There’s really no such thing as “a typical day” at the Mount Washington Observatory. Each season serves up a different set of demands and responsibilities, and each new day of the week requires a slightly different routine. On any given day, an observer is required to be many things at once: meteorologist, computer worker, tour guide, janitor, repairman, trainer, accountant, researcher, clerk, proofreader, chef, radio personality, medic, volunteer coordinator, and more.
Despite that disclaimer, this document summarizes (as best as possible) a day on the job at the top of Mount Washington: “The highest paying job in New England.” It has often been described as a “many hats” position, and you’ll soon see why. I’ve focused on the duties of a typical Tuesday in winter.
Wake up. Your first responsibility of the day is to feed the cat. (Don’t worry, Nin will remind you—loudly—if you forget.) Fix coffee if you are so inclined. The first few hours of the morning are often the busiest, due to the time pressure of forecast preparation and radio shows, so you head upstairs immediately (get dressed first, though). Breakfast will wait until the radio shows are done.
Nin, hard at work in the weather room.
4:15 to 5:00 a.m.
The summit is in the fog, 17 degrees, with winds at 110 mph, so rime ice is accumulating rapidly on the instruments. Time to de-ice. (You can tell because the Hays wind chart is reading abnormally low.) After you put on wind pants, a coat, gloves, hat, balaclava, facemask, and goggles, you look like you’re dressed for a trip to the moon; you’re now protected from frostbite. Climb up the tower stairs and ladders, past the Cold Room, to the exposed parapet, where many of the instruments are kept. Fight against the wind, climb to the very top, and de-ice. It’s a good way to get some exercise, too. Then return inside and shed a few layers of clothes.
The tower, coated with rime or “frozen cloud.”
Now it’s time to get busy with the daily forecast sheet. Using the internet, take a look at the latest Weather Channel weather map, satellite image, and Doppler radar. Print out the coded regional weather summary and “plain language” weather summary from the National Weather Service. Also look at and print out the zone forecasts for New Hampshire, extended outlooks, the recreation forecast, and state summary. Sometimes you may also want to print out the latest coded METAR reports from all stations in the state.
Using these documents/maps as references, prepare the daily forecast (it’s the page we fax to the valley, and other locations, every morning.) You can call up the template in Microsoft Word. Update all the highs, lows, winds, and expected weather conditions for Tuesday through Saturday. At the top, note any NWS watches or warnings (flood warnings, high wind warnings, etc). You must also update the almanac (records for the calendar day), as well as sunrise and sunset times. Refer to yesterday’s summary to list the weather events of the past 24 hours.
It’s time to take your first observation, which means putting all those clothes on again and going back outside. This is an “hourly” observation, as opposed to a “synoptic,” so it will only take a minute or two. On your way outside, check the instruments for icing. In conditions like these, chances are you will need to climb up the tower to de-ice once again. Then finish and code the observation and send it via modem to the National Weather Service in Bismarck, North Dakota.
See the Observatory through the eyes of the summit cat in the children’s picture book Cat in the Clouds.
Now you can finish the daily weather page. There’s a section for “current summit conditions.” Use the data from the latest observation. Save the document and print out a copy. Proofread carefully. Go into the radio room and, using a program on the Research_3 computer, fax the daily weather page to the 10 to 15 locations that have requested it. (The list varies but usually includes the valley office, WDC, Auto Road, Cog Railway, Ragged Mountain, AMC, etc.)
At the photocopier machine, make several copies of the daily weather report. You need to post them at these locations: the weather desk, by the downstairs phone, on the weather display. (In the summer, copies are also posted at the State Park desk and museum.)
The first radio show is coming up at 5:30, so you need to prepare a script. Look over the maps and forecasts again. This is a short, taped show for New Hampshire Public Radio, but it’s heard by people in Concord and throughout the state, so you need to sound professional. Start by writing a few words about the weather map: “High pressure is building into New England, but a low over the Great Lakes will…” Then briefly list the highs, lows, and outlook for the south, central, seacoast, and northern parts of the state. Mention the expected conditions for tonight, across the state, and conclude with a forecast for the summit. Try to make it lively, interesting, and unique (for example, “This is the 78th day this year with winds above hurricane-force!”)
