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Weather watchers at the top of Mount Washington - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Weather watchers at the top of Mount Washington

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SARGENT'S PURCHASE, N.H. -

"I've been a weather junkie since I was 5 years old," Cyrena Briede said.

So what better place to work than at the summit of Mount Washington?

"I've always known that I wanted to work in places where the weather is extreme," Briede said.

Briede is the director of summit operations at the Mount Washington Observatory.

"This is where the weather station has been since 1932," she said.

In 1934, a mere two years after opening, the wind reached an astonishing 231 mph, the strongest wind ever recorded by man.

Briede frequently commutes up the Mount Washington Auto Road. Thankfully, she's not afraid of heights. The 8-mile adventure includes numerous twists and turns, eventually reaching the summit at 6,288 feet-- high above the neighboring mountains.

Wintertime temperatures can drop to a bone chilling 40 below. The warmest temperature ever recorded is only 72 degrees. On a clear day like this one, you can see more than 100 miles. But often, the summit is in the clouds. The top of Mount Washington it's encompassed in fog more than half the year. And what happens is when temperatures are below freezing, that fog starts to freeze and it forms interesting formations of rime ice.

Every year, tens of thousands of visitors get a workout exploring the mountain, while the staff does some serious weather-related work.

"This is our weather wall and we've got a whole lot of instrumentation up here," Briede said.

The tools are used to keep track of a variety of weather observations, including wind speed.

"This was July 20th of 1996. There was a wind speed of 154 mph. This gust located right here," Briede explained.

It's the extreme weather that drew Briede to Mount Washington, but keeping track of the wild swings that come with this territory requires an extensive staff.

"So, every Wednesday we have our shift change and each shift includes three observers, one or two interns, as well, that are usually college age, and then we have two volunteers," Briede said.

The observers live at the summit for a week at a time. It's their home away from home.

"So, in our living quarters we have a series of bunk rooms," said Rebecca Scholand, a weather observer. "We have a wonderful kitchen here. And this is kind of home base. Most of us spend more time here on the summit than we do in our own homes in the valley."

Scholand doesn't use the kitchen very often, except for cookie baking contests.

"Chocolate chip cheesecake cookie. It was pretty good; it won," she laughed.

More often than not, there's work to be done. Observers record numerous hourly weather observations 24/7.

"So, we'll head out and do our observation," said Roger Pushor, a weather observer.

Pushor uses an old-school device to determine relative humidity.

"Looks like we have a temperature of about 39.4 degrees and a wet bulb temperature of about 34.8 degrees. So, we'll take that and throw it in the computer," Pushor said.

Back inside the observatory, Pushor records the weather data, used by meteorologists and climatologists around the world, including the WCAX Weather team.

But things don't always go as planned. When weather instruments need adjustment, it means heading back outdoors to the top of the observatory.

Observers here also focus on education, teaching kids in the classroom from the summit.

"We can bring Mount Washington to the classroom," Scholand said. "So, it's interactive in that the students can see us and we can see the students, as well."

Scholand educates the public on weather and climate, which is the observatory's mission.

"It's pretty awesome when you get to connect with a group of students and they kind of come in and they're really tired and not really engaged, but by the time you end the program you don't have enough time for all of the questions," she said.

These weather observers, and those before them, have taught us that Mount Washington is home to some of the world's worst weather.

"You're kinda just out there trusting your own ability and dealing with whatever Mother Nature has to throw at you at that point," Scholand said.

Briede wouldn't have it any other way.

"Don't wanna be in an office. I wanna be outside and experiencing life," she said.

If you want drive up the Mount Washington Auto Road yourself, it will set you back about $26.

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