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On top of New England, an arctic wind and a million-dollar view

“I was taken aback at how beautiful it is up here.”

A person leaned into the wind as they walked on the observation deck at the Mount Washington Observatory.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

MOUNT WASHINGTON SUMMIT — We are at the top of New England at 6,288 feet above sea level and the rugged, majestic beauty of this place above wind-battered birches and snow-dusted pines is nothing less than stunning.

It’s 8 degrees at the top of Mount Washington, with 42-mile-per-hour winds gusting to 51, and for some reason Hayden Pearson, a 27-year-old research specialist and mountain weather observer, can’t stop smiling.

“On a perfectly clear day here on the summit, you can see up to 130 miles,” he tells me, his breath riding on the arctic air. “What that means is that you can see five states and two countries.


“You can see all of New Hampshire. You can see into Maine and Vermont. You can see the Adirondacks in New York. You can see down to the northern part of Massachusetts. You’re seeing the US and over the border into the southern part of Canada. And looking off to the east you can see Casco Bay.”

The sun illuminated a trail marker at the top of Mount Washington. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

How’d you like to earn your living where winds have been measured at over 200 miles per hour and ice forms a beautiful but hard and merciless cocoon around the Mount Washington Observatory?

That’s precisely what Hayden Pearson is doing.

And so is Alexandra Branton, 22, a weather observer and education specialist who grew up in the South and began an internship in the summer of 2021 on the mountain, where the only permanent resident is a rescue cat named Nimbus whose unofficial title is “chief mouser.”

Branton had never been this far north and, at first, the episodic fog surprised her. But then it cleared.

“And I was taken aback at how beautiful it is up here,” she told me on this crystalline afternoon.

Like other weather observers, she works alternating shifts on the mountain. One week on. One week off.


“The mountains are stunning,” Branton said. “That was in the summertime and I went back and finished my degree. This is my first winter. This is the first time I’m seeing snow. I definitely got thrown into winter up here. From that aspect, my first impression of winter on the mountain was that it is super-extreme.”

Super-extreme? That’s one way to describe it.

The sunrise is reflected in the windows of a building at the top of Mount Washington. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
The sun illuminates a tower covered in rime ice at the Mount Washington Observatory. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
The sun illuminated a window speckled with rime ice at the top of Mount Washington. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

By the morning of Feb. 4, temperatures atop Washington matched the observatory’s all-time record low of minus 47 degrees with winds ranging from 110 to 120 miles per hour and gusts up to 127.

The highest wind speed was recorded in April 1934 at 231 miles per hour. The average wind speed of 35 miles per hour is the highest of any weather station in North America. The annual snowfall measures 281 inches, with a record 566.4 inches recorded in 1969.

All of those superlatives boil down to this:

If you’re a weather geek, or a master of meteorological measurements, this place — the highest peak in the Northeastern United States — is the weather station equivalent of Disneyland.

“It’s just an incredibly unique job in meteorology‚” Branton said. “Most jobs in meteorology, you look at the radar and you do the weather. But here you get to go outside and be in the weather — and some of the most extreme weather at that.

“So that’s what attracted me to this job. The fastest wind speed I’ve seen is in the 120s. The fastest I’ve been outside in was 110. I was clinging to the door. As soon as it got to 110, I became much more aware of how everything around me was attached to the next thing.


Alexis George, weather observer and meteorologist at the Mount Washington Observatory, took in the sunrise from the summit of Mount Washington. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

“And then I came inside right after I didn’t have to be outside anymore. I don’t want to be walking around in that."

Neither do I.

A light snow shower or a brief springtime rain shower is enough to keep me from my morning easy-does-it, therapeutic 3-mile run, which would make me a poor candidate for a scientific job in this place fondly known as the home of the world’s worst weather.

“Officially, my days are 9 to 5 on Monday through Friday," said Jay Broccolo, the observatory’s director of weather operations. “However, I don’t really get many days off. I’m on call 24 hours a day, technically seven days a week."

But he says it in a way that makes it clear that he’s got no complaint.

He’s a guy who loves the wonders of the weather that is, quite literally, so splendidly and often so fiercely around him.

Left to right, Hayden Pearson laughed with Amy Muller and Alexis George as they joked together during a six o’clock meal time. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Nimbus the resident mouser at the Mount Washington Observatory took a nap on the couch in the basement where the staff hung out.. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Patrick Hummel, park manager for Mount Washington State Park, shoveled out the steps that lead to the Yankee Building as the sun rose on the top of Mount Washington.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

These are jobs for people who can get upset if they miss a superlative weather event such as wind gusts measured at over 150. They can grow sad. They can sulk about it.

Sulking and sad and missing that brutal weather. It’s an off-duty creed of people made for Mount Washington, for those who have heard winds that sound like a crying baby when they rattle through the mountain’s radio tower.


“There’s also a lot of things that happen at night that really only the night observers experience," Pearson said.

Like what?

“Like the sound of the buildings. Sometimes you’ll be walking up to get the ‘precip can’ and a wind gust will happen and it will trip some sensor in the elevator and the elevator will start going up and down, even though there’s no one in it.”

Alexis George, weather observer and meteorologist at the Mount Washington Observatory, de-iced the instrument tower as she made her hourly observations. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

The people charged with measuring the weather, preserving its extremes for posterity, and toiling in solitude at the top of an icy mountain have seen things most people have never seen. And they make it clear that it’s part of the reason they’ve been attracted to this fascinating and windswept corner of science.

“I like when it clears out and I can actually see the clouds," said Branton. “I love clouds. The wind is cool, but I don’t really have any interest in going out in it. I will. But I love thunderstorms. So when we get thunderstorms, that’s what really gets me excited. Here it’s definitely cool."

Cool. Cold. Freezing. All of those things.

By Feb. 3, the mountain was reporting winds of 98 miles per hour, gusting to 107, and a wind chill measured at minus 92.

All of those superlatives are meteorological magnets to these scientists with the million-dollar view and precise measuring devices that record the wild and wondrous things like the snows of winter and the thunderous storms of summer and how they shape our New England climate.


They measure dew points and temperature extremes.

They know how to use a sling psychrometer to measure air temperature.

An employee of the Mount Washington Observatory took in the sunrise at the top of Mount Washington. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

And they know when to put their instruments down and just take a moment to appreciate the vast beauty of nature — the white landscape and the deep-blue sky.

“I was at a wedding recently and it was with a bunch of old previous coaches and teachers and friends and parents and they kept asking me about my job and pulling me aside,” Branton said. “And then all of a sudden more people would come and listen to me talk about my job. I love talking about it. They think it’s super-cool.”


No one who spends a few moments with her and her colleagues at their workspace would quarrel with that.

“Our forecast is meant to reach recreationists and ski resorts and search-and-rescue people,” said Broccolo. “It’s meant for people who are out in the elements and need to be aware of what can happen and what could happen.”

And from their post at the top of New England they’ve seen it all — the power and the beauty of what happens up in the clouds and the air that swirls around Mount Washington.

Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist. He can reached at