For Mount Washington’s weather director, it’s all about the big storms
MOUNTAIN MAN: Western native Jay Broccolo finds his calling as director of weather operations at the Mount Washington Observatory
University of Rhode Island graduate Jay Broccolo’s office may offer the best view in New England, but it comes at a high price — temperatures can drop to minus 47 degrees and winds can gust more than 200 miles per hour.
Broccolo, who grew up in Westerly, where the highest point is 249 feet, works as director of weather operations at Mount Washington Observatory, on the highest mountain in the Northeast, at 6,288 feet.
“We all like to call it the best office landscape in New England,” Broccolo, 36, said in a recent interview.
On a clear day, the view extends more than 100 miles across Vermont to New York and across Maine to Casco Bay. On clear nights, the lights of Montreal appear, as does the Milky Way.
But the matter is often unclear, and sometimes the view does not extend beyond the outstretched hand. Snow is recorded at the summit every month of the year, and Mount Washington holds the wind speed record set by a human observer, 231 miles per hour, in 1934.
“I love my job,” Broccolo said without a hint of sarcasm.
He loves big weather events and gets disappointed when he misses out, as he did last winter when the temperature at the summit dropped to 47 degrees below zero and winds gusted at more than 100 mph, creating wind gusts as high as 109 below and putting an end to the weather. . New American record.
“I was not there, unfortunately,” he added.
Even happier, he was at the summit when the temperature dropped to 33 degrees below, winds gusted to 108 mph, and the wind chill dropped to 90 degrees below.
Since 1932, the Mount Washington Observatory, a private, non-profit organization, has been recording weather on the mountaintop, providing information to the National Weather Service and also producing twice-daily forecasts for the mountainous region.
The observatory is “a member-supported institution whose mission is to advance understanding of the natural systems that create the Earth’s weather and climate,” the observatory says on its website. “It serves this mission by maintaining the weather station atop Mount Washington, conducting weather and climate research, conducting innovative science education programs, and interpreting the heritage of the Mount Washington region.”
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“We are like a perpetual weather balloon,” Broccolo added.
This “weather balloon” has produced a detailed record of extreme events and trends for nearly a century.
“In our 90-year history, we have seen the winter shorten by two to three weeks,” Broccolo said.
What’s even brighter, he added, is that the view from the summit extends further than it did before, a sign of declining air pollution, thanks to the Clean Air Act.
Broccolo’s route to Mount Washington was far from simple
Broccolo’s road to Mount Washington Observatory was as winding as the motorized road to the top of the great mountain. When Broccolo was a kid, he always loved the big storms, the “adrenaline rush” and the way everyone came together. His only disappointment: The western region rarely gets snow, because it’s so close to the ocean.
“I’ve always wondered why the Earth is the way it is,” he said. “Why is that cloud over there? Why is that mountain over there?”
A former Boy Scout and Eagle, Broccolo graduated from Westerly High School and then from URI, where he studied geology and geological oceanography.
After URI, Broccolo worked for several years on oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico before interning at Mount Rainier National Park. He worked for a time at an engineering firm in Rhode Island and went to England for graduate school to study atmospheric science.
Broccolo began his work at the observatory more than five years ago, initially working as a weather observer before assuming his current position as director of weather operations about a year and a half ago.
Like other weather observers, Broccolo would spend a week at a time living at the summit, often driving a Snowcat, a tracked vehicle the size of a truck, to and from work because the road was impassable for cars or trucks.
To make observations and care for the equipment, which can freeze quickly, weather observers emerge from their shelter once an hour and spend five or 10 minutes gathering information about factors such as temperature, wind speed, barometric pressure, visibility and type of precipitation.
Sometimes the wind is so strong that it “sucks the air out of your lungs,” he said, and it will “definitely hit you and keep hitting you.”
Exposed skin undergoes frostbite within minutes, so weather spotters should wear multi-layer clothing.
“I would say the most annoying thing is getting in your gear and getting out of your gear and getting in your gear and getting out of your gear,” Broccolo said.
For Broccolo, moving from the south to northern New England seemed like the right choice. When he’s not working, he enjoys hiking in the mountains, camping, snowboarding, and skiing.
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But he has strong ties to Rhode Island. His parents, Joe and Jill, still live in Westerly. Broccolo remains a volunteer firefighter for the city, and plans to return to Rhode Island for Thanksgiving and watch the Westerly-Stonington football game.
With his transition from weather observer to director of weather operations, Broccolo no longer spends as much time on Mount Washington as he once did. He often works in the observatory’s administrative offices in North Conway or sometimes at his home in Jackson. Sometimes, he has to hit the road, as he did earlier this month, giving presentations in Washington, D.C., and meeting with New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and her staff.
But he comes back to the top every chance he gets.
“I definitely try to be on top of all the storms,” he said.