Once-In-A-Decade Winds Shake Summit Of Mount Washington

Feb 25, 2019

Last Friday's sunrise on Mount Washington proved to be the calm before the wind storm that rolled in Monday.
Credit Mount Washington Observatory

Editor's note: After this story was posted Monday afternoon, Mount Washington recorded a peak wind gust of 171 miles per hour - the highest since 1985, and a new February record for the summit.

The original story continues below: 

The Mount Washington Summit Observatory saw some of its highest winds in more than a decade Monday.

Meteorologist Tom Padham said the strong gusts, forecast up to 165 miles per hour, had been buffeting the 6,288-foot-elevation weather station all day.

"There is a constant low rumble, at least to the building," he said, reached by phone at the summit Monday afternoon. "And then outside it is absolutely a deafening roar."

Weather observers like Padham venture out onto the top of the Northeast's highest peak once an hour, no matter the weather, to knock ice off their instruments and collect data.

Padham says the summit has only seen this kind of wind once every 10 or 15 years, for a total of about a dozen times in the observatory's history.

"I will get a little bit nervous here if we start hitting 160 miles an hour or so," he said Monday. "Standing next to windows, at least, you can see them flexing back and forth."

Winds of around 150 miles an hour typically only occur once in a decade on Mount Washington. But summit observers saw this 148 mile-an-hour gust just two weeks before this Monday's wind storm.
Credit Mount Washington Observatory

But this kind of wind is not unheard on a mountain notorious for its extreme weather. In fact, Padham says the summit notched a 148-mile-an-hour gust just two weeks ago.

And despite the shaking, he says the observatory should be safe. It's rated for gusts of up to 300 miles per hour.

This week's wind storm also won't break any records. Mount Washington famously saw a 231-mile-an-hour gust in 1934. It set a world record that stood for decades, and it's still the fastest wind speed ever observed directly by people.

Overall, though, Padham says this winter has been especially windy at the summit. That's mainly due to low pressure systems moving over the Great Lakes, which push wind and precipitation into the Northeast.

As the region's climate warms, Padham says Mount Washington can expect to see an increase in this kind of less predictable weather extreme.