Washington Trip Report
Bob Wanton, Meteorologist
Education Outreach Program Director
National Weather Service Forecast Office
Mount Holly, NJ
During the summer of 1997, John Moore (Burlington County Institute of Technology
environmental science teacher and the American Meteorological Society’s Area Education Resource Agent for southern New Jersey) approached me about becoming a member of the
Local Implementation Team for the AMS’s DataStreme long distance learning course.
I accepted his invitation and have been a LIT member for the past eight semesters. Our LIT
currently consists of John, myself, Kathy Orr ( Broadcast Meteorologist for NBC-10 in Philadelphia), and Dr. John Nese (Chief Meteorologist at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia).
John Moore and I have done presentations at the last four AMS Annual Meetings.
We also participated in an International Education Conference in Melbourne, Australia in
At the last AMS Annual Meeting in Albuquerque New Mexico in January 2001,
we had the pleasure of meeting Bryan Yeaton (Education Outreach Coordinator for the
Mount Washington Observatory). Since Mt. Washington boasts of having some of the
worlds worst weather (they currently hold the world record for the fastest wind speed —
231 mph on April 12, 1934), we thought that it would be interesting and educational if we
could organize a field trip for some of our DataStreme alumni. Bryan was receptive to
the idea and promised to look into making the arrangements. I also arranged for Bryan
to stop at the Mt. Holly forecast office on his way back to New England to do a short
presentation for the staff (he and his assistant, Katie, drove to Albuquerque, NM and
back, stopping and doing presentations along the way).
During the next few months, Bryan and I finalized plans for the trip. It was
going to be an overnight stay on the mountain top. Since there is very little in the way of
accommodations at the top of the mountain, we were going to sleep in sleeping bags on
the floor of the museum.
Leaders and Organizers
Bob Wanton --- National Weather Service Meteorologist (forecaster in the
Philadelphia/Mt. Holly, NJ Forecast Office) --- Education Outreach Program
Director --- Local Implementation Team member for both DataStreme and
Water In The Earth System.
John Moore --- Burlington County Institute of Technology Environmental
Science teacher --- Local Implementation Team Leader for DataStreme and
Local Implementation Team member for Water In The Earth System.
Since all of the DataStreme alumni are teachers, we had to find a time to go when
they would be available. We chose late June, shortly after schools closed. Many had
previous plans and were unable to attend. But we were able to find several teachers to
accompany John and I. They were:
1) Jill Guenther (Earth Science Teacher at Vineland High School, Vineland, NJ — Jill has actually been working with us in the DataStreme program for the past few years — she
attended the AMS Annual Meeting in Albuquerque, NM in January, 2001 where she
helped us with our poster session);
2) Bill Dyke (Science teacher at East High School, West Chester, PA);
3) Bill Geiger (teacher at La Salle College High School, Wyndmoor, PA — Bill is also an adjunct at Arcadia University — he is the instructor for the Environmental Science class,
which is taught at the Schuylkill Valley Nature Center);
4) Bill Huskin (5th grade teacher at Warwick Elementary School, Central Bucks School
District, Jamison, PA).
We had one other participant —
Jennifer Benvenuto (a Millersville University senior doing a summer internship with us
at the Forecast Office in Mt. Holly).
Day 1 --- Thursday June 28, 2001
I picked up the eight-passenger van, which I had rented several weeks prior to
the trip, Wednesday afternoon June 27. Since we were only staying one night and it
was an 8 hour trip, we were meeting at the National Weather Service Forecast Office
in Mt. Holly, NJ at 3:30 AM June 28. Believe it or not, everyone arrived on time and
we departed for New England at 3:45 AM. We planned our departure time so that we
would be able to avoid the early morning New York City rush hour. As it turned out,
we were crossing the Tappan Zee Bridge at 5:45 AM just as the sun was rising (a rather
pretty sight). Our estimate of 8 hours was almost perfect — we arrived in the parking
lot where we had arranged to meet Bryan at 11:45 AM. We bought food for lunch
while we waited for Bryan to arrive. When he did a short time later, we followed
him to the base of the mountain, took some pictures, and arranged our passengers
for the ascent up the Auto Road (our van would have been too heavy with 7 people
so 3 people went with Bryan).
The weather was spectacular — plenty of sun, a light breeze, and 81 degrees
at the base of the mountain. By the time we arrived at the summit, there was still
plenty of sun, but the temperature had dropped to 45 degrees and the wind was howling
at 30 to 50 mph.
Since we were all very hungry, Bryan took us to the staff’s quarters for lunch.
We met Sunshine (always smiling) and Kathy (the current volunteers). People volunteer
for 1 week periods. They perform many functions — cook, clean, work in the museum, etc.
After lunch, it was time for a tour of the observatory. We met the staff
Meteorologist, Charlie Lopresti, the observer on duty, Katie Koster, one of the summer
interns, Chris Balliro, and, of course, the King of the Hill, Nin, their pet cat.
We went out onto the observation deck to get a better view of the surroundings
and were quite lucky because the visibility was 80 to 90 miles (something that doesn’t
happen every day). Something else we experienced while we were on the deck was the
wind. 30 to 50 mph sustained — with a gust to 61 mph (we checked the gust recorder
when we got back inside). Must be interesting up there in a 150 or 200 mph wind.
