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A Tale of Two Observatories and a Winter’s Tale

By Joe D'Aleo
Monday, February 15, 2010

It was the signature of a place that prides itself as the Home of the World’s Worst Weather, a claim to fame that attested to conditions few could withstand, much less embrace. For six decades, the world record for the highest wind speed ever registered - 231 miles per hour! - was their calling card, their identity. And now it is gone, toppled by a cyclone that pushed the anemometer to 253 on an island off the coast of Australia. AS the Boston Globe reported: “For the self-proclaimed “weather geeks’’ who pull weeklong shifts measuring Mount Washington’s extreme meteorological mix of driving blizzards, bitter cold, and blusterous wind, it hurts like snowburn.

“I feel that loss, especially being a person who calls this mountain home for long periods at a time,’’ Brian Clark, a meteorologist for the Mount Washington Observatory, shouted last week over the frigid blast that battered the snow-encrusted summit. “It’s really sad to see this happen, but records are made to be broken.’’

Word that a new mark had been set came last week from the World Meteorological Organization, or WMO, an agency of the United Nations that began a study of global weather extremes four years ago. Scientists poring over records had stumbled across the readings, registered when Typhoon Olivia swept over Barrow Island, Western Australia, in 1996.”

See the MWO Facebook page here. See the website here. Here is what it looks like in winter.

Further south, another famous New England Observatory,

Blue Hill in Milton Massachusetts Celebrates its 125th Anniversary

Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory, located at the top of a scenic mountain range south of Boston, is a unique American institution. Founded in 1885 by Abbott Lawrence Rotch as a private scientific center for the study and measurement of the atmosphere, it was the site of many pioneering weather experiments and discoveries. The earliest kite soundings of the atmosphere in North America in the 1890s and the development of the radiosonde in the 1930s occurred at this historic site.

Today, the Observatory is a National Historic Landmark and remains committed to continuing its extensive, uninterrupted climate record with traditional methods and instruments. The recently established Science Center expands this mission by enhancing public understanding of atmospheric science.

Its long standing record of weather data is a jewel.

Read some reasons why here.

See the Blue Hill website here. See photos here. A photographic history of the Observatory can be downloaded here (25 Mb PDF file).



The Blue Hill Observatory was conceived and constructed by Abbott Lawrence Rotch when he was 25 years of age. This fascinating man, born during the start of the Civil War in April 1861, was the seventh child of a prominent Boston family whose roots went back to Nantucket and New Bedford whaling and shipping interests in the 18th century. Joseph Rotch, Abbott's great-great-grandfather, owned the ship Dartmouth, which was involved in the Boston Tea Party in 1773, and his son William built the warehouse that became the Pacific Club, which still anchors Main Street in Nantucket.

As a youth, Rotch traveled extensively with his family, especially with his maternal grandfather, Abbott Lawrence, who was the minister to Great Britain and one of the founders of Lawrence, Massachusetts. Rotch was enrolled in European schools in Paris, Berlin, and Florence where he learned to speak French and German fluently. This served him well in later years when he traveled and lectured, becoming internationally recognized in the new field of meteorology.

Rotch's first interest in the weather is not known, but he began to keep a small diary of the weather in 1878 at his Boston residence on Commonwealth Avenue. This diary revealed that he was a proficient observer. He graduated from MIT with a degree in engineering in 1884 with financial security, since he had inherited funds on his father's death in 1882. This allowed him to pursue his interests in the weather while providing for his family and other public service interests. Soon after graduation, he began to conceive of a private observatory to carry on his growing interest in the weather. After purchasing a plot of land at the top of Great Blue Hill, near the family's summer home in Milton, he began to plan construction with the help of his brother, Arthur, who was an architect with the firm Rotch and Tilden.

At the cost of $3500, Rotch constructed a small, stone tower Observatory with the living quarters in Canton and the tower in Milton, since the town line bisects the summit of the hill. At midnight on 31 January 1885 fireworks were set off, and Rotch commenced a weather observational program that has continued uninterrupted to the present day. Thus began the oldest, continuously operated weather Observatory in the United States - now both an International Benchmark Climate Station and a National Historic Landmark. 

 The first year of operation was fraught with endless difficulties ranging from leaks in the walls, freezing indoor temperatures, and frequent instrument failure due to the severe weather on the barren, windswept hilltop. All of these events, as well as detailed weather data from each day, were meticulously recorded in the hand of William P. Gerrish, Chief Observer for the first year. Rotch (in photo at left seated at his desk in the Observatory) soon became world-renowned in the field of meteorology as he met with European and American meteorologists and embarked on the systematic acquisition of meteorological books and data. His annual trips to Europe provided his new Observatory with the best complement of recording instruments in the Western Hemisphere. 

