John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
The views from high up a New Hampshire mountain include UFO-shaped clouds and spiny rime ice.
New Hampshire’s Mount Washington, located about 50 miles northwest of Portland, Maine, isn’t a place you’d want to be caught without long underwear. The temperature in the coldest months regularly dips below zero (the lowest recorded was minus-47 in 1934), and foul-weather winds can practically rip a beard off your face (the all-time winner of 231 mph makes most hurricanes look like annoying, household drafts).
While not suitable for shirts-versus-skins football, Mount Washington’s winters and falls are perfect for creating wondrous, CGI-quality landscapes of cloud and ice. Exhibit A is Sunday’s weather, which featured deadly-looking (but in reality delicate) frozen shards and saucer-shaped clouds that appeared ready to suck up some local. The Mount Washington Observatory, a nonprofit science institution that maintains a weather station 6,288 feet up on the summit, caught it all on camera:
The flying-pancake apparitions are called lenticular clouds, and they typically (though not always) form where large landmasses like mountains force air high in the sky. Mount Washington seems like a decent place for hunting lenticulars; other ones popped up this year in October and July. Now turn your attention to the crusty growth that looks like something that’d sprout from an albino Sonic the Hedgehog:
That’s a healthy accumulation of rime ice, which occurs when supercooled drops of water freeze quickly on a surface. While the orientation of the spikes suggests that fierce winds drove in from the left of the photo, the opposite is the case. The observatory tweets: “#Rime forms when we are in the clouds & below freezing, & grows into the wind!”