Read your script to yourself a few times, making sure the wording sounds right. Make the necessary adjustments.
Usually, this is about the time the phone rings for the first time. No one else is awake yet on the summit, so you answer. This is what you hear: “Hello, I’m a member and I’m thinking of hiking up today. Do you think this wind is going to calm down later? Would tomorrow be a better day? What’s the weekend look like?” Politely answer the questions, but try to keep the call short, because it’s a busy part of the day. If you still have a few minutes before the NHPR show, begin to check and correct yesterday’s weather summary (METAR, synoptic, F-6, and station pressure paperwork).
NHPR calls. Count down “Three…two…one” and then tape your weather report. Keep it no longer than 45 seconds, because it’s used at the top of the hour during Morning Edition. If you run long or mess up (you never do, of course) you’ll have to re-tape it.
5:35-6:15 a.m. (various tasks)
The daily forecast pages on the Observatory’s web page must also be updated. Click the icon on the Observer_1 computer, enter the password, and type away. Unlike the daily weather fax, you must now write a paragraph or two about the weather map, in addition to weather forecasts for the summit and valley (today, tonight, and tomorrow), almanac data, current conditions, and total snowfall for the month. Once you’re finished, exit the template, call up the web page and check for typos. Correct if necessary.
Around this time, a fax arrives from the Appalachian Mountain Club, listing the valley weather conditions, snowstake reading, and 24-hour statistics. You will use this information for several upcoming radio shows, so make a note of the data, then file the form. Later, you will use this information yet again as part of the ongoing snowstake study by John Conover of Blue Hill Observatory.
At 5:45, the instruments need to be de-iced again, so you climb up to the tower. On the way down, you notice ice enclosing the thermo-shack, which turns it into an icebox and makes the temperature seem lower than it truly is. This means you must de-ice the vents on the shack to allow some airflow. As long as you’re already bundled up and outside, take the weather observation. Go back inside, continue with the indoor readings (windspeed, barograph, etc), code it, and send it to the NWS. That brings you right up to 6 o’clock.
6:00-7:00 a.m. (various tasks)
The phone rings again—another hiker. After you hang up, you decide it’s a good time to do the “daily walkaround.” In the winter, no State Park rangers are present, and the observatory crew serves as caretaker for the building. So grab a pen, a clipboard, and a checklist and “check” the entire building, upstairs and down. Look for any broken windows, snowdrifts inside (we really do get them) or other problems. Several power meters must be read and reported so that we can keep a record of electricity consumption. A bottle of antifreeze is kept by the front door; pick it up and shake it, make sure it hasn’t frozen—it’s a test for antifreeze in the pipes. Go back into the furnace room and record the daily fuel consumption, condition of the two furnaces, level of fresh water and gray water in the holding tanks, and the sewage. If everything’s ok, you’re done with the walkaround. If there’s a problem, you need to fix it (though you may have to wait until the radio shows are over.)
At 6:30, it’s time to collect the precipitation can, which involves a 300-foot walk across the summit cone. Doesn’t sound too far, but with 110 mph gusts, it’s hard to stay on your feet—and with thick fog, it’s sometimes hard enough just to see your feet! Bundle up into the usual outdoor gear, tuck the replacement “precip” can under your arm, and walk to the front door. Here, you may need to stop and put crampons on your feet, to provide traction on the ice. Then you struggle through the gusts to the precip can, switch them quickly (don’t lose your grip, or the wind will blow the can to North Conway), and carry the “used” can back indoors. Take off your crampons, but don’t shed all the other layers just yet—you need to go back outside again in a few minutes.