Just for the record, wind speeds reach hurricane force (75 mph) about 104 days of the year.
From the deck we climbed up the inside of the tower (vertical ladders) to reach
the instrument platform (actual location where wind speeds are measured). We took turns standing at the top. The wind was so strong that holding on to the railing was an absolute necessity. The summit of Mt. Washington is 6288 ft. When we were standing at the top
next to the instruments, we were at 6309 ft. (I guess that means that we were the highest
person in New England at that particular time).
By the time we got back down, it was well into the afternoon. We decided that
since it was such a nice day (other than the wind), that we would like to take a short
hike. Bryan asked us what length of time we would like to be out. The consensus was
about an hour. He advised us to bring water so that we didn’t dehydrate. Most of us
thought that since it was only going to be an hour hike, we really didn’t need to carry
water — our cameras would be enough weight to carry. Well our leisurely hike turned
into a lesson in rock climbing and the 1 hour turned into 2 ˝ hours for a 1 ˝ mile hike.
But Bryan managed to get us all back in one piece and it was thoroughly inspiring and
very educational. Bryan knows just about everything there is to know about the mountain
and its surroundings, including the flora and fauna.
After getting back from the hike, we all needed a rest, so we sat down in the
conference room and played a leisurely game of "pass the pig". Dinner was served at
7 PM in the staff’s quarters. Kathy cooked a delicious chicken casserole and Sunshine
baked scrumptious oatmeal cookies. What else could we ask for?
Once dinner ended, we headed for the museum. Bryan showed us a video that
he and the Observatory had produced about the many aspects of being a Meteorologist.
It was very well done and included segments with a National Weather Service
meteorologist, a university professor, and a broadcast meteorologist. Bryan is a man
of many talents.
Since our day began in the wee hours of the morning, once the video ended,
we were ready to crash. We spread our sleeping bags around the museum and fell
asleep listening to the mountain frogs.
Day 2 --- Friday June 29, 2001
Our day began sometime between 6 and 7 AM (I’m not real sure since I was
not the first person to arise). We all missed, what we were told was, a beautiful sunrise.
It was still a magnificent sight since the visibility was still 80 to 90 miles. We could see
smoke columns rising vertically from the valleys, indicating practically calm winds.
And, actually, the wind at the summit was only 15 to 20 mph at that time.
We stowed our gear and headed down to breakfast (bagels and cream cheese that
Bryan had purchased for us on Thursday).
Following breakfast, Bryan took us on a tour of the facilities on the summit.
There is history and a story for every building — from the Tip-Top House (oldest
structure on the mountain — built in 1853) to the very modern Sherman Adams
Summit Building (with its information desk, cafeteria, museum, and observatory).
It was during this tour that we encountered our only precipitation while at the summit.
We had some very light intermittent rain for about 20 minutes. Not even enough to
wet the ground.
We were going to begin our trip down the auto road around 11 AM. Since it
was only 10 AM, we had 1 hour to check out the museum and gift shops.
Our trip down the Auto Road was as good as our trip up — good weather,
excellent visibility, no overheating, and no need for rest stops to cool the brakes.
We had one more stop to make before we headed home — the Weather
Discovery Museum in North Conway, New Hampshire. It’s about 15 minutes from
the mountain and it’s Bryan’s home office. And what a great place to visit. Many
hands-on weather related exhibits, including a simulation of what the observers might
have experienced in the record 231 mph wind speed. This place was fantastic —
an educators delight. We all just wanted to pack it up and bring it home.
Bryan introduced us to Dr. Peter Crane, the Director of Programs. We spent some
time talking about the museum and the education programs. After about an hour, it was
time to head out. Since it was early afternoon and we had not had lunch, we decided to
have a little something before we got under way. There just happened to be a Ben & Jerry’s down the road in Conway and we couldn’t resist. Some lunch, huh?
We were on our way home around 2 PM. Our trip was timed to miss the evening
rush hour in New York City. With a stop for dinner outside Hartford, Connecticut, we were crossing the Tappan Zee Bridge about 8 PM. With no further problems, we would have
arrived back in Mt. Holly shortly after 10 PM. Unfortunately, there must have been an
accident on the New Jersey Parkway and it was stopped cold at the Union toll booth.
We managed to get to the exit in Union, and, after a lengthy tour of the area, got back
on the Parkway in Clark. It was smooth sailing thereafter and we arrived back at the
National Weather Service at about 11:45 PM.
We crammed a lot of traveling into a short period of time, but the trip was well
worth it. Anyone, even remotely, interested in weather would enjoy a trip up Mt. Washington.
The feedback from the teachers involved has been overwhelmingly positive. Our gratitude
goes out to Bryan for arranging the trip and for all the information he provided. At times
our questions seemed to be flowing fast and furious (you know teachers and educators),
but Bryan hung in there and maintained his cool --- a tribute to the professional that he is.
A thank you also goes to the Park Service for inviting us and allowing us to stay overnight.
And a special thank you to Sunshine and Kathy for their wonderful hospitality. Not everyone
has the opportunity to spend a night on top of the mountain which claims to have some of
"the worlds worst weather".
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