Sunday, January 10, 2010
On the afternoon of April 12, 1934, Salvatore Pagliuca, a meteorologist at the summit weather observatory on Mount Washington, had an experience no one else has had before or since.
Mount Washington sometimes gets a little gusty, to put it mildly, and this was a particularly breezy day. In the previous twenty-four hours, the wind speed had not Fallen below 107 miles an hour, and often gusted much higher. When it came time for Pagliuca to take the afternoon readings, the wind was so strong that he tied a rope around his waist and had two colleagues take hold of the other end. As it was, the men had difficulty just getting the weather station door open and needed all their strength to keep Pagliuca from becoming a kind of human kite. How he managed to reach his weather instruments and take readings is not known, nor are his words when he finally tumbled back in, though « Jeeeeeeeesus! » would seem an apt possibility.
What is certain is that Pagliuca had just experienced a surface wind speed of 231 miles an hour. Nothing approaching that velocity has ever been recorded elsewhere.
In The Worst Weather on Earth : A History of the Mt. Washington Observatory, William Lowell Putnam drily notes : « There may be worse weather from time to time, at some forbidding place on Planet Earth, but it has yet to be reliably recorded. » Among the Mount Washington weather station’s many other records are : most weather instruments destroyed, most wind in twenty-four hours (nearly 3,100 miles of it), and lowest windchill (a combination of 100-mph winds and a temperature of -47°F, a severity unmatched even in Antartica).
Washington owes its curiously extreme weather not so much to height or latitude, though both are a factor, as to its position at the precise point High altitude weather systems from Canada and the Great Lakes pile into moist, comparatively warm air from the Atlantic and southern United States. In consequence, it receives 246 inches of snow a year and snowpacks of twenty feet. In one memorable Storm in 1969, 98 inches of snow (that’s eight feet) fell on the summit in three days, Wind is a particular feature; on average it blows at hurricane force (over 75 mph) on two winter days in three and on 40 percent of days overall. Because of the length and bitterness of its winters, the average mean annual temperature at the summit is a meager 52°F – a good 25 degrees lower than at its base. It is a brutal mountain, and yet people go up there – or at least try to – even in winter.
– Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods
A fun experiment at the summit!