Back in the weather room, first measure the unmelted snow in the precip can to the nearest 0.1 inch (this will be converted to millimeters when you report it officially). Go to the darkroom sink, pour some very hot water into a container, and measure it. Then take that hot water and pour it into the precip can (so it melts the snow and ice). Next, measure the liquid water to the nearest 0.01 inch. Subtract the amount of hot water you added, and record the liquid water content. Make a note of the data on a scrap of paper.
Every three hours, you must log onto the helipad computer in order to check the ASOS anemometers. If everything is working properly, note it on the checklist and log off. If one or more anemometers aren’t working, make a note of the problem, describe the current weather conditions, and call the appropriate person. It may be necessary for you to walk down to the helipad (about 1/4th of a mile). But first...
...it’s time to complete the first “synoptic” observation of the day. Head back upstairs, de-ice the instruments, and check the current weather conditions. Indoors, you must check the atmospheric pressure, average windspeed, peak gust in the past 10 minutes, and all other relevant data. When you are finished, you will have two reports which look something like this:
METAR, synoptic, and other forms
The METAR report is the simpler one. An example:
KMWN 131148Z 27077G91KT 220V320 0SM +SHSN FZFG M08/M08 RMK PK WND 28099/31 PRESRR SHSNB05 LGT ICG SUN DMLY VSBL
The “synoptic” code goes into more detail and for that reason takes a little longer. Example:
70263 11/00 92777 11078 21078 38022 53099 60241 77374 333 11064 21086 4/010 70638 90937 93108 938// LOXDA
[Here’s what those clumps of numbers tell you, in order: station identifier; has there been any precipitation in the past 6 hours? (yes), have there been obstructions to vision (yes), the sky is currently obscured, visibility is less than 330 feet, wind direction is from the west (270 degrees) averaging 77 knots, the current temperature is -7.8 Celsius, the dew point is the same, the current pressure is 802.2 millibars, the pressure was formerly falling, but is now rising rapidly, the pressure has risen by 9.9 millibars in the past 3 hours, 24 millimeters of precipitation have fallen in the past 6 hours, it is snowing heavily, and we have had snow and fog during the past 6 hours. The maximum temperature recorded in that time was -6.4 Celsius, the minimum was -8.6 degrees, an average of 10 centimeters of snow ground cover the station, and a total of 63.8 mm of precipitation have fallen in the past 24 hours. Precipitation began more than 3 hours ago; there have been two or more periods of precipitation lasting between 6 and 12 hours, and 10.8 cm of snow (unmelted) have fallen in the past 6 hours. We have also experienced glaze icing (freezing rain) during the past 6 hours, and set a new record low temperature for the day.]
Without going into detail, you must also fill out the appropriate columns on the B-16 form at this time. That only takes a minute. But hurry, because coming up right away is...
...the next radio show, the AMC Huts report. Over the radio, say “This is unit 20 standing by with the weather.” When signaled, give all the same information you will later give to WMOU and WMWV—only read it very slowly, because the AMC hut crews are writing it all down by hand. They will post it for the public. If the phone rings in the middle of this report (it often does), politely explain that you are on the air and ask the caller to call back in half an hour. When the AMC report is done, sign off and...
...immediately after you finish, you are paged on the intercom. This week’s volunteers are awake now, making breakfast for a crew of researchers who are staying on the summit (on other days of the week, it could be EduTrips, hiking trip guests, or visiting media). They tell you they’re not sure exactly how “formal” a breakfast to prepare. (They also have questions about a group of college students and researchers coming up later in the day.) They’re good volunteers, but not used to cooking for so many. You go downstairs and spend a few moments showing them how to operate the food processor, and also where to find certain food items in the pantry. You also write up a “to-do” list for them, listing how many people to prepare for at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Use the next few minutes to finish correcting yesterday’s weather summary (you will have been working on it all morning long, during “spare” moments.) This activity involves proofing all columns, codes, and calculations on the following forms: METAR, B-16, B-15, F-6, and station pressure sheet. Make red pencil corrections as necessary.
You are currently training the night observer, so make a list of any recurring errors, “misses,” and other items on the official forms, plus explanations as to why these items needed correction. Plan to go over with them with the new observer later in the day.
