All Sections

Home | Weather

Not a record, but windchill on Mount Washington hits -97

Sunday News Correspondent

January 06. 2018 10:51PM
A woman bundles up against the cold as she walks in New York City on Saturday. (REUTERS/Amr Alfiky)

MOUNT WASHINGTON - Known as home to the world's worst weather, the tallest peak in the Northeast on Saturday was plenty cold, with a wind chill recorded at 97 degrees below zero.

Adam Gill, a weather observer and IT specialist at the Mount Washington Observatory, said the temperature was minus 38 a little after 8 a.m., and with a 106 mph wind blowing, the wind chill was recorded at just short of minus 100.

A public safety tool, wind chill is "a measure of how quickly the wind is taking heat away" from exposed skin, said Gill, who has worked a week-on, week-off schedule at the observatory for the past three years.

The minus 38 temperature tied a record set Jan. 5, 1959, Gill said.

Since the modern wind chill algorithm went into use in 2000, the coldest wind chill atop Mount Washington was minus 107 in February 2004 when the air temperature was minus 44.

Early records are a little fuzzy, Gill conceded, but they get progressively clearer.

Gill said the last time the wind chill at the observatory was as low as Saturday was Feb. 15, 2015.

That was the day Kate Matrosova, a 32-year-old banker and accomplished hiker from New York, died of hypothermia on nearby Mount Adams.

A person whose skin is exposed to a minus 97 wind chill will feel the initial stages of frostbite within 30 seconds, Gill said, and will suffer permanent damage in about two minutes.

Gill said he once suffered the initial stages of frostbite in his fingertips and remembered it began with numbness, then "a feeling like you got a burn," which lasted for several days.

Gill said forecasts predicted the best chance at the observatory for the wind chill to dip lower than 100 below zero would have been Saturday morning. It was windy enough, he said, with a peak gust of 115 mph early Saturday, but the air temperature was too warm.

To show how cold it was at the 6,288-foot summit, the observatory team pulled a T-shirt from a water-filled bucket, which immediately froze stiff. They took a sledgehammer to the shirt hoping it would shatter, but it "just tore a bit," Gill said.

A Colorado native who earned a degree in atmospheric science from the University of North Dakota, Gill said the weather story could soon change atop Mount Washington.

Come Thursday, he said, "We might be flip-flopping from record cold to record warmth" as temperatures are forecast to be in the 40s.

Cold across the U.S.

The blanket of bone-chilling arctic air covered the entire East Coast and Midwest on Saturday, creating dangerous conditions as tens of millions of people struggled to clean up from the blizzard that dumped deep, drifting snow in many areas.

Wind chill warnings stretched from Florida to New England and inland to states to the Upper Midwest, while the National Weather Service warned of freezing rain from Kansas to Ohio.

Cities from Houston to Boston stepped up efforts to bring the homeless to shelters.

Cold and snowy weather was blamed for at least 18 deaths in the past few days, including four in North Carolina traffic accidents and three in Texas.

Killington in Vermont closed Saturday even though snow conditions were excellent, saying wind chill on the slopes was at least minus 50.

The brutal cold in parts of the East Coast and Midwest showed no sign of abating this weekend, but a thaw should begin on Monday, said meteorologist Bob Oravec of the National Weather Service's Maryland-based Weather Prediction Center.

Before then, conditions will probably worsen.

"Sunday morning is going to be the coldest morning" in the weeklong stretch of frigid weather, he said.

Among the coldest places in the country on Saturday were the small Minnesota towns of Cotton and Embarrass, where the mercury plummeted to minus 39F, Oravec said. But that fell short of a record low for those hamlets in the northeastern corner of the state, where sub-zero temperatures are not unusual in January.

Outdoors Weather Mt. Washington

More Headlines