Henry Helm Clayton, age 24, arrived in 1886 to replace Gerrish. Clayton was already interested in clouds and soon started recording their amount and type each hour. He was also interested in forecasting and modifying the Signal Service forecasts that Rotch had arranged to receive by telephone and transmit by means of "Weather Flags" from the top of the tower. A year later, Clayton brought Sterling P. Fergusson, age 19, to the hill. Fergusson was a mechanical genius and soon had the instrument problems under control. Under the guidance of Rotch, Clayton and Fergusson made an excellent team. By 1890, the first detailed cloud statistics in America were being accumulated. These observations provided the first basic climatology of cloud type, height and velocity in the Western Hemisphere.

In July 1894, William Eddy, a New York journalist, came to Blue Hill to show how his kites could lift instruments. On 4 August 1894, a series of five Malay kites make by Eddy lifted a special light-weight thermograph constructed by Fergusson to a height of 1,400 feet above the ground at Blue Hill. This marked the beginning of worldwide soundings of pressure, temperature, humidity and sometimes wind speed. Thereafter, the work advanced rapidly, reaching a peak of activity in 1896, when 86 soundings were made. A maximum height of 15,793 feet above sea level was reached in 1900. Some flights were made by alternately reeling in and out to sound vertically for periods of 24 or 36 hours, thus sampling upper air changes with time. Other flights were made near thunderstorms, and in rain and snowstorms. The work was extremely arduous, especially when breakaways occurred, which required a search for the kites and meteorograph and for retrieval of long lengths of brass piano wire used to fly the kites. One near disastrous flight saw a significant electric charge come down the kite wire and shock several kite attendants.

Rotch improved the Observatory structure three times. In 1889 the east wing was added to make a library and fireproof vault upstairs, with a shop and bedroom below. In 1902, the west wing and bedrooms were added. This housed the "new" library with an arched, Guastavino tiled ceiling upstairs and storage for kites downstairs. Also added to the room in the corners just below the ceiling were eight bas-reliefs representing the allegorical figures of the winds that were on the 1st century B.C. Tower of the Winds in Athens, Greece ("Zephyros" or zephyr, the west wind, is depicted at right). In 1908, the original two-story stone tower was torn down and replaced by the present three-story concrete tower, which was one of the earliest steel-reinforced concrete structures erected in this country. A stone wall and a gated, iron fence were added around the building in 1905.

Rotch died suddenly on 7 April 1912 after an undiagnosed, ruptured appendix. Letters of condolence poured in from Europe and America. According to his wishes, the Observatory was bequeathed to Harvard University with $50,000 to be set up in an endowment fund to operate the facility. Six years earlier, Rotch had been named the first Professor of Meteorology at Harvard.

On 1 October 1912, Alexander McAdie was appointed professor of meteorology and Director of the Observatory. He would serve as director for the next 18 years. McAdie was a kind, witty, and articulate man. His personal charm played an important role in raising $170,000 for endowment, an outstanding service to the Observatory. He had a penchant for writing, and while some of his work was purely philosophical, some brilliant reasoning in regard to cloud physics and supercooled water vapor appeared in his writings from time to time.

During the 1930's through 1950's, the Observatory became known around the world for its contributions to research and writing in the field of meteorology. This was the period of time when Dr. Charles Franklin Brooks was both Director of the Blue Hill Observatory and Secretary of the American Metrological Society. Brooks was also a co-founder of the AMS in 1919. Under his leadership, the Observatory was the headquarters of the AMS, and the library grew to an estimated 25,000 volumes. Scores of research projects and studies were conducted and numerous papers were published during this time.

One of the most significant developments occurred during 1935-1936 when balloons were used to carry weather instruments into the upper atmosphere. During this time the first successful radio-meteorograph flight was made, and this poineered the development of the radiosonde in the United States.

In 1932, Brooks supplied instrumentation and observer training for the new Mount Washington Observatory, which marked the start of a long-time close association with Blue Hill. Radio transmission experiments at ultrashort wavelengths followed, and soon regular communication by radio was established between the Observatories.

In 1954, the first of a series of contracts was signed with the U.S. Air Force for the study of clouds and precipitation, and a weather radar facility was installed on the summit of Great Blue Hill. When Brooks retired in September 1957, long-time weather observer John H. Conover served as acting director until Richard M. Goody became director in July 1958. A year later, the Blue Hill observational program was taken over, on a diminished scale, by the United States Weather Bureau.

Under the directorship of Goody, the work of the Observatory was to change to studies of the high atmosphere, so the intervening period was used to wind down all activities. The library was dismantled and transferred to Harvard, the Observatory was remodeled, and a new mechanic shop was set up. Pioneering work on the upper atmosphere and airglow was carried out with Dr. John Noxon.