The next radio show is coming up, so begin to prepare your notes. This is a longer, live show—about 3-5 minutes—broadcast throughout Coos County, New Hampshire, on WMOU and WXLQ.
After some on-air banter with the radio announcer, he introduces you, and you start your radio weather report. Begin with current summit conditions (temperature, max and min temps, average windspeed and peak gust, pressure, precipitation, visibility, etc). Next, provide the current conditions at Pinkham Notch. Then spend a minute or two talking about the weather map and what it means for the North Country over the next few days. Close with the valley forecast for today, tonight, and tomorrow, followed by the summit forecast, and finally the extended outlook for the region.
Hays wind chart on a gusty day.
7:41 to 7:50 a.m.
The next radio show is coming up in just a few minutes, but first you need to take another observation. Bundle up in the usual attire, run upstairs and outside. De-ice if necessary. Back inside, code the report and send it to the National Weather Service, then get ready for the next radio show.
7:50 to 7:55 a.m.
Now it’s time for WMWV. It’s a 3-4 minute show, transmitted in Carroll Country and western Maine. It’s a bit shorter than the previous show, but in addition to a weather summary, you must also include the latest avalanche bulletin, ski conditions on the Sherburne Ski Trail, and other information for outdoor enthusiasts.
7:55 to 8:25 a.m. (various tasks)
Whew! The radio shows are coming fast and furious now. If you haven’t finished the hourly observation yet, do so now. Another show is coming up right away.
After WMWV, immediately begin the WHOM radio report. They will call you. This is a short, taped, 30-second report, so write out a script first. It’s heard by many, from Portland to Brattleboro to Nashua, so sound professional.
Resort Sports Network, a local cable TV channel, will call next, usually around 8:15. Go over all the weather information and hiker/skier information one more time (you usually know it all by heart now). This show features more chitchat and improvisation than most of the others, and you will often be asked trivia about the summit, historical information, personal experiences, etc.
8:30 to 9:00 a.m.
Congratulations! You’ve finished what is often the most hectic part of the day. Take a deep breath...and then get busy again. (First, if your stomach’s grumbling, and the phone is not yet ringing off the hook, you might manage to sneak downstairs for a quick breakfast.)
At this time of day, it’s necessary to change the NECI air filter (various research experiments change from year to year and season to season, but NECI is one good example.) You must get dressed in a Tyvek suit, hood, facemask, and plastic gloves—to avoid contaminating the filter. In the Cold Room of the tower, note the time and current reading, then switch off the equipment. Pull the old filter inside and extract it (you may need to chip some ice first, before pulling it in through the window.) Place the old filter in a sealed bag, label it, and store it in the freezer. Replace it with a new filter. (It will be switched again tomorrow). Reset the counter to zero and note the time. The supply of filters is low, so you need to remember to email UNH later today to let them know. For now, get out of the Tyvek suit and head back downstairs to the weather room.
The phone rings a few more times in the next half hour: hikers, members, perhaps a reporter asking about snowfall or yesterday’s search-and-rescue operation. At 8:50 or 8:55, it’s time to take and report another hourly METAR observation.
A few of the overnight guests wander upstairs and chat with you for several moments. One of the researchers asks if you can spare a few moments later to show him where certain records are kept and what the codes mean. You glance up at the clock, and promise to do so after 10 a.m.—it’s just too busy right now. A visiting reporter also requests an interview with you later in the day.
There are several tasks that urgently need to be done today, so you write up a “to do” list for the crew. Some of these tasks you can delegate, others you do yourself. Shoveling snow under the A-frame and by the front door. Chipping ice in the tower parapet and cold room floor. Fixing the broken door handle. Sealing and caulking the lower and side doors for the winter, etc.
