First Snow of Season Falls on Mount Washington

Conway  — October 4, 2008 — That reach for the extra blanket and the shutting of windows early Friday morning in the lower elevations of the valley was one indicator that we may have rounded the bend toward the coming winter and ski season.The other sure harbinger of things to come was a report from the non-profit Mount Washington Observatory that the “Home of the World’s Worst Weather” had received its first snow of the fall Thursday and Friday.

“We received 1.4 inches Thursday, and it just stopped today a half hour ago at 2 p.m. or so with another 1.8 inches for a total of 3.2 inches,” said observer-technology specialist Steve Welsh Friday afternoon.

Not that Welsh and his fellow observers were yet ready to jump on their skis.

“It’s a little thin for that — it was mixed with ice and ice pellets yesterday but it’s more like real snow today. But the wind is picking up, so it will get blown about pretty well, we think,” said Welsh. He said the wind was blowing from the west at an average of 55 mph as he spoke but that it was predicted to increase to the 60s or low 70s by Friday night.

Welsh, who is originally from northeast England and who came to the observatory via Antarctica and California, said temperatures were in the low of 22 degrees Thursday night, and rose to 28 Friday but with the passage of a cold front dropped to 22 Friday afternoon. Welsh said Thursday and Friday’s snow is not unusual for this time of year.

“Actually, we did not have any snow in September, and that is unusual,” said Welsh, noting that given its 6,288-foot elevation, the summit can receive snowfall at any time of the year. He said the “Top of New England” received 8.27 inches of precipitation in September compared to the average of 8.55 inches, “so that’s fairly close.”

The snow forced the 1861-built Mount Washington Auto Road to curtail operations Thursday to the halfway point of the eight-mile-long road, and to close the road for a portion of the day Friday when the clouds and snow rolled back in. General Manager Howie Wemyss said Friday he hoped to be able to resume operations to the summit Saturday, depending on whether crews would be able to lay down salt and sand should there be the usual high winds of the upper reaches of the road.

“We have been plowing, sure. But the question is will the wind allow us to put the calcium and sand down to fight the ice or will it just get blown off,” said Wemyss. “We’re really having an excellent season for foliage if we could only get the people up there to see it,” he added. “We have literally been deluged with dozens of people stopping by at the same time — they seem to be taking shots of the same trees all at once.”

He urged all interested Auto Road users to call 466-3988 for the most up-to-date condition information. A ticket agent for the 1869-built Mount Washington Cog Railway (278-5404) said Friday afternoon that all trains had been operating on the hour on schedule throughout the day Friday despite the snow.

“We are not yet at peak, so people should come on up,” said the ticket agent.Meanwhile, hydro-meteorological technician James Brown of the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine, reported that North Conway recorded an overnight low of 35 degrees Friday. Not technically a frost, he said, cautioning, however, that that reading is done at an elevation of 5 feet off the ground.

“Depending on whether it is clear or not, there could be radiational cooling — and it also could be colder closer to the ground, so if it was 3 degrees cooler at ground level you could have frost,” said Brown on Friday.

Local cooperative weather observer Ed Bergeron of North Conway said the area had its first frost of the season Sept. 20 when temperatures dropped to 32 degrees. “It was a very light frost, not much on the ground — but a little on the windshields. It killed a few local garden cucumbers and squash, which are both very delicate,” said Bergeron Friday afternoon, just as the day’s showers and clouds cleared for a brief moment.

The week’s showers impacted attendance at the 158th Fryeburg Fair, according to fair secretary June Hammond. Hammond said Friday that Sunday’s attendance in the rain was 9,219, down from 26,147 in 2007.

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