Although research and numerous studies continued through the 1960's, the long-time affiliation with Harvard came to an end in 1971. At that point, the Observatory was turned over to the Massachusetts Metropolitan District Commission, which maintained the state park on which the Observatory was located, and the site was scheduled to be discontinued as a National Weather Service observing station. Fortunately, through the efforts of several loyal supporters, the National Weather Service's decision was reversed, and the observations under contract from the NWS were continued.

In 1981, under the direction of Dr. William E. Minsinger, the Blue Hill Observatory Weather Club was formed, and since that time an uncompromising effort has been made to save the building and to restore it to its former glory. Interim repairs were made in 1985 for the Centennial Celebration, during which the Rotch memorial monument on the summit was etched with a summary of the weather records from the first one-hundred years. In 1989, the Observatory was declared a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service.

An extensive renovation of the facility was completed in 1999, and that spring the non-profit Blue Hill Observatory Science Center was established to expand the mission of the Observatory to focus on increasing public understanding of, and appreciation for atmospheric science. In 2002, the Observatory was recognized by the AMS with its Award for Outstanding Services to Meteorology by a Corporation for its historic climate record and its many contributions to weather research and education. Today, the Observatory, its staff and many volunteers remain committed to its mission of continuing its extensive climate record with traditional methods and instruments, and to preserve, maintain and grow into the future.

Winter’s Tale : Sending A Message To Washington

By Joseph D’Aleo, February 5, 2009


The mainstream mediasphere and the alarmist blogosphere has been ignoring or dismissing the dominos of global warming collapsing as the fraudulent machinations of the IPCC are exposed, NOAA and NASA and CRU data manipulation is revealed, their heroes Michael Mann and Phil Jones are being investigated, and this incredible winter unfolds in many areas of the United States and Europe and Asia.  


China has had the coldest weather since 1971. Europe and Russia.experienced brutal, deadly cold and heavy snows. Snow and cold surprised delegates to the UN Copenhagen global warming conference and followed Obama and congress back to DC.


Florida and parts of the southeast had the longest stretch of cold weather in history. Florida citrus areas had the worst damage sine 1989. Washington saw a heavy snowstorm in December and a record breaking storm in early February.

In recent years, snows have fallen in unusual places like Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Buenos Aires, southern Brazil. Johannesburg, South Africa, southern Australia, the Mediterranean Coast and Greece which the mainstream media largely ignored. All-time record snows fell in many locales across the western and northern United States from Washington State and Oregon and Colorado to Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Vermont and Maine and this year the Mid-Atlantic. All-time records were also set in southern Canada.

Snow and cold returned to Europe and the UK reminiscent of the Dickens winters the last few years.

Washington was oblivious to the wild weather, so nature has brought the wild weather to their backyard. This storm may bring 3 feet of snow to a few spots around the nation’s capitol, perhaps in estates of some of the nation’s political leaders or media cheerleaders (see list of snow totals here). It and following storms will ensure DC will have the All-TIME SNOWIEST WINTER ever going back to 1871.


The winter was not a surprise to many of the private industry forecasters, unencumbered by the global warming albatross.


We expected the winter to be a harsh one (see here). The reasons we felt so was a developing stratospheric warming in the polar regions of the northern hemisphere favored in east QBO low solar years, especially east QBO low solar El Ninos and also in winters following high latitude volcanoes (Redoubt and Sarychev). The polar stratospheric warming event started in late November peaked in December then faded in mid January. Often in years when it occurs early, it recurs later (2000-2001, 1995-1996, 1977/78).


The stratospheric warming leads to a negative arctic oscillation (exceeding an amazing 5 standard deviations negative in December and again February) which pushed cold air to middle latitudes while surface temperatures in the higher latitude are cold but above normal under the warm ridging aloft.  This kind of pattern happened in the 1960s and 1970s and indeed the winter is very much like 1965/66, 1968/69, and 1977/78.

See how well through February 3rd, the upper level pattern has fit the expected pattern based on these natural factors.

Also we are back in the cold Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) phase which favors these types of colder El Ninos like those of the late 1950s to late 1970s (and again 2002/03).

Expect another storm this upcoming week with perhaps more snow for DC and this time further north, where less has fallen so far this season.


See how the pattern in 15 days according to the ECMWF ensemble models fits the composite analog to a tee.

The SOI hit an amazing 8 STD negative last week.

The water is warmest in the central tropical Pacific. A cold pool northwest of Hawaii also favors a cold central and east. That argues for an active southern storm track. The warm central Pacific and cold east also favors the same pattern as the East QBO low solar El Ninos.

Once again natural oscillations provide a better indication of weather AND climate then the CO2, aerosol dominated tinkertoy climate models.

Looking ahead, these stratospheric warming events last 4 to 6 weeks so since it began in late January, expect it to continue at least several more weeks. Cold air and snow returns to Europe too after the same January thaw we experienced here in the states before winters return.  Also given the cool PDO, expect the El Nino to fade by the spring or summer and La Nina to return by 2011.