Tuesday is the day before shift change, so you must now prepare a fresh food/dairy order for Guy Gosselin (he’ll bring it to the base tomorrow). First, you must check the schedule for the upcoming week—how many EduTrips, special trips, researchers, volunteers, and crew members will be present? How many meals will need to be served during the next eight days? The number could be as low as five people per day, or as many as twenty. You don’t want to under-order, because the mountain environment does not permit any quick trips to the grocery store if you run out of something. You don’t want to over-order, either, because of the cost. So you carefully check the two refrigerators, three freezers, and pantry for leftovers. Since paper towels are running low, you place an order for those as well. Then fill out the order form and fax to Guy. [About 5-6 boxes of food will arrive tomorrow and need to be put away, rotating the stock so that older items are in front and get used first.] At this time, you also prepare a preliminary “request” list for your shift’s next week on the summit.
Nin takes a moment to admire the view, on a rare day when there IS a view.
Most of the time the windows at the Observatory are obscured by fog or rime.
The weather is easing up a bit, with intermittent fog. You change the “comment” line on the data logger to reflect this fact. (Visitors to the Observatory’s web page—as well as the Auto Road in summer—can check this to view the current summit conditions.) This is a task that will be done periodically throughout the day.
Again, log onto the helipad computers and verify that all ASOS anemometers are functioning. Fill out the checklist.
Next, it is time to do another synoptic observation, including station pressure. While you are outside, de-ice if needed. Code and transmit the observation to the NWS. Chris Uggerholt also calls on the radio at this time. He is bringing up some equipment, students, and researchers, and needs to know the current conditions. “It’s getting better,” you tell him, “But visibility is still only 100 feet.” Chris tells you he’ll call for an update when he reaches Cragway.
An observer checks the maximum, minimum,
and current temperature.
After the 0950 observation, it’s time to do the twice-daily COSMO check. This is a long-term research experiment for the University of New Hampshire. Fill out the appropriate forms, do the calculations, and initial the appropriate columns.
You have now completed the first six hours of the day. The next six to ten hours will be similar, minus the radio shows. Every hour, you will make a short weather observation. Every three hours you will do a longer “synoptic” observation, and will also check the status of the ASOS anemometers. You will be the observer on call to answer phones, play host to the media, coordinate and introduce arriving researchers, and handle emergencies. (If you have an intern or observer-in-training, you can try to delegate the phone-answering duties—but you will discover that it’s usually for you anyway.) Continuously, you will de-ice.
In order to keep the rest of this document short (or shorter), I’ll briefly list some of the additional duties that might fill the “typical” late morning,/ early afternoon hours:
Marty Engstrom calls from TV-8, saying he caught two desperate hikers trying to break into Yankee building for shelter. He’s sending them over your way. “They look like they’re in trooublllle,” he drawls in his distinctive Fryeburg accent. You meet the hikers at the front door and assess the situation. The rules say no one can come in, but you don’t want to cause anyone’s death. (It turns out they’re adequately dressed but slightly hypothermic. You let them into the alcove and bring them hot chocolate, let them warm up for a while. After checking the weather updates, you advise them to head down the Auto Road, which is longer but easier than Tuckerman Ravine. You give them directions to take the Auto Road to the Old Jackson Road Trail back to Pinkham.)
Later, you check the Emergency hiker register by the front door. Bring additional forms, in case they’ve all been used. Replace the pencil if it’s missing, test the intercom.
Mike Pelchat, State Park Manager, calls from Cannon Mountain. He’s concerned about reports of a warm front and heavy, cold rain due in the next few days. He asks you (or Chris) to check the building’s heat tapes.
If major melting starts to occur, combined with heavy rain, you may need to set up a sump pump and hose in order to keep the bottom of the tower from flooding into the living quarters. The necessary equipment is kept in the shop.
The previous day’s B-16 form must be inked, checked, and filed. You may delegate the inking to an intern or junior staff member, before verifying, checking, and filing the final form.
