKerley. They had undergone training at Bretton Woods the day before, according to a Twitter posting by Golodryga.
Zuigeest posted a photo of herself, gathered with Golodryga, Orszag and Nichipor at the sign at the summit under the clear blue skies of the day.
“Victory is ours!” exclaimed Golodryga on Twitter.
The group left the Appalachian Mountain Club's Pinkham Notch Visitor at 7 a.m., according to Rudio, who notes that the observatory has been getting a lot of visits from media personalities over the past few years, including from The Weather Channel's Jim Cantore in 2010 and National Geographic for a story that was published in February 2009. “We went up the Tuckerman Trail, up the Lion's Head winter trail, and then on across the Alpine Garden to the summit cone, reaching the summit at 1:30 p.m.
“Ginger and Bianna were awesome,” said Rudio. “They climbed right up. We had completely free visibility, with some light clouds and warm temperatures of 10 or 15 degrees all day and no wind.”
A frequent summertime visitor to Mount Washington, Orszag is a member of the observatory's President's Club, according to Rudio.
“Peter has a place here in the White Mountains, and he and Bianna have vacationed at the Mount Washington hotel. They had visited the summit via the Mount Washington Cog Railway in summer, and thought it would be fun to visit in winter. Bianna asked to bring Ginger along to do a story. With Peter being a President's Club member, we said of course that we would like to host their visit,” said Rudio.
At the summit, they were met by Cyrena-Marie Briede, director of summit operations, and given a tour of the observatory's summit weather station in the Sherman Adams Building.
Also there at the summit was a crew from ABC-TV's WMUR-TV9, as they had gotten word about the “Good Morning America” crew's visit.
Channel 9 aired that footage on its 11 o'clock broadcast Tuesday night.
After lunch, the GMA and Channel 9 crews, accompanied by their guides, climbed aboard a Snowcat vehicle driven by local resident Slim Bryant and headed down the Mount Washington Auto Road to the base.
“They all marveled at the beauty of the mountain. They all commented on how otherworldly it was,” said Rudio. “We hope that the footage when it airs will help put us in the national spotlight and let the nation know the significance of what we do, working in this very special place.”

Trips to the summit
The observatory offers overnight Edu-Trips throughout the winter. For more information, visit www.mountwashington.org.
Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center also offers SnowCoach tours to the halfway point of the Mount Washington Auto Road. Call 466-2333 for more information.

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