CRREL multicylinders, another ongoing research experiment. The goal is for each observer to do two per day, when weather conditions permit. The experiment involves taking a stopwatch and clipboard, exiting the upper tower door, and hooking up the instrument to a motor, and exposing the cylinders for 5 to 20 minutes (depending on the type of icing—light, moderate, or heavy). Record current weather conditions and temperatures while the multicylinder is collecting ice. After an adequate amount of ice has been collected, retrieve the cylinders, note the “stop” time, and bring it all down into the Cold Room. With a caliper, measure the width of each of the five cylinders, plus weight and length, as well as type of ice. Note any special occurrences. Downstairs, type the data into the CRREL program, print out the graph, fill out the appropriate checklist.
The Forest Service calls and asks for all weather data between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. on such-and-such a day. A search-and-rescue was in progress at that time, you remember. “It’s for a lawsuit,” the Forest Service tells you. You email them the requested data.
A member calls. “I was married on the summit on July 4, 1982, and I remember it being really windy. Always wondered, just how windy was it?” You check the records and tell them.
A visiting researcher asks some questions about data being used for his experiment. He asks you to give him a “primer” in METAR so that he can understand some of the codes.
SOPs need to updated: morning shift, evening shift, furnace operation, etc.
Fresh water is low, so you need to pump. The pump is located in the far end of the building, in an unheated section. You check/change the filters in the tank room, close the 3 valves along the corridor, and insert the fuses which power the pump. First, drain the water through a hose out the front door until it runs clear (it often comes out of the well very murky at the start.) When it’s clear, raise the switch which sends it to Tank#1 at the other end of the building. (Be careful—if you have forgotten or missed a valve here or there, a waterfall will start to cascade down the corridor.) Make a note to remind yourself that water is pumping, then go on to other tasks (it will take about 40 minutes to fill the tank). When done, open all drain valves, put away the hose.
Fuel is also low. Call Marty at TV-8, verify how much fuel is needed (you don’t want to request too much and overfill the tanks), open the valve. Note on the walkaround checklist how much fuel was pumped, and when.
Peter Crane faxes a list of items he would like removed from the summit museum and shipped to the valley with the next down-going trip. Books, posters, etc. You grab a coat and flashlight (the museum is in the unheated part of the building), locate the items, fill out an inventory form, and put it all in a bag to go to the valley.
CBS Studios in New York calls, asking to speak to the observer-on-duty. They’re doing a feature on Hurricane Mitch and the power of weather, and would like to speak to someone about “what it’s like to be out in hurricane winds. We figured you guys would know.” They ask to tape the interview, which lasts 20 minutes; only 30 seconds or so are used in the final show.
Talking about weather.
The call from CBS reminds you—your inbox contains several messages from other TV stations, including CNN, a second station in White River Junction, and a third from Portland. They have all requested overnight visits. Each station intends to do a feature story about the Observatory, which is good publicity. Your job is to schedule them (obviously not at the same time), making sure there is enough bunk space and room on the snow tractor. Media visits cannot conflict with EduTrips or visits by large numbers of researchers, student trips, etc. First, you look over the schedule. Check by phone with various Observatory departments to see if they have any special trips planned. Verify Chris Uggerholt’s schedule and vacation time (CNN can’t make it to the summit if there’s no one available to drive the SnoCat.) Then call back each station with the open dates. Caution them that these days are likely to fill up quickly. First come, first served. After the dates for visits have been set, mail out “media guides,” describing weather conditions, safety measures, what to expect, and what guests should bring in terms of clothing and gear.
E-mail questions from the web page also must be answered. Some examples: “What causes a rainbow?” “Please send me more information about EduTrips.” “I heard Hurricane Mitch broke your record, is that true?” “Why is the web camera image always gray?”
Inter-office correspondence, timesheets, etc.
Nin types a few e-mails.
Every month, you must record the Shaw readings. Bundle up in the unusual outdoor attire, grab a clipboard and keys, and walk out to the original observatory building on the other side of the summit cone. Sometimes the outer lock freezes, so you may need to take a heat gun and warm the lock to get inside. Next, head up the stairs, unlock the upper door, and record the readings on 10 different power meters. Also note and record the indoor temperature (it’s kept at about 40 degrees, above freezing). Downstairs, make sure the furnace is working properly. Note any damage to the building (either from weather—the floor usually turns into an ice rink—or from trespassers. Hikers sometimes break into this building in search of shelter). Make a copy of the meter readings, file them, and mail the originals to Shaw Communications.
Before tomorrow morning, you must prepare, print out, and make copies of an agenda for tomorrow’s staff meeting. Include the minutes from the previous meeting, and e-mail to the Executive Director and President of the Observatory when done.
If there is a heavy snowfall, high winds, or severe icing, several TV meteorologists are likely to call you to ask a few questions, to add some interest to their shows.
Another phone call, this time from the volunteers who are scheduled to work on the summit in two weeks time. Due to a family emergency, they have to cancel. They apologize. You must now find a replacement volunteer on short notice; otherwise, the summit crew will need to cook and wash dishes for EduTrips and all other guests (Sometimes that happens and no replacements can be found, so you just have to grin and bear it—in addition to your normal duties.) But you hope to avoid that situation. Looking through the archive of volunteer applications, you start to make phone calls, leaving messages if no one is home. Retirees who have previously volunteered on the summit are your best bet at this point—it will be difficult for most people to take time away from work on only two week’s notice. Still, you leave 8 to 10 messages and hope for the best.
The Discovery Channel—the current media group visiting the summit—requests permission to follow you around with a camera, to illustrate to their viewers what it’s like on the summit. You oblige.
The NAWAS “hotline” rings, and you hear a voice over the speaker: “All New Hampshire stations please acknowledge roll call.” You wait for the signal, say “Mount Washington, test” and then note the date and time of the test on the checklist.
Train your interns (if you have any) how to use Microsoft Excel, and then set them up with a data entry project. One ongoing project is the transfer of archived data from B-16s and earlier forms (1935-present) from paper to computer disk, for easy duplication. Many different people and organizations rely on our data, and it’s easier to FTP them our historical data rather than photocopying and mailing dozens of old paper forms.
You have now been on duty for more than 12 hours, and technically your day is done. At the very least, you no longer need to do hourly observations and are no longer answering the phone. However, it’s clean-up day. So you gather the crew together and try to get everyone to tackle clean-up as a team before dinner. This includes:
Clean, mop, and scrub the two bathrooms, replace towels.
Empty trash in all rooms and offices, upstairs and down.
Bag all garbage, bring out front to be taken off the summit.
Wash windows and glass on instruments. Dust offices and furniture.
Clean, separate and bag all recycleables;
bring out front to be taken down.
Clean all refrigerators, remove any “expired” items.
Clean kitchen counters and sinks.
Move kitchen table and chairs, sweep kitchen floor,
scrub with scrubber, mop.
Remove rugs, then sweep, scrub, and mop all upstairs floors.
Return rugs. Vacuum.
Clean/organize the workshop.
Clean/vacuum state park living quarters, which are used for EduTrips
and visiting researchers. Make sure the space heaters are
turned off so they don’t start a fire.
Clean/vacuum/straighten the living room, the six-bunk room,
and all crew bunkrooms.
Clean/vacuum/organize conference room and all upstairs offices.
After working 13+ hours, you finally can start to slow down. The visiting researchers and media guests still ask you questions when they see you in the living room, and you answer politely enough. But you’re too tired for chitchat, so you soon head back upstairs and “hide” in your office. Perhaps you and the crew spare 45 minutes for a game of Scrabble. Otherwise, this is a good time to catch up on office e-mails and correspondence, updating SOPs, inventory/orders, and any other tasks you might not have finished earlier in the day. The weekly cleanup (after all, you may have had more than 50 people using the facilities during the week) also continues.
Struck by a hurricane-force gust.
The night observer, hit by a sudden 95-mph gust of wind, accidentally breaks a psychrometer. You take out a spare thermometer, a wick, and then put together a new psychrometer. At this time, you also send off an e-mail to Jim Mansfield at the National Weather Service office in Gray, Maine, requesting more thermometers. Our supply is getting low.
While you’re at it, you decide to do an inventory of all forms and charts. The Observatory receives certain forms free from the NWS; others need to be ordered at cost from the appropriate companies. You request additional B-16 forms from Jim Mansfield, and also place an order for thermograph charts (sending a purchase order to the valley office).
As volunteer coordinator for the summit, you must keep up with the paperwork and correspondence: filing applications and questionnaires, sending clothing lists and information updates, scheduling and confirming dates, acquiring and filing injury release forms, writing thank you letters, answering questions, etc. This is a good time of day to catch up on some of that paperwork; a steady supply of new applications and requests is always arriving.
Dinner. Tonight, as if often the case in winter, you have guests. So the crew cannot relax entirely. You are all still “playing host” to a certain extent. (Which means you and your shiftmates can’t talk openly about office politics, or how hard your day was, or make jokes about the foolish tourist who annoyed you earlier in the day—because that tourist might be eating at the table with you!). The guests are always fascinated with the Observatory and want to ask you all about your experiences. You’ve been so busy throughout the day that this may be their first chance to talk with you. As always, you oblige.
A late-night phone call or two from the valley, and from researchers, usually occurs at dinner. People are either checking on the forecast for tomorrow’s weather conditions, coordinating transport, or confirming bunk space. The new volunteers, scheduled to arrive tomorrow, may also call you with last minute questions.
The volunteers start to wash dishes and take care of final clean-up items. You and the crew head upstairs, briefly, away from the crowds. Now’s your chance to talk a little bit, without the constraints of being on-duty and playing host. (On a night without guests, you may even watch a little TV or read a book.)
It’s 9 p.m. You’re finally done for the day. Time for some well-deserved rest, but don’t relax too much. It all starts again in seven hours.
You’ve now completed a typical day in the life of an observer.
Not every day is the same as this example. In summer, of course, there is less need to de-ice; instead, you may be giving tours to new members, or courtesy tours to visiting meteorologists. Occasionally (usually after the summer interns leave in August) you may be required to run down to the museum and fill in for the museum attendant for 10 or 15 minutes once or twice a day. Or you may spend half an hour helping to fold t-shirts.
Rather than hypothermic hikers knocking at the front door, Park Manager Mike Pelchat may request the Observatory’s help searching for and carrying out a hiker with a broken ankle. If that’s the case, you are the one who must decide who among the crew is available and capable, and also determine who is going to fill-in for them while they’re gone. You must determine whether or not the weather conditions are safe, help pack up the necessary gear (blankets, splints, litter, etc), keep a record of what gear goes out, and make sure it all comes back. (Sometimes it gets mixed in with AVSAR or AMC gear and sent down the mountain with the patient.) You may even go yourself—at least once this year, a day observer left for a rescue at 5 p.m., returned at 11:30 pm, and then started the normal day shift on short sleep at 4 a.m. the next morning.
Certain special responsibilities occur once a month, or periodically throughout the year. Examples:
Monthly summary microfilming. All the wind, thermograph, B-16, and F-6 forms need to be microfilmed three times apiece. Copies are then sent and stored at UNH, the summit, and the WDC (Weather Discovery Center).
On some days, departments in the valley may request your help for various projects. Example: the summit crew was once asked to download surface weather maps and satellite images every three hours over the span of several months, to put into a comparative video “loop” demonstrating changing weather patterns (for use with educational programs). More recently, summit staff were asked to contribute ideas, outlines, and text for WDC exhibits. Later this year, as soon as the WDC is up and running, the observer-on-duty will sit in front of a camera at certain times, fielding questions about weather from parents and children at the WDC.
In this document, I’ve deliberately chosen an average, middle-of-the-road day, so as not to exaggerate. The day you’ve just read about was much busier than, say, a typical Sunday (which is often the easiest part of the workweek) but less busy than some of the extreme workdays that occur in winter, or during holiday weekends in mid-summer.
Every day is different.